Cleavers: A Bit of Botany
a little botanical information about cleavers

Cleavers are herbaceous annual plants of the family Rubiaceae. Cleavers creep along the ground and over the tops of other plants, attaching themselves with the small hooked hairs which grow out of the stems and leaves. The stems can reach up to three feet or longer, and are angular or square shaped.

The leaves are simple, narrowly oblanceolate to linear, and borne in whorls of six to eight.

Cleavers have tiny, star-shaped, white to greenish flowers, which emerge from early spring to summer. The flowers are clustered in groups of two or three, and are borne out of the leaf axils. The globular fruits grow clustered 1-3 seeds together; and are covered with hooked hairs (a burr) which cling to animal fur, aiding in seed dispersal.

common names & nomenclature
The generic name is derived from gala, the Greek word for milk—this because a plant of the Galium genus was used in antiquity as a means to curdle milk to make cheese. Numerous references assert that the etymology of the species name is aparo, the Greek word for "seize"—the implication being that the plant seizes (cleaves to) anything that passes, same reason for the common name of cleavers.

Also known as:
bedstraw, catchweed, clabber grass, clivers, cleavers, coachweed, cleaverwort, gravel grass, grip grass, goose grass, goose hair, gosling weed, hedge burrs, milk sweet, poor robin, loveman, stick-a-back, sweethearts, savoyan, scratchweed, barweed, hedgeheriff, robin-run-in-the-grass, mutton chops, everlasting friendship, stickywilly, amor de hortelano, ladies' straw

Cleavers, the common, annual groundcover
Cleavers: Where in the World
habitat and range for cleavers

Cleavers are native to North America and Eurasia.

Cleavers: Cultivation & Harvesting
considerations for growing and harvesting cleavers

Grows in woodland gardens in dappled shade or shady edges, or also hedgerows. Prefers shade to part sun.

Prefers a loose moist leafy soil but can tolerate some dry soil.

Seeds are best sown outside directly into the garden soil as soon as the seed is ripe in late summer. The seed can also be sown in spring though it may be very slow to germinate. Once established, this plant does not really need any help to reproduce itself.

Leaves are harvested in May and June as it comes into flower and can be used fresh or dried for later use.

Dried leaves may be cut into smaller pieces and stored in an airtight container in a cool, dry place.

Cleavers: The Rest of the Story
cleavers history, folklore, literature & more

Cleavers (Galium aparine) is a low growing, flowering winter annual that thrives in moist and grassy areas along waterways and in pastures and fields. Since it is found throughout most of the globe, the plant has earned quite a few common names. Whatever name you prefer, the plant is easily recognized by square stems that support whorls of 6-8 lance-shaped leaves.

Cleavers was once used for bedding material. In fact, it is said that the Virgin Mary made use of this herb to prepare a bed for her newborn child. This is likely why cleavers, as well as many other Galium species of the madder family, are collectively known as “bedstraws.”

Additionally, the stems were once gathered and fashioned into mat that would serve as a sieve, through which fresh milk could be filtered and infused with the health-giving properties of the plant. In some parts of Sweden, this traditional use continues today.

Although the plant imparts a honey-like fragrance while in bloom, it tastes somewhat bitter. For this reason, its culinary use is largely limited to soups and stews. The dried and roasted seeds of the plant, however, reputedly make an excellent coffee substitute. Native American tribes used the leaf in love medicine.