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Wild Food Plants - Cleavers (Gallium Aparine)

Updated on March 26, 2012
Cleavers or Goosegrass (Gallium Aparine)
Cleavers or Goosegrass (Gallium Aparine)

Cleavers or Goosegrass?

Along with the Stinging Nettle, Cleavers is one of our most common edible wild food plants along the hedgerows and in gardens both in North America and throughout Europe. It is known by many names other than Cleavers, and here is a selection of just a few of it's other common names.

A Tangle of Cleavers in the hedgerow
A Tangle of Cleavers in the hedgerow

Common Names

  • Cleavers
  • Clivers
  • Catchweed
  • Coachweed
  • Goosegrass
  • Stickywilly
  • Stickyjack
  • Stickyweed
  • Stickyleaf
  • Robin-run-the-hedge


Cleavers is so common that it hardly needs a description, it is unfortunate that this herb is usually regarded as a weed by most gardeners.

Cleavers has long rambling stems often stretching six feet or more in length and running along hedgerows (hence the common name "Robin-run-the-hedge"). It's square stems support circles of lance-shaped leaves in clusters of six to eight arranged spoke-like at intervals around the stem.

The herb has tiny white star-like flowers which grow from the leaf axils on stems in whorls of six to eight blooms. It's seeds are tiny spheres which cling to anything they touch.

The whole plant is covered in Velcro-like hairs. Cleavers will happily attach itself to any clothing it comes in contact with, and like Velcro it can be removed and replaced in different positions (this is a game we used to play as kids). Often, after walking through a bed of cleavers, you will find masses of seeds clinging to your socks and trousers.

Raw, It tastes like Pea-Pods but has the texture of Velcro
Raw, It tastes like Pea-Pods but has the texture of Velcro

Herbs Uses

Cleavers as well as being one of our more common edible wild food plants, is also regarded as being medicinal. It can be eaten raw, although the Velcro-like hairy hooks are not a texture that many people like. I find the raw flavour very pleasant - not unlike fresh pea-pods.

Speaking of the Velcro-like properties of Cleavers, did you know that Cleavers was used in the days of old (and apparently still is in Sweden) to strain milk? The milk would be poured through a thick matt of Cleavers and the velcro hooky-thingies would remove any foreign bodies whilst imparting health giving properties - Result!

Some more uses of Cleavers

When used as wild food plants, the usual way to eat Cleavers is as a cooked vegetable or pot-herb. (The cooking process melts away the hairs). The entire plant is rich in vitamin C and using it as a vegetable is said to have a slimming effect on the body.

Cleavers is related to the Coffee Plant and it's seeds are said to produce an excellent coffee substitute. They simply need to be dried and lightly roasted before brewing

It also makes a refreshing and healthful Tea. It is easily made by adding 3-4 teaspoons of the dried plant (not the roots) to a mug of boilling water and letting it steep for about ten or fifteen minutes. Apparently (though I've never tried this) the tea can also be used as an anti-perspirant!

Indian Lurve Potions - Hot stuff!
Indian Lurve Potions - Hot stuff! | Source

Other Stuff

But Cleavers is not just one of our best edible wild plants - Oh no siree - It can do lots of other things too.

It's roots produce a rich red dye which American Indians used to dye bones red. This is why you need to exclude the roots from the tea (Unless you particularly want red teeth)

American Indian Ladies also used the herb as a hair tonic - Rinsing the hair with an infusion of Cleavers was said to make the hair grow strong and long.

Another of their favourite uses was as a Love potion! Bathing in an infusion of Cleavers was said to make you successful in Lurve - Hot stuff!

Medicinal Uses

Edible wild food plants often have medicinal uses too, and Cleavers is no exception. Cleavers Tea used as a de-toxifier is said to be good for cleansing and purifying the blood. It is diuretic (makes you pee a lot), and helps to clear urinary stones and infections such as cystitis.

Because of it's diuretic properties, it was often given (traditionally) to people suffering with congestive heart failure.

Applied to the skin, it is said to be helpful for those who suffer with skin ailments such as acne, eczema and psoriasis, as well as freckles and sunburn!

Herbalists also use the herb to lower both blood pressure and body temperature.

Something for everyone.

So the next time you see a string of goosegrass straggling across your garden, don't give it a hard time. Think instead of all the benefits that these little wild food plants can give you - Everything from coffee to Love potions.



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  • Gaizy profile image

    Gaizy 5 years ago from Denbigh, North Wales, UK

    @ alison - Yes it's amazing how little we know about the stuff that grows free all around us.

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    alison 5 years ago

    really pleased to find this- i have tons of cleavers in my garden and felt sure I could do something with them but what? and how? thanks for the answers!

  • Gaizy profile image

    Gaizy 6 years ago from Denbigh, North Wales, UK

    @ gurgaon flowers - Glad to be of service.

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    gurgaon flowers 6 years ago

    Thank you for sharing all the details and photos of your wild plants! I especially like the plant listings w/ details on the plants. I'm striving to someday catalog and map my plants and you guys are an inspiration :-)

  • Gaizy profile image

    Gaizy 6 years ago from Denbigh, North Wales, UK

    @ NickW - My father tells a similar story of a summer drink his mother used to make when he was a child in the wild hillsides of Wales. In Welsh it was known as "Diod Dail" - Leaf Drink.

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    NickW 6 years ago

    Cleavers was an ingredient[along with lemons,dandelion leaves/stems?,sugar,bread yeast(on floating toast)and,of course nettle tops(along with dandelions/cleavers washed,boiled & strained thru muslin)in my late gran's wonderfully refreshing(if diuretic)summer treat-nettle pop.Think it may actually have been a beer tho as it left us kids somewhat light-headed!.Robust bottles also(sometimes)a necessity,or a suit of armour.They didn't all explode tho and the TASTE remains an abiding memory of my rural childhood.

  • Gaizy profile image

    Gaizy 6 years ago from Denbigh, North Wales, UK

    @ Electro-Denizen - Weird indeed! Hope I can be of some help.

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    Charles 6 years ago from Wales, UK

    Nice hub.

    It's weird, I did that hub hopping thing, and came to this page - exactly when I'm starting to think seriously about all the things I could eat (apart from the 'accepted' veggies from our garden) in the way of weeds and so on.

    Look forward to more tips!

  • Gaizy profile image

    Gaizy 6 years ago from Denbigh, North Wales, UK

    @ happyboomernurse - Thanks very much. It's amazing what's out there in the hedgerows just waiting to be eaten!

  • Happyboomernurse profile image

    Gail Sobotkin 6 years ago from South Carolina

    Congrats on winning the daily draw. This is a beautiful hub with lots of interesting facts about this "weed." The velcro texture is amazing as is all the uses you gave for this plant.

  • Gaizy profile image

    Gaizy 6 years ago from Denbigh, North Wales, UK

    @ Simone Smith - Thanks for the comments - and the info! Cheers!

  • Simone Smith profile image

    Simone Haruko Smith 6 years ago from San Francisco

    I often find myself looking at weeds and wondering if they're edible. I had never heard of Cleavers or any of the other plants you described here, so it was great to get a bit more educated on the subject. Fabulous Hub, and the photos are gorgeous, too.

    Also, congrats! This Hub won the Daily Drawing prize for Day 8 of the Share and Share a Like contest! Well done!

  • Gaizy profile image

    Gaizy 6 years ago from Denbigh, North Wales, UK

    @ Johan Britt -Thanks for your comments Johan.

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    Johan Britt 6 years ago

    This Wild Food Plants like Cleavers is quite good herb .I could find it useful .Hopefully you people too find it useful as well.