Cleavers: Galium aparine

close up of bright green cleavers, Galium aparine

I remember when I was young, anytime we stumbled upon these sticky little suckers, we would have a blast throwing them at people’s jackets and watching them walk around all day with cleavers attached to their back.

I may or may not have also done that last summer with my apprentices 😉

Unlike stinging nettle, these have no sting, but they have those “sticky” hairs that give the appearance of needles. They are quite sticky and can be a bear to work with. However, gathering is a cinch, because they generally grow in bunches. Simply grab a handful and give a pull.

Cleavers have an amazing vanilla-like scent as they dry and can be super tasty infused in rum or made into tea.

Identifying features

Galium aparine has between 6 and 8 leaves in a whorled formation. They prefer to grow in semi-shaded, moist areas.

Before flowering, you can add the stems and leaves to soups or sautés and, if you happen to find the fruit, try drying and roasting a cup or two to make a coffee substitute. They’re actually in the same family as the coffee bean, but contain less caffeine.

When would you use them?

Cleavers are a powerhouse when it comes to moving lymph in the body. These are the guys you want around if you have some stagnancy or are dealing with an infection. You can also make a poultice for any bites, stings or hot areas on the skin.

Learn more about herbs by enrolling in our Herb-A-Month course!

field of green cleavers, Galium aparine