cleavers infusion

Cleavers 101: Identification, Uses, Harvesting, and Preparation

The Outdoor Apothecary is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more

As a bioregional herbalist nestled in New England,  I find myself in awe of the diverse array of medicinal plants that thrive in this region. Among these botanical treasures, one that has captivated my attention is the Cleavers, scientifically known as Galium aparine. Also affectionately referred to as “stickywilly” or “bedstraw,” this unassuming yet remarkable plant has woven itself into the fabric of my herbal practice. Its delicate appearance belies its potent healing properties, making it a true gem of our local flora. Join me as we embark on a journey to explore the virtues and therapeutic potential of Cleavers, a beloved ally in the world of herbal medicine.


Identifying Cleavers

When venturing into nature to seek out Cleavers, it is essential to know how to properly identify this versatile plant. Cleavers are annual, herbaceous weeds that can be found in a variety of habitats, such as woodlands, hedgerows, and gardens. The key characteristic of Cleavers is its clinging nature, as the plant’s stems, leaves, and fruits are covered in tiny hooked hairs that enable it to stick to clothing and other surfaces. These sticky appendages give rise to its common names like “stickywilly” or “catchweed.” 

The plant typically grows in sprawling masses, forming dense patches of intertwining stems. The leaves are narrow and lance-shaped, arranged in whorls of six to eight around the stem. When in doubt, using a reliable plant identification guide, either in print or as a mobile app, can provide valuable assistance in confirming the plant’s identity, ensuring a safe and accurate recognition of Cleavers in the field.

In addition to the distinct features of its clinging nature and narrow, lance-shaped leaves, Cleavers can be further identified by examining its stems and flowers. The stems of Cleavers are slender, square-shaped, and slightly ridged, growing up to several feet in length. They have a delicate, pale green hue and are often covered in fine hairs, which contribute to their overall sticky texture. The stems are notably flexible and can trail along the ground or climb on nearby vegetation, forming tangled masses.

When it comes to the flowers, Cleavers produce small, star-shaped blooms that are pale green or white. These flowers are arranged in loose clusters at the leaf axils, where the leaves meet the stem. Each flower consists of four petals that form a corolla with tiny lobes at the tips, giving them a cross-like appearance. While individually unremarkable, the collective effect of the flowers creates a delicate, understated beauty.

As the plant matures, Cleavers develop small, round fruits that are covered in hooked bristles, much like the stems and leaves. These fruits serve as additional identifying features, as their prickly texture helps them adhere to passing animals or unsuspecting hikers, aiding in the dispersal of the plant’s seeds.

By taking note of Cleavers’ slender, square stems, delicate star-shaped flowers, and the characteristic clinging hairs on its stems, leaves, and fruits, one can confidently recognize and appreciate this fascinating botanical presence in the natural world. However, when in doubt, it is always wise to consult a reliable plant identification guide such as one from this list: 30+ Best Field Guides & Plant Identification Books

cleavers - spring herbs

Uses for Cleavers

Let’s dive into the amazing uses of Cleavers! This humble plant has a lot to offer. First off, Cleavers is known for its gentle support for the lymphatic system. It helps promote healthy lymphatic flow without being too forceful. So, if you’re looking for a natural way to give your body a gentle nudge toward detoxification or dealing with swollen lymph nodes, Cleavers could be just what you’re searching for.

But wait, there’s more! Cleavers is also famous for its ability to promote urine production, supporting healthy kidney function along the way. It’s like a little boost for your kidneys. If you’re experiencing water retention or simply want to support your urinary system naturally, Cleavers might be a helpful ally.

Let’s not overlook Cleavers’ traditional use as a cooling and soothing herb. Its soothing properties make it a great option for calming irritated skin conditions such as rashes, sunburns, or dry, itchy skin. You can create a gentle poultice or infusion with Cleavers and apply it directly to the affected area for some soothing relief.

And here’s an interesting tidbit: Cleavers is edible! You can add its tender young leaves and stems to your salads or smoothies for a refreshing and nutritious addition. It’s a fantastic way to incorporate Cleavers into your diet and benefit from its gentle support for the lymphatic system and its mild diuretic properties.

It’s pretty clear that Cleavers is a versatile and fascinating herb that could be a valuable addition to your herbal toolkit.


Harvesting and Preparation

When it comes to harvesting and preparing Cleavers, I’m always filled with excitement! This wonderful herb has so much to offer, and knowing the best practices makes the experience even more rewarding. So, let’s dive in!

The ideal time to harvest Cleavers is in the early spring or early summer, when the plant is at its peak vitality. Look for young, tender shoots with vibrant green leaves. These are the parts you want to gather, as they contain the highest concentration of beneficial compounds.

Once you’ve gathered your Cleavers, it’s time to prepare them. Start by giving them a gentle rinse to remove any dirt or debris. Then, you have a few options depending on how you want to use them.

For a nourishing herbal infusion, take a handful of the fresh plant material and place them in a heatproof jar. Pour hot water over the herb and let it steep for about 10 to 15 minutes. Strain the infusion and enjoy! You can drink it as is or add a touch of honey for sweetness.

If you’re looking to harness its skin-soothing properties, you can create a poultice. Take fresh Cleavers leaves and stems, crush them slightly to release their juices, and apply the poultice directly to the affected area. Secure it with a clean cloth or bandage and leave it on for about 15 to 20 minutes. Ah, the cooling relief can be quite comforting!

As the season progresses, this herb undergoes some changes, but fear not, there are still ways to harness its medicinal and culinary potential!

If you find yourself encountering Cleavers later in the season, when the stems and leaves have matured and become a bit tougher, don’t worry. You can still gather them for drying purposes. Simply cut the upper parts of the plant, including the stems and leaves, and hang them in small bundles upside down in a cool, well-ventilated area. Allow them to dry completely, typically within a week or two, until the plant material feels crisp to the touch. Once your Cleavers are dried, you can use them to create herbal tinctures. 

But that’s not all! As the plant matures, it develops small, round fruits containing seeds. These seeds, when dried and roasted, can be used as a coffee substitute. Harvest the ripe Cleavers fruits by gently rubbing them between your hands to separate the seeds from the clinging hairs. Then, spread the seeds on a clean, dry surface and allow them to dry completely.  It’s a unique way to savor the flavors of Cleavers while exploring new and exciting beverages.

Remember, though, it’s always essential to gather plants from clean and uncontaminated areas. Avoid harvesting Cleavers from roadsides or areas exposed to pollutants.

Now you’re all set to enjoy the benefits of Cleavers! Whether it’s a refreshing herbal infusion, a coffee substitute from the roasted seeds, or a soothing poultice, this remarkable plant offers a wealth of possibilities. Just remember to always be respectful of nature’s gifts. Happy harvesting and preparing!

Want More Like This?

Ready to delve deeper into the wonderful world of wild edible and medicinal plants? Don't stop here! Discover a treasure trove of knowledge by exploring our other articles on a variety of fascinating botanical wonders. Join us on this exciting journey and expand your understanding of the bountiful gifts nature has to offer. Click here to embark on your next adventure!


The Outdoor Apothecary website is intended for informational purposes only and should not be considered a substitute for professional medical advice. The information provided is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. While we strive to provide accurate and up-to-date information, it is the reader’s responsibility to ensure proper plant identification and usage.

Please be aware that some plants are poisonous or can have serious adverse health effects. We are not health professionals, medical doctors, or nutritionists. It is essential to consult with qualified professionals for verification of nutritional information, health benefits, and any potential risks associated with edible and medicinal plants mentioned on this website.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top