While they might not know the name of it, if you describe Cleavers or Goosegrass to someone, they’ll know exactly what you mean. “That long green sticky stuff that kids stick on people’s jumpers or coats and think it’s really funny”. The sticking is due to little hooks all over the plant. They may have inspired Velcro, though the same is said of Burdock burrs. There are quite a few foraging uses for Cleavers, most in the Spring. You might decide that they are not your thing, but I would recommend juicing Cleavers.
Cleavers have creeping straggling stems which 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. The leaves are simple, narrowly oblanceolate to linear, and borne in whorls of six to eight (the leaves radiate from the stem).
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. The globular fruits are covered with hooked hairs which cling to animal fur, aiding in seed dispersal.
The plant can be found growing in hedges and waste places, limestone scree and as a garden weed. There are often Nettles nearby.
It is found in most areas of the Britain.
Richard Mabey’s classic Flora Britannica gives c. 20 names for Cleavers from different parts of Britain. Several include the word “goose” and many “sticky”. When I used to run foraging course in Wiltshire, many attendees knew it as “Sticky Willy”!
To cleave is old English for latching on. Cleavers has very small hooks or bristles all over it and it is these that “latch on” or stick when thrown onto your back or you walk through it. The Goose connection is that they, and chickens, use it as food.
Cleavers is a member of the Bedstraw genus – Galiums. Other members of this group include Ladies Bedstraw and Sweet Woodruff.
Some people get contact dermatitis (unpleasant localised rash) following skin contact with Cleavers. You can do your own skin patch test to see if you get on with it. If you don’t do this, you should only have a very small quantity the first time you try it.
- Avoid if you are pregnant, may become pregnant or are nursing. Cleavers may work to stimulate uterine contractions in women.
- Avoid if you have high blood pressure.
Cleavers have been used since Ancient Times for medicinal uses. They can treat a variety of skin ailments, light wounds, burns, urinary infections, piles, scurvy, ulcers and to relieve poisonous bites and stings. Cleavers can help clean your body of toxins and wastes and help fight infection. Other reported uses include making natural shampoo and deodorant.
They are rich in Vitamin C, Iron and minerals especially silica which is needed for nails, hair and teeth.
It’s often found near to Nettles so gloves may be wise. You don’t want the roots, plus it’s illegal in the UK to uproot a plant without landowners consent, so use scissors. You will easily get bits of other live and dead plants / grass tangled up in it so remove these.
In the Spring use the young plant – less than 6 inches or so long. They get hairier and more fibrous as they get older. When young they are a vibrant green.
I’ve met quite a few people that juice Cleavers for its health benefits. It can be used as an alternative to Wheatgrass. I’ve made Cleavers juice and, in my opinion, “neat” it’s not that exciting a flavour, very green, perhaps with a bit of Pea about it. If I am to try to get it into a regular part of my diet I need to “spice it up”; I’ve found a few good suggestions for this.
You can make it in a couple of different ways. Once made, store in the fridge and it will keep fresh for a week
- Put a couple of handfuls into a jug and cover with cold water. Stir every time you walk past. Leave overnight to infuse. Strain through a tea-strainer, sieve or muslin.
- Alternatively, chop it up a bit and put in a blender. Add water and blend until finely chopped. Strain as above. Give it a shake before using as it will separate.
Rather than drinking it “neat” you could:
- Follow the blender method, pour the juice into ice cube trays and freeze. Once frozen, you can store the juice cubes in a freezer bag. They can be added to a smoothie e.g. banana, cocoa and barley malt.
- Add other ingredients to your Cleavers juice. Make up your own recipe with some of:
- A little fresh ginger
- A shot of Vodka!
- Nettles (the blending will remove the sting!)
- Lemon Juice
Here’s one recipe with lots of the above:
If you really want to push the boat out (and there’s food in the shops – written March 2020), this sounds really nice – Tropical Green Smoothie with Cleavers (recipe buried within a bigger page). It includes Pineapple, Mango and Banana.
- Cleavers Tea
- Cleavers Lemonade
In early Spring the tips of the plant can be added to salads. As they age, they get tougher and develop a rough texture so should only be used when young.
Tender shoots can be boiled for 10 – 15 minutes then:
- Eaten as a vegetable with a little butter.
- Added to Omelettes.
- Chilled and add to
Add chopped Cleavers to soups, plus specifically:
- Spring Tonic Vinegar
- Cleavers Vinegar within this article
- Add to Brown Rice as it is cooking
- Cleavers & Aubergine Bake
- Goosegrass & Pea Macaroni Salad
- Cleavers & Nasturtium Beef/Lamb Patties
- Put in Pesto in place of Basil, or with Wild Garlic and / or Nettles etc.
Cleavers are in the same family as coffee. The fruits of Cleavers (summer / Early Autumn), have been dried, roasted and ground, and then used as a coffee substitute which contains less caffeine. You can just use the ground cleavers, or optionally add fresh ginger, a pinch of cinnamon and some honey, like in this Youtube video.