Cleavers: Overview

Alternative names: Galium asparine, Galium aparine, Clivers, Catchweed, Goose Grass, Velcro Plant, Coachweed, Galium spurium, Goosegrass, Stickyweed, Stickywilly.

Cleavers has a long history of use as an alternative medicine and is still used widely by modern herbalists.  It is used both internally and externally in the treatment of a wide range of ailments.  The dried or fresh herb is alterative, anti-inflammatory, antiphlogistic, aperient, astringent, depurative, diaphoretic, diuretic, febrifuge, tonic and vulnerary.  A valuable diuretic, it is often taken to treat skin problems such as seborrhea, eczema and psoriasis, and as a general detoxifying agent in serious illnesses such as cancer.

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Cleavers is edible and medicinal, it has been used for centuries as an alternative medicine by indigenous peoples on many continents.  It is edible raw though said to be unpalatable, mainly used as a pot-herb or as an addition to soups.

In a green state these plants have an unpleasant odor, but are inodorous when dried, with an acidulous, astringent, and bitter taste.  Cold or warm water extracts the virtues of the plants; boiling destroys them.  The roots dye a permanent red, and the bones of the animals who eat the plant are said to be colored, similar to that caused by madder.  The flowers are said to curdle milk, but this is not a constant effect.


This herb grows all over the US.  It can cling to pants, socks, animals and almost anything that comes by it.  Cleavers is an annual plant found in moist or grassy places and along riverbanks and fences in Canada.

Cleavers comes in various forms and is an ingredient in other products.

Function; Why it is Recommended

The plant contains organic acids, flavonoids, tannins, fatty acids, glycoside asperuloside, gallotannic acid and citric acid.  It has a mild laxative effect, stimulates the lymphatic system, and has shown benefit in skin related problems.  The plant contains the valuable constituent asperuloside, a substance that is converted into prostaglandins by the body.  Prostaglandins are hormone-like compounds that stimulate the uterus and affect blood vessels.  Much more scientific research is being done on the plant it is of great interest to the pharmaceutical industry.

Galiosin, an anthraquinone glycoside, other glycosides may be the major constituents of cleavers.  Little research has been conducted on this plant, but preliminary lab experiments suggest it may have antispasmodic activity.

The dried or fresh herb is said to have anti-tumor, anti-inflammatory, astringent, diaphoretic, stimulant, laxative and diuretic properties.  It stimulates the lymphatic system and has shown to be beneficial in skin-related problems.  Cleavers has cooling properties as well.

The fresh plant or juice is used as a medicinal poultice for wounds, ulcers and many other skin problems.  Externally, the fresh leaves can be applied to cuts and wounds, or to help stop bleeding and enhance healing.  The leaves also soothe burns, sunburn, acne and other skin inflammations.  Bathing in the juice of the plant works to soothe and heal varicose ulcers.

An infusion of the herb has shown of benefit in the treatment of glandular fever, tonsillitis, hepatitis and cystitis.  Cleavers stimulates liver function and improves digestion and absorption.  The infusion is also used to treat liver, bladder and urinary problems.

Cleavers makes an excellent facial wash as it tightens the loose and sagging skin caused by wrinkling.  This plant works very well in treating eczema, psoriasis, seborrhea, acne, boils and abscesses, arthritis and gout.

This herb is also useful in treating swollen lymph glands, or congested glands and congestion in the breasts.  The cooling properties of Cleavers makes is useful in reducing fevers and resolving infections associated with skin eruptions such as measles and chickenpox.  It also works in soothing arthritis.

In 1947, French researchers discovered and extract of Cleavers to be effective in lowering blood pressure, by thinning the blood.

Cleavers acts as a purifying tonic that cleanses and rids the body of toxins in several ways.  It is said to act on the lymphatic system and be effective in removing and draining poisons and trapped bacteria from the lymph glands and help relieve glandular fever, swollen or enlarged lymph glands, adenoids and tonsillitis.

Cleavers also acts as a diuretic and as such the herb promotes in increased urine flow and helps to rid the kidneys and bladder of gravel and stones, helps clear the urinary tract of various infections, alleviates prostate disorders and treats other acute and inflammatory urinary diseases.


Cleavers tincture and tea are most widely recommended by herbal practitioners.  Tincture (12-1 teaspoon or 3-5ml) can be taken three times per day.  Tea is made by steeping 2-3 teaspoons (10-15gm) of the herb in 1 cup (250ml) of hot water for ten to fifteen minutes.  People can drink three or more cups per day.

For treating specific conditions, it is best to consult with your physician or a qualified herbalist for the best results.

Side-Effects; Counter-Indicators and Warnings

Cleavers has no known side effects and is thought to be safe for use by children and pregnant or nursing women.

As the plant dries, coumarin (C9H6O2) is released; therefore, it should not be taken with other anticoagulant medications.

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Cleavers can help with the following:



Urinary Stress/Urge Incontinence

Cleavers may provide some benefit as a traditional urinary tonic for an overactive bladder along with other herbal candidates such as marshmallow root, buchu, corn silk, horsetail or usnea lichen.

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