Botanical and Common Names
- Family Rubiaceae
- Galium aparine (Cleavers, Clivers, Goosegrass, Barweed, Hedgeheriff, Hayriffe, Eriffe, Grip Grass, Hayruff, Catchweed, Scratweed, Mutton Chops, Robin-run-in-the-Grass, Love-man, Goosebill, Everlasting Friendship, Bedstraw, Coachweed, Cleaverwort, Goose Grass, Gosling Weed, Hedge-burs, Stick-a-back, Sweethearts)
- Galium odorata (Woodruff, Sweet Woodruff, Master of the Wood, Woodwrad, Waldmeister)
- Galium verum (Lady’s Bedstraw, Yellow Galium, Cheese Rennet, Curdwort, Maid’s Hair, Yellow Cleavers, Petty Mugget, Cheese Renning)
- Excessive doses can cause internal bleeding and should not be taken if on conventional medication for circulatory problems or during pregnancy.
- As the plant dries, coumarin is released, containing as much as 1% in the freshly dried product. Therefore, it should not be taken with other anticoagulant medications.
- Do not use if there are existing kidney problems.
Cleavers is a straggling annual, growing to about four feet in height. The plant is common throughout Europe and North America and found in many other temperate zones, including Australia. It grows prolifically in gardens and along roadsides, intertwining through hedges and producing long, sticky stems with Velcro-like, green fruits, sometimes called burrs. Each plant has the ability to produce some 3,500 seeds that often withstand the winter and get a jump-start on other plants in the spring. Livestock and birds relish its bitter flavour. For medicinal use, it is gathered when just about to flower in late spring.
Woodruff is a perennial, growing to about eighteen inches in height with a square stem, whorls of narrow elliptical leaves, and small white flowers. Native to Europe, it is also found in Asia, Siberia, and North Africa, and is harvested during or shortly before the flowering season.
Lady’s Bedstraw is a short, also sprawling, perennial that grows to almost three feet in height, producing whorls of leaves and tufts of very small bright yellow flowers. The plant can be found throughout Europe, except in Lapland and arctic Russia. It also grows in Asia Minor, Iran, and Syria, thriving in dry meadows, along roadsides, and in wayside places. It is harvested during the flowering season of summer.
Cleavers received its name from its ability to cling (or cleave) to fur or clothing. Dioscorides, a 1st century Greek physician, prescribed it for weariness. Ancient Greek shepherds fashioned sieves from its vinelike stems; and, in some areas of Sweden, some dairy farmers still strain milk through such sieves.
English poulty farmers encourage its growth because it is a favoured food of geese, which explains its nickname of goosegrass.
Lady’s Bedstraw was named for obvious reasons. Because of its pleasing scent, it was often used to stuff mattresses; and, during medieval times, it was strewn on the floor to rid rooms of unpleasant odours. Its yellow flowers were also used to curdle milk and to colour cheese. An herbal from 1735, advocated using the crushed flowers to alleviate inflammation of burns and wounds.
Woodruff was used in a similar manner as Lady’s Bedstraw. Because of its scent of newly cut hay, it was often placed inbetween clothing and strewn about. It was also used on bruises, boils, and inflammations.
Woodruff has long been used to flavour wines, as stated by Gerard; and the practice continues with it now being used mainly to flavour alcoholic beverages such as bitters, May wine, and vermouth.
- induces sleep
- lymphatic cleanser
- mild astringent
- anthraquinones (only in the root)
- iridoids (including asperuloside)
- polyphenolic acids
(c) Lady’s Bedstraw
- iridoids (including asperuloside)
- Aerial parts
- According to French research in 1947, an extract of cleavers appeared to lower blood pressure.
Infusions are taken for kidney stones and other urinary problems, as well as serving as a cooling drink for fevers.
Juice is obtained from the fresh plant and used in such serious illnesses, as cancer, and as a strong diuretic to rid the body of toxins. It is also used for kidney stones and other urinary problems, including prostate disorders and makes an effective lymphatic cleanser for a range of conditions.
Tinctures are used for the same conditions as infusions and can be combined with such other lymphatic detoxifying herbs as dried pokeroot.
Compresses made from the infusion can be applied to burns, grazes, ulcers, or other skin inflammations.
Creams are regularly used to relieve psoriasis.
Hair rinses from the infusions are used to treat dandruff or scaling scalp problems.
Young shoots have long been a popular cleansing tonic in the spring since it appears very early (a remedy long used in central Europe and the Balkans). It is often used as a vegetable where it is gently sweated in a pan like spinach and can be continually harvested until fall.
Cleavers is often taken as a diuretic, but it is also effective to soothe such skin disorders as seborrhea, eczema, and psoriasis, as well as for sunburn and blisters. It is also good for swollen lymph glands and as a general detoxifying agent in such serious illnesses as cancer.
Cleavers is used internally and externally to reduce the discomfort of ulcers, festering glands, and fibrocystic breasts. It may also help induce sleep.
Medicinally, bruised leaves of woodruff are applied to wounds or infused to take for such internal complaints as stomach pains. However, large doses of the tea can cause dizziness and vomiting.
Woodruff has long been helpful for varicose veins and phlebitis, as well as being used as an antispasmodic and given to adults and children alike for insomnia.
Lady’s Bedstraw is a slightly bitter remedy used mainly as a diuretic, but also for skin conditions and other disorders. It is used in much the same way as Cleavers, but only if that herb is unavailable, since it is the preferred one of the species.
In France, Lady’s Bedstraw has a longstanding reputation for being a valuable herb used for epilepsy, but it is rarely used for that today. A related species, G. elatum, has also been used in France for epilepsy.
Herbalists value all parts of the plant, from its roots to its seeds, which are dried and roasted to make a coffee substitute. The plant can also be cooked and eaten as a vegetable.
Related species in Mexico, G. orizabense, is used by the Mazatecs to treat intestinal parasites and relieve fever. Iin New Zealand, G. umbrosum, is used to treat gonorrhea.