Cleavers – characteristics, cultivation and use


Cleavers is a frequently occurring weed with us. Previously used the herb as a substitute for animal rennet to produce mainly cheese. In folk medicine one uses cleavers especially in kidney and urinary complaints, as some ingredients have a diuretic effect. Wild herbs lovers can use the leaves and seeds in many ways. Overall, a universal wild plant that is often underestimated.

Profile of cleavers:

Scientific name: Galium aparine

Plant family: bedstraw family, coffee family, madder family (Rubiaceae)

Other names: clivers, bedstraw, goosegrass, catchweed, stickyweed, stickybud, robin-run-the-hedge, sticky willy, sticky willow, stickyjack, stickeljack, grip grass, velcro plant

Sowing time / Planting time: October – March

Flowering period: July – September

Harvest time: May – October

Useful plant parts: leaves, flowers, seeds, shoots

Location: sunny to partially shaded

Soil quality: permeable, moist and calcareous soils

These information are for temperate climate!

Use as a medicinal herb: kidney problems, bladder diseases, lymphatic complaints, loss of appetite, eczema

Use as aromatic herb: herbal quark, as vegetables for dumplings and stir-fries, smoothie, seeds as coffee substitute

Plant characteristics and classification of cleavers

Origin and occurrence of cleavers

Cleavers is a plant of Eurasian origin, which originally originated in Europe and western Asia. It is common in almost all of Europe. It also occurs in the North Caucasus, in the coastal areas of Asia Minor and the Mediterranean, as well as in Northwest Africa (Atlas Mountains). In North America, it was introduced. Due to its high ecological tolerance, it quickly populates new areas. As a typical neophyte, this species of cleavers is today widespread almost all over the world. It can be found in both cold Siberian and warm Australia.

In Central Europe, the Cleavers is found wild on and near agricultural land, in riparian forests, nutrient-rich wasteland, fallow land and at forest edges. The plant is considered a typical nitrogen indicator and therefore prefers sites with a high nutrient supply. In the mountains, the species can be found up to 1,500 meters (4,900 feet).

Plant order of cleavers

Cleavers (Galium aparine) belongs to the family of the bedstraw plants. In the narrower classification, the species is classified in the genus Galium, which is relatively rich in species with more than 600 species. Known relatives of cleavers are woodruff (Galium odoratum), the hedge bedstraw (Galium mollugo) as well as the lady’s bedstraw (Galium verum).

Characteristics of cleavers


Cleavers are annual and herbaceous plants, which can reach stature heights between 40 and 160 cm (15 and 63 in). The shoots of cleavers grow up or climb and attach themselves to other plants. In the soil cleavers forms rather thin and brownish roots, which usually grow laterally. The roots can be up to 40 cm (15 in) long.


The leaves of cleavers are lanceolate and with small glandular hairs. The leaves are six to nine in whorls. The leaf width is rarely 1 cm (0.4 in), the length up to 6 cm (2.4 in). Its stem is usually edged and square shaped with a striking number of small bristles.


At flowering time, which usually lasts between July and September, cleavers forms white flowers. Up to five hermaphrodite flowers are grouped in so-called cyme, which also grow from the whorl. The blossoms are quite small with a width of 1.5 to 2 mm (0.06 to 0.08 in). Each flower has four stamens, four petals and a barely recognizable calyx.


The fruits are 3 to 5 mm (0.12 to 0.2 in) long andalways larger than the petal. The olive or purple fruits are densely covered with bristly hooks. The two sub-fruits are schizocarps, each contain one seed and. Fruit ripeness begins in May and lasts until October. After the ripeness, the plant dies.

Cleavers – cultivation and care

Cleavers is often seen as a weed and hence rarely cultivated. Occasionally, however, the plant is cultivated in herb gardens or medicinal gardens due to its medicinal properties. The cultivation itself is not very difficult.


A good location for cleavers is a rather sunny and sheltered location. Half shady locations are also tolerated, although the growth of cleavers suffers significantly. Preference is given to more clayey, slightly moist and calcareous mixed soil with medium to high nutrient supply, especially nitrogen. Most garden soil and herb soil are suitable for the cultivation of the herb. However, sandy or heavily overfertilized soils can be a problem.


The months of March to April are the optimal sowing time. Since it is a cold germ, it is also possible to sow late in the autumn, which should happen from about mid-October. The seeds can be put directly into the field or in a large pot. The sowing depth should not exceed 1 cm (0.4 in). Planting distance should be at least 25 cm (10 in) in all directions.


In most cases no additional nutrient supply is necessary. Only in known nutrient-poor soils or pot plants, an additional supply of fertilizers is necessary. For this purpose, normal, nitrogen-stressed fertilizer or compost is recommended.


Cleavers is a rather moisture-loving weed, similar to woodruff. A continuous supply of water is therefore needed, otherwise diseases can quickly occur. It is important to keep the soil always slightly moist, whereby waterlogging should be avoided at all costs. Short dry periods of three to five days are generally tolerated without any problems. If the plant is watered daily, only the soil should be watered (do not dash the plant).

Diseases and pests

Like most cleaver species, cleavers is a rather robust plant. In cultivation or care errors, e.g. too small planting distances, oversupply with nutrients or too moist soil, it can come to infestation with powdery and downy mildew.


Cleavers are annual plants. These die off after fruit ripeness, which means that no wintering measures are necessary.

Use of Cleavers

Cleavers as a kitchen herb

The young, soft shoots are steamed. They are ideal for fillings, in soups, casseroles, vegetable tart or as a baked wild vegetable side dish.

For raw consumption, the flowers and leaves of cleavers are a good ingredient for green smoothies. For juicing they are also very good. The juice is used for refreshing drinks and serves as a base for soups. The flowers can be used as an edible decoration and a coffee substitute is made from the roasted seeds. Its seeds can be minced in a mortar or coffee grinder and brewed like coffee.

The leaves of the cleavers can also be easily mixed with cream cheese or quark. A herb quark with leaves and some crushed caraway blends well with freshly baked bread. The fine-nutty taste of the leaves can also be well supplemented with wild garlic or chives.

For agreen smoothies the leaves can be combined well with other wild herbs such as ribwort, dandelion or ground ivy.

Cleavers as a medicinal herb

In modern herbal science, cleavers plays only a minor role, although it has some effective ingredients. In folk medicine cleavers (Galium aparine) can just be used like lady’s bedstraw (Galium verum) especially for bladder and kidney problems.

In older herbal books cleavers was used as an antidote for adder bites and as a remedy for diarrhea. Usual were medicinal wines and infusions of the leaves. The juice of the plant has been used for earache.

In today’s natural medicine cleavers is used outwardly for skin problems, like psoriasis, pimples, acne and other skin diseases. For this cleavers is best used as a fresh juice. The fresh juice can be dripped on the affected area and allowed to dry. If fresh juice is not available, you can also use cleavers as tea. With the tea you can rinse the affected area or you put on a compress.

Tea with cleavers stimulates the lymphatic system and the immune system. Due to its cleansing effect for the whole organism, it is suitable for the treatment of urinary tract diseases and to assist with weight loss treatments. In folk medicine, the ea is even recommended to prevent oncoming epileptic seizures.

Preparation of cleavers tea

Time needed: 10 minutes

This is how to prepare cleavers tea by yourself.

  1. put 2 tablespoons of the fresh herb in a cup

  2. dash with boiling water

  3. let brew for 7-10 minutes

  4. the tea is taken two to three times a day, always shortly before meals

Cleavers can be used for these ailments and diseases

  • bladder sludge
  • bladder stones
  • cystitis
  • eczema
  • fingernail ulcer
  • intestinal inflammation
  • kidney gravel
  • kidney stones
  • overweight
  • skin blemishes
  • skin problems
  • stomach inflammation
  • tongue inflammation
  • water stagnation

Medicinal properties

  • antibacterial
  • antifungal
  • antioxidant
  • cholesterol-lowering or cholesterol-regulating
  • diuretic

Side effects

So far, no cases are known in which cleavers caused discomfort by the use as a medicinal plant. Basically, the plant should not be taken during pregnancy and breast-feeding.


Ask your doctor or pharmacist. Visiting this page can not replace the visit to the doctor. For serious or unclear complaints, consult your doctor.

Buy Cleavers – What to pay attention to?

Cleavers is very common in Central Europe. Therefore, there are only relatively few commercial products.

In the special trade are available above all the seed of the plant (price is about 3 EUR/$ for 100 seeds) as well as fresh plants (price is about 3-5 EUR/$ per plant).

For healing applications, some herbalists offer dried cleavers. Prices are between 2 and 6 EUR/$ for 100 grams.

Pick Cleavers

The harvesting of the herb should be limited primarily to forest edges and natural paths. Due to pollution it is not recommended picking the herb near roads or old building complexes.

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