Galium aparine

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For other uses of "goosegrass", see Goosegrass.
Galium aparine
Galium aparine b.jpg
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Asterids
Order: Gentianales
Family: Rubiaceae
Genus: Galium
Species: G. aparine
Binomial name
Galium aparine

Galium aparine or cleavers, also known as: clivers, goosegrass, catchweed, stickyweed, robin-run-the-hedge, sticky willy, sticky willow, velcro weed, and grip grass is a herbaceous annual plant of the family Rubiaceae.


Cleavers are annuals with creeping straggling stems which branch and grow along the ground and over other plants. They attach 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.[1] The leaves are simple, narrowly oblanceolate to linear, and borne in whorls of six to eight.[1][2][3]

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.[4] The globular fruits are burrs which grow one to three seeds clustered together; they are covered with hooked hairs which cling to animal fur, aiding in seed dispersal.[4]


The species is native to a wide region of Europe, North Africa and Asia from Britain and the Canary Islands to Japan. It is now naturalized throughout most of the United States, Canada, Mexico, Central America, South America, Australia, some oceanic islands and scattered locations in Africa. Whether it is native to North America is a question of some debate, but it is considered to be native there in most literature.[5] It is considered a noxious weed in many places.[6][7]

Effects on the body[edit]

For some people, skin contact with Galium aparine causes an unpleasant localized rash[8] known as contact dermatitis.


Chemical constituents of Galium aparine include: iridoid glycosides such as asperulosidic acid and 10-deacetylasperulosidic acid,[9] asperuloside, monotropein and aucubin, alkaloids such as caffeine, phenolics such as phenolic acids, anthraquinone derivatives such as the aldehyde nordamnacanthal (1,3-dihydroxy-anthraquinone-2-al),[10] flavonoids and coumarins, organic acids such as citric acid and a red dye.[11]


Galium aparine is edible. The leaves and stems of the plant can be cooked as a leaf vegetable if gathered before the fruits appear. However, the numerous small hooks which cover the plant and give it its clinging nature can make it less palatable if eaten raw.[12][13] Geese thoroughly enjoy eating G. aparine, hence one of its other common names, "goosegrass".[14] Cleavers are in the same family as coffee. The fruits of cleavers have often been dried and roasted, and then used as a coffee substitute which contains less caffeine.[1][15]

Medicinal uses[edit]

As a tea, the plant acts as a diuretic and lymphatic.[13][verification needed][16][medical citation needed] As a lymphatic tonic, it is used in a wide range of problems involving the lymph system, such as swollen glands (e.g. tonsillitis).[17]

Poultices and washes made from cleavers were traditionally used to treat a variety of skin ailments, light wounds and burns.[18] As a pulp, it has been used to relieve poisonous bites and stings.[19] To make a poultice, the entire plant is used, and applied directly to the affected area.[20]

The asperuloside in cleavers acts as a mild sedative, and one study showed that cleaver extract lowers the blood pressure of dogs, without slowing their heart rate, or any other dangerous side effects.[citation needed] Ethnobotanist James A. Duke recommends a dosage of one ounce of dried leaves to a pint of water, one or two teaspoons of tincture, or two to four grams of the dried herb in a cup of boiling water, three times daily.[21]

Other uses[edit]

Dioscorides reported that ancient Greek shepherds would use the barbed stems of cleavers to make a "rough sieve", which could be used to strain milk. Linnaeus later reported the same usage in Sweden, a tradition that is still practiced in modern times.[18][22]

In Europe, the dried, matted foliage of the plant was once used to stuff mattresses. Several of the bedstraws were used for this purpose, due to the fact that the clinging hairs cause the branches to stick together, which enables the mattress filling to maintain a uniform thickness.[13][23] The roots of cleavers can be used to make a permanent red dye.[24]


The plant can be found growing in hedges and waste places, limestone scree and as a garden weed.[25][26]

The anthraquinone aldehyde nordamnacanthal (1,3-dihydroxy-anthraquinone-2-al) present in G. aparine has an antifeedant activity against Spodoptera litura, the Oriental leafworm moth, a species which is considered an agricultural pest.[10] The Acari Cecidophyes rouhollahi can be found on G. aparine.[27]


Cleavers, creeping together over the tops of other plants on the forest floor. 
Leaves and stem of G. aperine. Notice the angular stem and whorled oblong/lanceolate leaves. 
Flower and fruit of G. aperine. The fruit is an adhesive burr that clings to animals passing by to spread the seed. 
Galium aparine, closeup with leaves and fruit, from Cologne, Germany 
Closeup of G. aparine leaf. Note the hooked barbs used to climb over substrate. 


  1. ^ a b c Duke, James A. (2001). Handbook of Edible Weeds. CRC Press. p. 100. ISBN 9780849329463. 
  2. ^ Rabeler, Richard K. (2007). Gleason's Plants of Michigan. University of Michigan Press. p. 299. ISBN 9780472032464. 
  3. ^ Webb, D.A., Parnell, J. and Doogue, D. 1996. An Irish Flora. Dundalgan Press (W.Tempest) Ltd. Dundalk. 0-85221-131-7
  4. ^ a b Grieve, Maud (1971). "Clivers". A Modern Herbal: The Medicinal, Culinary, Cosmetic and Economic Properties, Cultivation and Folk-lore of Herbs, Grasses, Fungi, Shrubs, & Trees with All Their Modern Scientific Uses, Volume 1. Dover Publications. p. 206. ISBN 9780486227986. 
  5. ^ US Forest Service
  6. ^ Kew World Checklist of Selected Plant Families
  7. ^ Biota of North America Program
  8. ^ Evanoff, K. (2013). "Bedstraw is a weed that bites back". Tribune Chronicle. [Link Evanoff]
  9. ^ Iridoids from Galium aparine. D Deliorman, I Çalis, and F Ergun, Pharmaceutical Biology, 2001, Vol. 39, No. 3, Pages 234-235, doi:10.1076/phbi.
  10. ^ a b Antifeedant activity of an anthraquinone aldehyde in Galium aparine L. against Spodoptera litura F. Masanori Morimoto, Kumiko Tanimoto, Akiko Sakatani and Koichiro Komai, Phytochemistry, May 2002, Volume 60, Issue 2, Pages 163–166, doi:10.1016/S0031-9422(02)00095-X
  11. ^ Rahman, Atta-ur (2005). Studies in Natural Products Chemistry: Bioactive Natural Products (Part L). Gulf Publishing Company. p. 291. ISBN 9780444521712. 
  12. ^ Edible Wild Plants: A North American Field Guide. Retrieved 2013-08-14. 
  13. ^ a b c Tull, Delena. "Edible and Useful Plants of Texas and the Southwest." 1999, p. 145
  14. ^ Dukes, James A. (2002). The Green Pharmacy Herbal Handbook. Macmillan. p. 102. ISBN 9780312981518. 
  15. ^ Wood, Matthew (2008). "Galium aparine. Cleavers. Lady's Bedstraw. Goosegrass.". The Earthwise Herbal: A Complete Guide to Old World Medicinal Plants. North Atlantic Books. p. 267. ISBN 9781556436925. 
  16. ^ Khare, C.P. (2007). Indian Medicinal Plants: An Illustrated Dictionary. Springer. p. 277. ISBN 9780387706375. 
  17. ^ Hoffman, David (1998). The Herbal Handbook: A User's Guide to Medical Herbalism. Inner Traditions / Bear & Company. p. 138. ISBN 9780892817825. 
  18. ^ a b Grieve, Maud (1971). "Clivers". A Modern Herbal: The Medicinal, Culinary, Cosmetic and Economic Properties, Cultivation and Folk-lore of Herbs, Grasses, Fungi, Shrubs, & Trees with All Their Modern Scientific Uses, Volume 1. Dover Publications. p. 207. ISBN 9780486227986. 
  19. ^ Jones, Pamela. Just Weeds: History, Myths, and Uses. Prentice Hall Press, New York. 1991.
  20. ^ Schneider, Anny & Mellichamp, Larry (2002). Wild Medicinal Plants: What to Look For, When to Harvest, How to Use. Stackpole Books. p. 73. ISBN 9780811729871. 
  21. ^ Dukes, James A. (2002). The Green Pharmacy Herbal Handbook. Macmillan. p. 103. ISBN 9780312981518. 
  22. ^ Loudon, John Claudius. "An encyclopædia of plants", 1836, p. 93
  23. ^ Runkel, Sylvan T. & Roosa, Dean M. (2009). Wildflowers of the Tallgrass Prairie: The Upper Midwest. University of Iowa. p. 65. ISBN 9781587297960. 
  24. ^ Hutchens, Alma R. (1992). A Handbook of Native American Herbs. Shambala Publications. p. 97. ISBN 9780877736998. 
  25. ^ Hackney, P. (Ed)1992. Stewart & Corry's Flora of the North-east of Ireland. Third Edition. Institute of Irish Studies, The Queen's University of Belfast. ISBN 0 85389 446 9
  26. ^ Clapham, A.R., Tutin, T.G. and Warburg, E.F. 1968. Excursion Flora of the British Isles. Second Edition. Cambridge University Press.
  27. ^ A new species of Cecidophyes (Acari: Eriophyidae) from Galium aparine (Rubiaceae) with notes on its biology and potential as a biological control agent for Galium spurium. Charnie Craemer, Rouhollah Sobhian, Alec S. McClay and James W. Amrine Jr., International Journal of Acarology, 1999, Volume 25, Issue 4, pages 255-263, doi:10.1080/01647959908684162

Further reading[edit]