Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Cleavers - Herb of the Week

March 28 is National Weed Day (it might be weeding day, but it is march so I am not weeding anything yet!), so I decided to make the herb of the week a plant you would not grow but may harvest and use as it grows wild and is considered by many to be a weed.

I remember having a lot of fun with cleavers or “sticky weed” as a child.  This is a wonderful sticky, prostate annual plant which often grows wild and prolifically against fences, in hedgerows, crop fields and beneath trees.  I know I was not the only child who delighted every time I found a patch of sticky weed, throwing it at my friends to see it stick to their clothes and hair.  If I had known then about how useful it is as a cleansing herb, I may have been more careful with it, but picking on my sister was so much fun, maybe not!

Cleavers (Galium aparine) - Herb of the Week

The leaves of Galium aparine grow in whorls of 4 – 8 around its stem, which can grow to 6 feet long.  The plant’s sticky nature comes from tiny hooked hairs growing out from the leaves and ridges of the stems.  It produces tiny greenish white flowers from May to October.  Seeds are set in small sticky hairy burrs and can remain viable in soil for up to 7 years.  The sticky hairs enable Galium aparine to grow upwards by clinging to other plants and fences. They also assist in seed dispersal.

Cleavers is an annual plant found in moist or grassy places and along river banks and fences in Canada, the eastern half of the U.S., and the Pacific Coast. A slender taproot produces the weak, square, procumbent or climbing, prickly stem that grows 2-6 feet in length. The rough, oblong-lanceolate-to-almost-linear leaves occur in whorls of six to eight around the stem. The small, white or greenish-white flowers appear from May to September. The plant exudes a strong, honey-like odor and is best gathered in July.

Cleavers are held in high esteem as a spring tonic.  The herb is said to promotes lymphatic flow, to be cooling, soothing and cleansing. It is best harvested when young and prolific from early February.  It can be added to salads, though the hairs give an interesting effect, or cooked in a little water as a leaf vegetable.
Sweet Woodruff

As ever, when harvesting from the wild you should use a good field guide, be aware of look-a-like plants.  I think the most likely plant to be confused with Cleavers (Galium aparine)  is Sweet Woodruff (Galium odoratum).  Sweet Woodruff is also a useful herb but unlike Cleavers it contains substances which can be poisonous in very large doses. Sweet Woodruff is darker green and has sticky hairs on its seeds, but the leaves tend to be smooth and more pointed. Sweet Woodruff is a perennial whereas Cleavers is an annual.


Cleavers has a folk reputation as a remover of lumps and bumps.  So enthusiastic were many claims that there has been some clinical research, in the hope that it could help reduce certain cancerous lumps.  However the results were not supportive of the traditional claims.
Cleavers is often used by herbalists for cystitis, swollen glands, swollen breasts, PMS, mild lymphedema, prostatitis and as a diuretic for a general spring clean.  Susun Weed reports that it can also be helpful in reducing allergic reactions.  Due to it’s gentle diuretic cleansing action, Galium aparine often also helps to ease some skin disorders such as psoriasis and eczema and gout.

Cleavers makes an excellent facial wash as it tightens the skin. For those with the customary wrinkles and sags that come with age, this might be an herb to consider.

Historically cleavers are seen as a wonderful cleansing remedy, clearing toxins from the system and reducing heat and inflammation. Cleavers has a diuretic action, aiding elimination of wastes, and also acts to enhance the lymphatic system, promoting lymphatic drainage of toxins and wastes so that they can be excreted via the urinary system. These actions combine to make cleavers  excellent for fluid retention, skin problems,. Including eczema, psoriasis, acne, boils, abscesses, urinary infections. urinary stones and gravel, arthritis and gout. Cleavers can be used for lymphatic problems, such as lymphatic congestion and swollen lymph glands, congestion of the breasts, and is said to have anti-tumor activity, particularly when in the skin or breasts, and the lymphatic system.

Cleavers has cooling properties, reducing fevers and resolving eruptive infections such as measles and chicken pox. Cleavers cools heat and inflammation in the body, seen in conditions such as cystitis, arthritis, inflammatory skin problems and digestive problems. Its bitter properties stimulate liver function and enhance digestion and absorption. A cooling drink made of cleavers was traditionally given every spring to "clear the blood".

The fresh leaves can be applied to cuts or wounds to check bleeding and speed healing. The juice or an infusion can be used to bathe varicose ulcers, or the fresh leaves can be made into a poultice. Cleavers will soothe and cool burns, sunburn, inflammatory skin problems such as eczema and acne, and clear the skin of blemishes.

I thought about picking some to put on the sunburn I got out bike riding in Wisconsin this past weekend, where I took this picture.  But I decided to gather it at home instead.


Cleavers juice – This is said to be the most potent way to consume cleavers. To make it all you need to do is to clean your harvested cleavers, chop it roughly and then squeeze out the juice through a jelly bag or clean tea towel.  The recommended dose is 1 teaspoon, 2 – 3 times daily as a tonic.

Cleavers tea – Again, clean your harvested cleavers then chop it.  Add 1-2 tsp of this per cup of boiled water.

Cleavers tincture – Harvest the top two thirds of plant when in flower or setting seed. Tincture in 100 proof vodka.  (see my posts on making
tinctures)  Dosage is 0.5ml – 1ml in water a few times daily when called for.

Cleavers Facial Wash  - Bring one quart of water to a boil. Remove from heat and add 3-1/2 tbsp. of dried cleavers. Cover and steep for 40 min. Wash the face and neck often. Packs consisting of a wash cloth or small terrycloth hand towel soaked in the tea, lightly wrung out and then applied to the entire facial area for up to 10 minutes several times a day should help to tighten up loose skin folds. Gradual results should become evident within 2 weeks. One of the first things to look for is a new kind of life feeling in formerly tired, worn-out skin.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Some herbs are perrenials and grow in the wild with no need for me to cultivate them and some I grow from seeds because they are annuals. But my garden is so long established that if I want more plants, I divide rather than having to start new plants from seed.


  3. Hi do you know how to harvest the seeds from the chaff. Sticky little fellows!!! Graham Australia

    1. I have frozen the plant stalks and stripped the seed when it is frozen, takes about an hour in the freezer. That makes them less"prickly."

  4. Cleavers will turn milk to yoghurt.Warm the milk to body temperature and stir the cleavers through, sap from the stems will set the milk. also known as Turkish yoghurt plant. And yes, anyone know the answer to Grahams request?

  5. I believe you mean Galium Verum (Lady's Bedstraw), a related plant with a vegetable rennin for curdling milk into cheese. I tried it with Cleavers once to be sure and had no success.

  6. I enjoyed an edible wild herb walk and learnt that I had so much I could eat from my farm. Its exciting and we have so many cleavers.

  7. Love your article - thank you for sharing :-)
    I'm harvesting cleavers for the first time today and keeping an eye on the plants from time to time to see how they mature. Love the scent too. :-)
    Would it be OK if I share your article on my Facebook page?

  8. You may share on Facebook if you like! Thanks for asking

  9. Harvested Galium aparine for first time today, steeping for tea. I'm on five Rx meds, so using cleavers to stimulate liver function to help cleanse toxins from my system. Thanks for this helpful info.

  10. I'm looking to buy Cleaver seeds, any idea where?

  11. This is a wild plant and it is rare that the seed is sold, so My suggestion is a seed saver organization or swap. Most people find collecting the sticky seed hard to harvest, so the seed is uncommon.

  12. Bring one quart of water to a boil. Remove from heat and add 3-1/2 tbsp. of dried cleavers. Cover and steep for 40 min. Wash the face and neck often. Packs consisting of a wash cloth or small terrycloth hand towel soaked in the tea, lightly wrung out and then applied to the entire facial area for up to 10 minutes several times a day should help to tighten up loose skin folds.


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