Cleavers (Galium aparine)

Cleavers is a plant you will never forget.
Cleavers is a plant you will never forget.

Common names: Cleavers, Stickyweed, Sticky Willy, Goosegrass, Velcro Plant

Taxonomic name: Galium aparine

Family: Rubiaceae

Uses: Food, sieve, diuretic, lymphatic tonic

Area of origin: Europe, North Africa, Asia

Warnings: Contact with the skin can cause a rash in susceptible people.

Description and Uses

Once you’ve encountered Cleavers (Galium aparine), you’ll find it impossible to forget. It is a rambling, spreading, climbing plant that is covered in tiny, hooked hairs. These hairs give rise to most of its common names – Velcro Plant, Sticky Willy, Sticky Weed. Its most frequently used common name ‘Cleavers’ comes from ‘cleave’ which means ‘to adhere firmly to or with something’ although.

The whorls of leaves are a distinguishing feature of Cleavers.
The whorls of leaves are a distinguishing feature of Cleavers.

Cleavers is an annual straggling plant with angular or square stems that grow along the ground or climb up over other plants. It has tiny white flowers with 4 petals and whorls of lanceolate leaves that number 6 to 8. Literally, the whole plant is covered with short, hooked hairs that help it climb.

Lots and lots of little hooked hairs.
Lots and lots of little hooked hairs.
'Velcro Plant' is a well deserved name.
‘Velcro Plant’ is a well deserved name.

In ancient times, the matted stems, covered with tiny hairs has been used as a sieve, a practice of the ancient Greeks who used it to strain their milk,

If you harvest the plant while it is very young and before the hairs get too strong, you can boil Cleavers and eat it as a green vegetable. Geese, traditionally, are very fond of this plant, giving rise to another common name ‘Goosegrass’.

As with a related plant, Coffee, which is also in the Rubiaceae (Madder) family, the fruits can be roasted and used as a low caffeine coffee substitute.

Tiny white flowers and hairy fruit are characteristic.
Tiny white flowers and hairy fruit are characteristic.

Our main interest is in the herbal use of Cleavers. Cleavers is great at getting fluids moving in our bodies and in doing so, eliminating wastes.

It is a well known and potent diuretic, so is of use in cases of fluid retention, heart conditions where fluid is a problem, urinary tract and kidney problems and bad breath (when it is caused by poor elimination of wastes due to a lack of urination).

Cleavers also is a lymphatic tonic. It gets our lymphatic fluids moving, much in the same way that Chickweed does. This moves wastes through to the main organs of elimination from where it can be moved out of our bodies. This makes Cleavers and Chickweed useful in any case of infection or inflammation where the body has been fighting invaders and there is a lot of waste built up in the form of dead cells and bacteria and other by products of our immune system.