Galium aparine

Coffee or Madder family (Rubiaceae)

Energetics: Very cooling (De la Foret, n.d.)
Taste: Salty, sweet (De la Foret, n.d.)
When to harvest: Harvest very young plants for salads in early spring; harvest plants for any other uses until it starts flowering later in spring.
Identification: Also known as 'sticky willy' in the British Isles and Ireland, cleavers is an annual plant that likes cool, camp conditions of late winter/early spring, and also autumn, or mild winter periods. It has a square-shaped stem, with leaves occurring in whorls - each set or whorl of leaves radiates from a single point along the stem. As the plant matures, it develops tiny hooks along its surfaces that enables it to stick to other plants (and animals), helping to spread its seed further. Cleavers has tiny white flowers which produce tiny round, green fruits. Cleavers can grow up to 120-150cm tall, but will start to slouch and collapse as it gets taller.

Cleavers is especially adept at alleviating hot, inflamed conditions with its strong cooling effect, and some of the different ways are shared below. The other thing it is renowned for is supporting the lymphatic system, and its tiny little hooks conjure a helpful image of it cleaning out the lymphatic vessels. It also makes sense that it emerges at the end of winter, a time when we need some ‘spring cleaning’ after eating heavier foods and perhaps being less physically active.

Lymphatic system

Because the lymphatic system is part of the immune system, lymph glands can become swollen when the body is fighting an infection. People may notice swollen lymph glands by the throat when fighting a respiratory infection; however, if a gland remains swollen or tender for a protracted period, one should always get it checked out by a medical professional to rule out anything more serious. Cleavers can help move the lymph along and encourage its drainage, which helps clean out any residue from its important infection-busting work.

Urinary system

Cleavers can help with either scant urination or burning urination because it helps move fluid out, and is cooling in nature.


Cleavers can help with hot skin conditions - where the skin feels or looks hot, red, inflamed, or moist/weepy. It can be applied as a juice or poultice.

Plant preparations


  • Juice (best to blend cleavers and strain out, rather than use a juicing machine)
  • Cool infusion
  • Edible (tender young plants)


  • Poultice
  • Oil
  • Balm


Cleavers is considered safe, though some people get skin irritation from contact.

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