The Health Benefits of Cleavers (Galium aparine)

Edible Medicinal Herb With Various Traditional Uses

Cleavers (Galium aparine) is an herb found around the world in Europe, North America, Asia, Greenland, and Australia. Cleavers is described as an edible weed or a wildflower.

When it has a sturdy base to climb, it can grow up to 6 feet tall, adorned with small greenish-white flowers. Tiny bristles on the leaves enable cleavers to cling to other plants and become easily stuck on clothes and fur.

Cleavers is a popular herbal remedy used to treat and help prevent a variety of ailments. Its fruits/seeds can also be dried and roasted to make a hot beverage similar to coffee.

Also Known As

Other names for cleavers include:

  • Catchweed bedstraw
  • Cleaverwort
  • Clivers
  • Goosegrass
  • Gripgrass
  • Scarthgrass
  • Stickywilly
  • Velcro plant
  • White hedge
Cleavers (Galium aparine)
spline_x / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Health Benefits

Cleavers is believed to support the immune system and have diuretic, antispasmodic, and anti-inflammatory effects. In addition to research on cancer, cleavers has been used on skin conditions, like psoriasis and eczema.

Cancer

Immunomodulators are bioactive substances that support the body's natural defenses in fighting against pre-cancerous cells.

According to the American Cancer Society, "Immunomodulators are a group of drugs that mainly target the pathways that treat multiple myeloma and a few other cancers. They have many ways to work, including working on the immune system directly by turning down some proteins and turning up others."

Although more human studies are needed, cleavers has been shown to act as an immunomodulator by promoting the proliferation of lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell). This effect suggests the potential for immune system benefits and cancer cell reduction.

In addition, studies on two human tumor cells, MCF-7 and Caco-2, demonstrate the ability of cleavers extract to inhibit cancer cell growth through apoptosis (programmed cell death).

Of course, looking at isolated effects in the lab can't always predict what will happen in the human body, however, these results are promising for the future of breast and colon cancer research.

Psoriasis

Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease that increases the rate of skin cell growth, leading to thick red or silver patches of skin. Like other autoimmune diseases, psoriasis is exacerbated by inflammation. Because of the purported anti-inflammatory effects of cleavers, it makes sense that this herb could help reduce psoriasis flare-ups.

Unfortunately, no major studies to date are available to back-up this claim. Nonetheless, there's no harm in asking your rheumatologist whether they condone the use of cleavers as part of your overall psoriasis management plan, especially since there's no indication that cleavers would interfere with other therapies.

Other Uses

Herbalists tout the benefits of cleavers for additional uses, although these can be difficult to justify using peer-reviewed research studies. Other historical uses for cleavers include:

  • Gonorrhea: Believe it or not, cleavers was once believed to cure gonorrhea. However, today's antibiotics are a far more effective and reliable way to treat this dangerous sexually-transmitted disease.
  • Skin ulcers, burns, and acne: Cleavers is believed to have a cooling effect on the skin. Anecdotal stories from the late 1800s describe cleavers' ability to reduce the size of leg ulcers.
  • Swelling or edema: The diuretic effect of cleavers is thought to relieve swelling and promote the movement of fluid throughout the body.
  • Swollen glands: Cleavers is associated with springtime and moving away from the heaviness and stillness of wintertime by reducing swollen glands and fluid build-up.
  • Urinary tract infections: In alternative medicine, bladder infections are connected to inflammation and heat. The cooling and diuretic effect of cleavers is believed to alleviate urinary troubles.

You may choose to consult an experienced herbalist or alternative medicine practitioner if you have a mild case of one of the above conditions or a recurring problem that you'd like to get a step ahead of through preventive measures.

However, if you experience a severe burn, an acute urinary tract infection, or another serious medical concern it's wise to seek immediate treatment from your doctor to avoid worsening a potentially dangerous issue.

Possible Side Effects

Cleavers isn't known to interact with any medications or other herbal supplements. As an edible plant, there appears to be minimal risk associated with ingesting cleavers or placing it on the skin. Although no notable side effects are associated with cleavers, an allergic reaction is always possible.

Non-specific signs of an allergy include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Dizziness
  • Hives or a rash
  • Itchiness
  • Runny nose
  • Stomach pain
  • Throat swelling
  • Trouble breathing
  • Watery or red eyes

Dosage and Preparation

There are no official standardized guidelines on dosing for herbal remedies. Cleavers formulations commonly recommended by naturopathic doctors include:

  • Juice: 3 to 15 milliliters, three times per day
  • Herbal tincture: 30 to 60 drops of a 25% alcohol solution taken three times per day
  • Tea: 2 to 4 grams infused in 60 to 120 milliliters of water, three times per day

Herbalists advise using fresh cleavers instead of dried when possible. You can blend the herb in a blender, extract its liquid in a juicer, or mash it to squeeze out the natural juices.

Blending with water is the easiest method, as juicing will yield a very limited volume. If you don't use it immediately, you can preserve the liquid by freezing it in an icecube tray or mixing it with 25% alcohol.

Anytime you try a new product or supplement, it's important to pay attention to how your body feels and watch out for signs of a negative reaction. If you plan to use cleavers as a topical treatment for skin issues, start with a small patch to detect an allergy or irritation before covering a larger area. For oral supplements, always begin with the smallest recommended dose.

What to Look For

Knowing what to look for is a challenge when seeking herbal remedies and alternative medicines. As the supplement industry is unregulated, there isn't always a guarantee that a product truly contains the ingredients listed on the label.

Furthermore, most pharmacists, doctors, and other conventional healthcare providers are not trained to advise patients on herbal treatments. Luckily, cleavers is a rather common and generally safe plant that can be easily identified by an experienced gardener or herbalist.

Exercise caution when purchasing supplements, even if they come from a seemingly reputable online company or natural food store. If possible, purchase live sprigs of the fresh herb, rather than commercial products, to avoid added toxins or hidden ingredients.

A Word From Verywell

Always consider the potential pros and cons when weighing the decision to try herbal remedies. While we never want to hedge our bets on speculated benefits alone, many herbal treatments have a long history of good results.

Start by asking your doctor about contraindications and watch out for any negative reactions. Once you're in the clear, you can successfully discover ways to complement conventional treatments with natural herbs, like cleavers.

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Article Sources
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  1. Ilina T, Kashpur N, Granica S, et al. Phytochemical profiles and in vitro immunomodulatory activity of ethanolic extracts from galium aparine l. Plants. 2019;8(12):541. doi:10.3390/plants8120541

  2. Washington State University. Catchweed bedstraw. Updated November 13, 2013.

  3. University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources, Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program. Catchweed bedstraw. Updated November 2010.

  4. American Cancer Society. Immunomodulators and their side effects. Updated December 27, 2019.

  5. Aslantürk Ö, Çelik T, Karabey B, Karabey F. Active phytochemical detecting, antioxidant, cytotoxic, apoptotic activities of ethyl acetate and methanol extracts of galium aparine l. BJPR. 2017;15(6):1-16. doi:10.9734/BJPR/2017/32762

  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. What is psoriasis?. Updated August 18, 2020.

  7. Herbs with Rosalee. The cleavers herb.

  8. ND Health Facts. Galium aparine. Updated March 18, 2014.

  9. Cleveland Clinic. Allergy overview. Updated March 7, 2016.