This cosmopolitan genus includes about 400 species of annuals and perennials. A few species are grown as garden plants, notably Galium odoratum, which makes a good deciduous groundcover in shady areas. Bedstraws contain asperuloside, which produces coumarin, giving the sweet smell of new-mown hay as the foliage dries. Asperuloside can be converted to prostaglandins (hormone-like compounds that stimulate the uterus and affect the blood vessels), making Galium species of great interest to the pharmaceutical industry. Roots of some species contain a red dye, similar to that produced by the closely related Rubia tinctorum (See, madder). The roots of G. verum were once gathered on a large scale in Scotland for dyeing tartans, a practice banned in 1695 due to extensive erosion of sandy grasslands. In England, the foliage was once used to color cheese (notably Cheshire cheese) and butter. Galium comes from the Greek gala, "milk", because several species are used to curdle milk in cheese-making. The common name "bedstraw" refers to the former use of these plants in stuffing mattresses.

Scrambling annual, climbing by hooked bristles, with four-angled, weak, bristly stems, with whorls of 6-9 elliptic leaves, about 2.5cm (1in) long. Tiny white flowers appear in spring and summer, followed by bristly, globose, green-purple fruits.

Common Name:
Other Names:
Barweed, Bedstraw, Catchweed, Cleavers, Clivers, Love Man, Madder, Mutton Chops, Robin-Run-In-The-Grass, Sticky Willie, Tonguebleed
Botanical Name:
Galium aparine
Native Location:
Europe, N and W Asia
Moist, well-drained, neutral to alkaline soil in shade. G. verum prefers drier, sunny conditions.
By seed sown when ripe; by division in autumn or early spring.
Plants are cut when flowering and dried for infusions, liquid extracts, and tablets. Galium aparine is usually used fresh, either juiced or in oil for external use. Seeds are collected when ripe.
1.2m (4ft)
3m (10ft)
More than 300 years ago, the British herbalist Nicholas Culpeper remarked that cleavers should be "taken in broth, to keep them lean and lank that are apt to grow fat." Culpeper is referring to cleaver's well-known diuretic and "cleansing" properties, both of which make the herb an excellent aid in weight-loss programs. In fact, folk herbalists often prescribe cleavers as a spring tonic to "clean out" the system. But the herb is equally renowned for many other therapeutic (and commercial) uses, and its history dates back at least 2,000 years. The ancient Greeks, who used cleavers to treat wounds and urinary tract infections, called the herb philanthropon, for "love man", because the stems of the plant cling or "cleave" to one's clothes. Cleaver's species' name also pays homage to the plant's "clinging" tendencies: aparine is from the Greek aparo ("to seize"). By the Middle Ages, cleavers was popularly known as bedstraw (because the leaves were used to stuff mattresses) and goosegrass (because geese were especially fond of feeding on the plant). And cleavers has long been considered one of the best natural substitutes for coffee; the seeds can be ground and roasted just like regular coffee.
In recent years, cleavers has been the subject of much scientific scrutiny because the plant contains a chemical, asperuloside, that converts to hormonelikeprostaglandins, which are critical to controlling blood pressure, lymphatic function, and muscle contractions.
Parts Used:
Whole plant, seeds
A bitter, cooling, salty herb that acts as a tonic for lymphatic system and have mild laxative, diuretic, and astringent effects. It lowers blood pressure, promotes healing, and is alterative.
Medicinal Uses:
Internally for mononucleosis, tonsilitis, chronic fatique syndrome (CFS), hepatitis, benign breast tumors and cysts, cystitis, eczema, and psoriasis. Externally for swollen lymph glands, breast lumps, ulcers, skin inflammations, minor injuries, and psoriasis. Combined with Althea officinalis (See, marshmallow) for cystitis; with Echinacea purpurea (See, purple coneflower) or Hydrastis canadensis (See, goldenseal) for throat infection; with Trifolium pratense (See red clover), Urtica dioica (See, stinging nettle) and Scrophularia nodosa (See, common figwort) for psoriasis.
Cleavers has alterative, antispasmodic, astringent, diuretic, laxative, sweat-promoting, tonic, uterine-stimulating, and wound-healing properties. As an alterative, cleavers detoxifies the blood, supports the kidneys, and speed the elimination of toxins from the body. As a lymphatic tonic, the herb promotes drainage from swollen, infected glands and helps normalize glandular function. Cleavers is taken internally for acne, cysts, eczema, edema (water retention), high blood pressure, psoriasis, swollen lymph glands, tonsilitis, and urinary tract infections. It is applied externally—usually in ointment form—for dry, scaly skin conditions, especially psoriasis.
Cleavers is available as dried herb, and in capsules, ointments, teas, and tinctures. To make a tea, pour 1 cup of boiling water over 1 teaspoon of dried herb and steep for 5 minutes. Strain, and drink up to 3 cups a day.
Do not take cleavers if you are pregnant or trying to conceive. If you have diabetes, consult your medical practitioner before using the herb. Cleavers is an especially strong diuretic and can therefore leech the essential mineral potassium from the body. If you use cleavers medicinally, be sure to supplement your diet with potassium-rich foods, such as bananas.
Drug Interactions:
Loop Diuretics, Spironolactone, Thiazide Diuretics, Triamterene.
Culinary Uses:
Eaten as a vegetable or added to soups, with reputed slimming effects. Dries seeds are roasted as a coffee substitute.
Encyclopedia of Herbs by Deni Brown Copyright © 1995, 2001 Dorling Kindersley Limited. pg 219
The Modern Herbal Primer by Nancy Burke Copyright©2000 Yankee Publishing, Inc. pp. 51-52