Botanical Name Galium aparine

Family Name: Rubiaceae

Other Names, Goosegrass, Barweed, Hedgeheriff, Hayriffe, Eriffe, Grip Grass, Hayruff, Catchweed, Scratweed, Mutton Chops, Robin-run-in-the-grass, Loveman, Goosebill, Everlasting friendship.

TCM Name: Zhu Yang Yang

Meridians: Kidney, Liver, Bladder

Key TCM Actions & Medicinal Uses: Clears Damp Heat: psoriasis, eczema, swollen glands, fever, measles, scarlet fever, hepatitis. Moves Qi Stagnation: anxiety, moodiness, arthritis. Disperses Toxins/Reduces Swelling/Softens Stones: tumours, oedemas, bites, joint pain, sore throat, ear ache, swollen lymph nodes, kidney and bladder stones or gravel, wounds.

Description: Cleavers are an annual herbaceous plant in the family Rubiaceae, which contains over 3,000 species. The plant has creeping straggling stems that branch and grow along the ground and over other plants. The stems and leaves of cleavers are covered with small hooked bristles that attach to passing objects. These “hooks” are used by the plant to climb their way upwards through undergrowth to find sunlight in the tops of trees and shrubs. The leaves are narrow, lance-shaped and encircle the stem. The flowers are white and star-like and bloom from April through September.

Habitat: It grows throughout Britain, Europe, in Asia from Siberia to the Himalayas, and in Canada, the eastern half of the United States, and along the Pacific coast. Cleavers like to grow in woods, fields, along hedgerows and among cultivated crop rows. The plant likes moist leafy soil in partial shade and can be invasive.

Parts Used: Aerial parts, (Flowers, Leaves & Stems)

Constituents: Tannins, flavonoids, anthraquinones. Coumarins, Iridoid glycosides (Asperuloside, Acumin), Fatty acids, Alkanes, Gallotannic acid, Citric acid.

Taste: Sweet, Salty, Bitter

Energy: Cool

Combines Well With: Cleavers combines perfectly with the other two great lymphatic cleansers of herbal medicine, Calendula and Poke Root. It also works with Red Clover to help clean the blood and for chronic skin problems. Cleavers is often combined with goldenrod and nettles to help tonify and strengthen weak kidneys.

Organs & Systems Affected: Lymphatic System, Kidney, Liver, Skin


Cleavers are used both internally and externally. As a poultice the herb is useful for treating wounds and a variety of stubborn skin disorders. It is cooling and soothing. Internally it is commonly used as a tonic for the kidney, liver and lymphatic systems, making it useful for treating oedema, arthritis, ear and throat infections, cleansing the blood, soothing the bladder and treating a wide variety of skin disorders.

The name “aparine” derives from the Greek word meaning to “lay hold of” or “seize.” In Europe the dried, matted foliage was used to stuff mattresses and the roots were used to make a permanent red dye. Deer are also known to bed down in dense patches of cleavers, also commonly called, “Bedstraw.” As a diuretic and lymphatic tonic it is useful for treating swollen glands, cysts and post-menstrual swelling and oedema of the breasts and legs.

Cleavers are said to be their most potent fresh or in alcohol tincture or extract. Dried cleavers are considered milder and less potent.

Raw cleavers taste like coffee (which is also a member of the family Rubiaceae) and the dried and ground herb can be roasted and is often used in this form as a coffee substitute.

The constituent, asperuloside, is a substance that is converted into prostaglandins in the body. Prostaglandins are hormone-like compounds that stimulate the uterus and blood vessels. An extract of cleavers (½ tsp a 3x a day) has been shown in studies to help lower blood pressure without slowing the heart rate or inducing unwanted side effects. In Sweden, a thick mat of the stems is still used as a filter for milk as it is said to provide milk with the healing properties of the herb. The Ancient Greek shepherds were said to use the plant in the same way when they were out in the fields tending and milking their sheep. Cleavers have been used as an ingredient in love potions.

The seeds of cleavers have been found in Neolithic settlements, and in times past were used to curdle milk into cheese. The plant’s botanical name, “Galium” derives from the Greek word for milk and relates to this ability to curdle milk.

The famous 17th century herbalist, Culpeper, said, cleavers can be “taken in broth, to keep them lean and lank that are apt to grow fat.” Rumour has it that the plants clinging action inspired the creation of Velcro, the sticking fabric adhesive used in clothes and shoes and that is why Velcro is sometimes also called “cleavers!”. Cleavers provides food for the larvae of many butterfly species. horses, cows, poultry, geese and sheep also love to eat cleavers. 

Science on Cleavers

~ The constituents Monotropein, asperuloside, acumin, aucubin, protopine, harmine, (±)-vasicinone, (-)-l -hydroxydeoxypeganine, (-)-8-hydroxy-2,3-dehydrodeoxypeganine, p-hydroxybenzoic acid, chlorogenic acid, silicic acid, caffeic acid, p-coumaric acid, flavonoid, anthraquinon, cholesterol, campestrol, stigmasterol, sitos-terol, DELTA[5]-avenasterol, DELTA[7]-stigmasterol, DELTA[7]-avenasterol, asperulosidic acid, and 10-deacetylasperulosidic acid have all been isolated from the aerial parts of Galium aparine (Deliorman, D., Çaliþ, Ý., and Ergun, F. Iridoids from Galium aparine. Pharmaceutical Biology 2001;39(3):234-235) (Sener, B. and Ergun, F. Isolation and structural studies on the alkaloids of Galium aparine L. GUEDE J Fac Pharm Gazi 1988;5:33-40)

~ Traditionally, clivers has been used as a diuretic, as a treatment for epilepsy, and for cleansing the kidneys, blood, and lymph system (Temizer A. and Sayin F, Ergun F et al. Determination of total flavonoid in various Galium species by differential pulse polarography. J Fac Pharm 1996;13:97-104)

Cleavers may have anti-inflammatory effects and it has been used to treat mastitis in animals (Lans, C., Turner, N., Khan, T., Brauer, G., and Boepple, W. Ethnoveterinary medicines used for ruminants in British Columbia, Canada. J Ethnobiol Ethnomed  2007)


Diuretic, Alterative, Anti-inflammatory, Antipholgistic, Astringent, Depurative, Diaphoretic, Febrifuge, Tonic, vulnerary, Anti-obesity, adaptogen, Anti-neoplastic

Traditional Uses

LYMPHATIC HEALER: Cleanses and tones the lymph, relieves swollen glands.

DIURETIC: Flushing and decongesting to the kidneys and urinary system, treats cystitis and water retention

BLOOD CLEANSER: Purifies and detoxifies the blood

SKIN HEALER: Astringent and Antiseptic, treats irritation, inflammation, wounds and burns.

Good For:

Urinary Infection, Water retention, Oedema, Cystitis, Swollen Glands, Tonsillitis, Ulcers, Lumps, Tumours, Eczema, Psoriasis, Boils, Abscesses, Skin irritations, Wounds and Burns. 

Lymph healer:

Cleavers is known traditionally for its use in tonifying and cleansing the Lymphatic system. It is a naturally diuretic so it is also good for the kidneys and urinary tract. So Cleavers can be used to treat cystitis and urinary conditions. Because it tonifies the lymph, it can relieve swollen glands, and water retention or oedema. It has been known for its use in the treatment of ulcers, lumps in the breast, and tumours. It has a flushing, decongesting and cleansing effect on the body including the blood.

Skin healer:

Cleavers is also known for its use externally. Cleavers is calming to skin irritations, and has an astringent and antiseptic action, making this herb good for healing wounds. It will reduce inflammation, detoxify and and cleanse the skin so can be used to treat eczema, dermatitis, and psoriasis, as well as boils and abscesses. It is always helpful to keep cleavers as part of a herbal first aid kit. It is even effective in soothing sunburn. 


Tea: Use 1 cup of boiling water to 1 teaspoonful of Cleavers. Leave to infuse for 10-15 minutes. Drink 2-3 times a day for desired effects.

Tincture: Take up to 2-4ml, up to 3 times a day. 1:5 in 25% alcohol

Juice: From the fresh 1 – 3 teaspoons. Terminal cases half to 1 wine glass full or as much as tolerated.

Poultice: Fresh plant crushed with the aid of a rolling pin. Applied cold.

Safety: Because of its Diuretic principles, cleavers should not be used by those with diabetes.