Galium aparine L.
Common Name: Cleavers
Irish Name: Garbh Lus
Synonyms: Clivers, Goose Grass, Sticky Willie, Barweed. Hedgeheriff. Hayriffe. Eriffe. Grip Grass. Hayruff. Catchweed. Scratweed. Mutton Chops. Robin-run-in-the-Grass. Loveman. Goosebill. Everlasting Friendship, Sticky-backs (Dublin).
Parts Used: Aerial Parts, Freshly expressed juice
Tracheobionta– Vascular plants
Spermatophyta– Seed plants
Magnoliophyta– Flowering plants
Rubiaceae– Madder family
Habitat & Distribution: Galium aparine grows profusely in lowland thickets, road side verges, railway embankments, scree slopes, shingle, along hedgerows, in valleys and on waste ground, particularly in places where the earth has been disturbed. It is a native plant of Ireland and is also commonly found across Europe, the United States and some parts of Asia, and occurs as far north as Alaska and Greenland. It has been introduced as far south as Australia, New Zealand, and the sub-Antarctic Islands. It can be a troublesome weed of cereal crops (especially in Europe and North America). Heavy infestation can cause significant yield losses, and its seeds can be difficult to separate mechanically from those of crops such as oilseed rape (canola).
Description: Invasive, creeping herbaceous annual with square stems reclining to ascending, to +/-1.5m long, 4-angled, with retrorse prickles on margins of angles, hollow, multiple from base, and branching. The leaves occur in whorls of typically 8, sessile, linear-oblanceolate, mucronate to cuspidate, scabrous, to +7cm long, -1cm broad, with retrorse strigillose to retrorse prickle margins, midrib with prickles below. Inflorescence - Axillary 2 to 5-flowered pedunculate cymes. Pedicels elongating in fruit, glabrous to scabrous. Flowers - Corolla white, 4-lobed, tiny, to 3mm broad. Corolla tube to .5mm long. Lobes acute, 1.2mm long and broad, glabrous. Stamens 4, included, alternating with lobes. Styles 2, included, pale yellow. Stigmas capitate, pale-yellow. Ovary 2-carpellate. Calyx globose, hispid, 2mm in diameter. Fruit biglobose, uncinate-hispid, to +/-5mm in diameter, each carpel one seeded.
Two forms have been determined - the rarer G. aparine f. intermedium Bonnet with smooth or tuberculate fruits without spiny hairs while the more common G. aparine f. aparine has spiny hairs (Moore 1975.)
Conservation Status: Not threatened, species is widespread, occasionally known as a 'botanical hitch-hiker' it's ability to attach itself to fur and clothing allows it to maintain wide distribution. It is found throughout the British Isles (except in some places in the far north) and appears to be increasing in abundance in recent years despite the use of species-specific agricultural herbicides.
The herb is not generally cultivated owing to its horticultural reputation as a weed and is harvested by wildcrafting. (See Appendices). It might be gathered and used while still fresh for best results. The whole plant is edible though generally only the aerial parts are used. This weedy species is an annual that can be grown in temperate regions, in parts of the garden managed for wildlife, as either a summer or winter annual (or occasionally as a biennial). The seed is thought to be viable for around 2-6 years unless frozen. Seeds should be sown in moist soil, preferably a rich loam, with above-average fertility and pH of 5.5-8.0. Seeds must be buried to germinate, ideally at a depth of 2-10 mm. Seeds that have passed through the gut of a herbivore are thought to have a higher germination rate. Development is rapid with flowers appearing as soon as eight weeks after germination. Ripe seeds develop from summer through to autumn, depending on the region in which plants are grown. Supports such as pea sticks can be provided, as this plant likes to scramble. Plants will die down after the fruits are released at which point seeds must be collected for next year’s plants. Each plant can yield 300-400 seeds.
Note that this plant can be invasive. In some parts of the world it is a serious weed of crops and native vegetation, where it can out-compete indigenous species. For this reason, if cultivating cleavers, care should be taken to prevent its spread into farmland or sensitive areas of conservation importance.
Harvest: Aerial parts can be harvested in early summer just before flowering to preserve sweet taste or following flowering and just as seeds are forming and still succulent but before becoming too fibrous.
Ecology: Cleavers are important in the regeneration of forests. The herb thrives on soils rich in nitrogen though phosphorus is thought to limit its spread (Journal of Ecology 1999). It prefers mildly acid to base-rich damp soils though is scarce in sedge-swamp, reed bed and salt marsh ecosystems. It is also scarce in certain woodlands, notably Salix spp and Quercus spp. The plant supports at least 40 different phytophagous insect species (Taylor 2001).
Maud Grieve tells us “ We learn from Dioscorides that the Greek shepherds of his day employed the stems of this herb to make a rough sieve, and it is rather remarkable that Linnaeus reported the same use being made of it in Sweden, in country districts, as a filter to strain milk; the stalks are still used thus in Sweden.”
Used as a love medicine by American First Nations, an infusion was used as a bath by women to be successful in love. Also used as a hair tonic, said to be good for the hair, making it grow long. Several tribes used an infusion of the plant for gonorrhea. A red dye is obtained from a decoction of the root, it is said to dye bones red. It was also believed to remove freckles.
Allen and Hatfield inform us that “Ireland's uses have been largely different but even more diverse. While tumours have been similarly among those (Derry), unlike Britain it has produced records for burns (Westmeath, Wicklow), whopping cough, swellings (Wicklow), inflammation in the bowels of children (Donegal), stomach ache (Limerick) and 'softening the joints' (Tipperary).”
In many places cleavers were involved in various games, with the tenacity of the plant to cling to clothing and hair suggesting various references to love. Clumps were made into rough balls and thrown at clothing. The number of stickers left on one’s clothing indicated the number of suitors one could expect for example. Most of its popular names concern its clinging nature. The Anglo-Saxon hedgeherriff means a tax gatherer or robber. The specific name of the plant, aparine, also refers to the plant's habit, being derived from the Greek aparo (to seize).
In Native American cultures cleavers are also known as 'deer medicine' as the animals are known to sleep or give birth in clumps of the herb. It is considered a birthing remedy in that tradition.
Culpeper tells us the galiums come under the influence of the Moon, though Scott Cunningham suggests it is influenced by Saturn.
Taste: Sweet, moist, aromatic, slightly bitter and salty, very slight vanilla flavour noted.
A cooling herb for detoxification and heat patterns.
6. Medicinal Uses
Actions: Diuretic, lymphatic, nervine (Matthew Wood), hypotensive, mild laxative, alterative, aperient, tonic, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory, antineoplastic, astringent, antilithic, antibacterial, nutrient, refrigerant, vulnerary, hepatic, antinodular, adaptogen, anti-obesity (Thomas Bartram)
Uses: Used for swollen glands, tonsillitis, tumours, cysts, cystitis, eczema, psoriasis, cramps, cancer adjunct, nervousness, UTI, prostatitis, epilepsy , oedema, calculi, gout, prostaglandin modulation (due to asperuloside content), sunburn, gonorrhea (Dr Christopher)
Galium's alterative and diuretic actions make it an effective lymphatic tonic and it is used in the treatment of a wide range of problems involving the lymphatic system, including lymphadenitis, tonsillitis, glandular fever and enlarged adenoids. It is particularly useful in the treatment of toxic conditions associated with tissue oedema and water retention. There is a long tradition for the use of Galium in the treatment of ulcers and tumours, which may be due to lymphatic drainage. It is also used internally and topically to treat skin conditions, particularly dry conditions such as psoriasis. An infusion of the herb may be used as a hair rinse for dandruff or seborrhea. It may also be applied to burns and abrasions.
Galium can be used to treat cystitis and other urinary conditions where there is pain, such as calculi, colic or strangury, where it is combined with demulcent herbs. The red dye galiosin is similar to the dye in Galium’s relative, Rubia tinctoria (madder); this has specific anti-inflammatory and spasmolytic effects on the urinary tract and may contribute to Rubia’s litholytic action in the urinary system (it stains the urine red). Galium is also reputed to help reduce blood pressure and to cool the body during fevers. The iridoid asperuloside is a mild laxative.
Gerard recommends Clivers as 'a marvellous remedy for the bites of snakes, spiders and all venomous creatures' and, quoting Pliny, suggests: 'a pottage made of Clivers, a little mutton and oatmeal is good to cause lankness and keepe from fatnesse.' Culpeper recommended the herb for earache.
Thornton's New Family Herbal of 1810 offers:
"Dioscorides mentions an ointment of great efficacy made from the expressed juice of this plant mixed with hog's lard for discussing tumours in the breast; and Gaspian, an Italian, adopted the same with great success. After some eminent surgeons have failed, I have ordered the expressed juice mixed with linseed meal, to be applied to the breast, with a teaspoon of the same to be taken while fasting in the morning; and this plan after a short time has removed very frightful and indolent tumours of the breast. It is supposed to be useful in scurvy and for hemorrhages of the nose and spitting of blood. Boerhavve says its leaves made into teas are an excellent remedy in epilepsy and gout."
The American eclectic Dr John Scudder in Specific Medication (1884) tells us:
"The first use of Galium is to relieve irritation of the urinary apparatus, and to increase the amount of urine. For this purpose it will be found one of our best remedies. In dysuria and painful micturation it will frequently give prompt relief. It has recently been employed in cancer, used locally and internally. A case of a hard nodulated tumor of the tongue is reported in the British Medical Journal as having been cured with it."
Specific Indications: Lymphatic system, kidney, itching skin, cancer adjunct
Combinations: Combines with Field Cranesbill (Geranium spp) for kidney issues
Phytolacca decandra and Echinacea angustifolia as a general lymphatic tonic
Marshmallow (Althea officinalis) for renal calculi
Ground Ivy (Glechoma hederacea) and Bladderwrack (Fucus vesiculosis) for blood and glandular issues
Bearberry (Arctostaphylos Uva-Ursi and Buchu (Barosma betulina) for kidney issues
Iceland Moss (Cetraria islandica) and Marshmallow (Althea officinalis) for cystitis
Rumex crispus and Arctium lappa for skin complaints.
Preparations: Fresh tincture (1:5 25%)/(1:3 45%)/(1:1 25%), infusion, fresh juice, poultice, compresses. There are current investigations concerning the seed heads.
7. Other Uses
The seeds of Cleavers form one of the best substitutes for coffee; they require simply to be dried and slightly roasted over a fire, and so prepared, have much the flavour of coffee. They have been so used in Sweden. The whole plant gives a decoction equal to tea, according to Grieve. Bartram mentions the plant is used as a vegetable in China. Cleavers can be eaten as a vegetable, gently sweated in a pan like spinach. The juice is a popular spring tonic in Central Europe, the Balkans and elsewhere. In France, the crushed herb is applied as a poultice to sores and blisters. Geese are fond of this herb, also known as goosegrass, and it is often fed to poultry. Greek shepherds used the stems to make sieves for straining milk, and Linnaeus reported the same use being made of them in Sweden as mentioned earlier.
The roots are used as a red dye and if eaten by birds will tinge their bones.
Homeopathy: In homeopathy used as Gal-A in adjunct cancer therapy. According to Boercke Galium acts on the urinary organs, is a diuretic and of use in dropsy, gravel and calculi, dysuria and cystitis. Has power of suspending or modifying cancerous action. Has clinical confirmation of its use in cancerous ulcers and nodulated tumors of the tongue. Inveterate skin affections and scurvy. Favors healthy granulations on ulcerated surfaces. Galium aparine treatment for Dose ailments: Fluid extract; half-dram doses, in cup of water or milk, three times a day.
Aromatherapy: Not used.
Iridoid glycosides, phenolic acids (caffeic, gallic), anthraquinone derivatives (roots), flavonoids, coumarins, tannins, alkanes, citric acid, rubichloric acid, galitanic acid, red dye (including galiosin).
Monotropein, asperuloside, acumin, aucubin, protopine, harmine, (±)-vasicinone, (-)-l -hydroxydeoxypeganine, (-)-8-hydroxy-2,3-dehydrodeoxypeganine, p-hydroxybenzoic acid, chlorogenic acid, silicic acid, caffeic acid, p-coumaric acid, flavonoid, anthraquinon, cholesterol, campestrol, stigmasterol, sitos-terol, DELTA-avenasterol, DELTA-stigmasterol, DELTA-avenasterol, asperulosidic acid, and 10-deacetylasperulosidic acid have all been isolated from the aerial parts of Galium aparine. Other constituents isolated from the aerial parts include anthraquinon, iridoid glucosides, saponins, citric acid, coumarin, rubichloric acid, gallotannic acid, galiosin, and tannins.
- Tincture (1:5 25%) 4-10ml
- Fluid Extract (1:1 25%) 2-4ml
- Infusion (2-4g TDS) in adjunct cancer therapy as much as can be tolerated
- Fresh juice (15-45ml expressed)
Regarded as non-toxic and safe. Mills and Bone - pregnancy category B2, lactation category C – compatible with breast feeding. No contraindications or adverse reactions have been noted in published data. Depuratives may be provocative in skin conditions. Care required to avoid exacerbation. It is suggested diabetics only use the expressed juice with caution though there is no data to support this. Those with a known sensitivity to Rubiaceae should avoid this plant.
Some medicines may interact with Galium, so they should not be taken together. When taking this herb, avoid these substances, as the combination may cause undesirable interactions.
Bendroflumethiazide; Chlorothiazide; Chlorthalidone; Hydrochlorothiazide; Hydroflumethiazide; Indapamide; Methyclothiazide; Metolazone; Polythiazide; Spironolactone; Triamterene; Trichlormethiazide.
Although not well studied in humans, cleavers may have diuretic, anti-inflammatory, anti-gout, antineoplastic, laxative, and hormonal properties. Caution is advised when taking cleavers with other agents that have these effects.
There are a number of theoretical interactions. Theoretical interactions are based on the mechanisms of individual constituents in isolation, and do not necessarily reflect the action of the whole herb.
Some interactions between this supplement and certain medicines require more explanation to the patient before taking these substances. Bumetanide; Furosemide; Torsemide.
Dr. William Cook's 1869 Herbal suggests Galium "is a peculiarly soothing relaxant, acting upon the kidneys and bladder. It secures a goodly increase of the watery portion of the urine, thus rendering this secretion less irritating than it sometimes gets to be. Its action is light and diffusive, and it is suited only to acute cases; but is among the truly valuable agents in all forms of scalding urine, as in oxalic acid gravel, irritation at the neck of the bladder, and the first stages of gonorrhea. It is apparently somewhat soothing to the nervous system. It has been lauded for skin diseases, but probably without good grounds".
Very little modern research has been carried out on this herb in respect of its medicinal potential, although a number of bioactive constituents have been isolated (Li Juan et al). Like Arctium lappa (burdock), however, it has a strong reputation among traditional herbalists as a blood purifier and lymphatic herb. It is used today as a cooling remedy in fevers and inflammations, for swollen glands, and for urinary tract infections. It’s lymph promoting properties are partly responsible for its “blood purifying” effects. An increased flow of lymph promotes enhanced circulation of the immune components of the lymph glands, including T-cells and antibodies.
R. Elwyn Hugh’s' 1990 Medical History refers to the anti-scorbutic properties of Galium.
In horticulture various auxins have been isolated for use in herbicides and other harmful preparations. (Grossman et al). Research by Trim in 1952 revealed the concentrations of asperuloside in various parts of the plant, especially in the roots and aerial shoots).
Frances et al in a 2003 study found the herb was useful as an adjunct in psycho-emotional disorders. In 2009 Elizabeth Mazzio and her team looked at the reputed anti-tumour effect of a number of herbs including Cleavers, noting a weak tumorcidal effect. Romero et al (Journal of Ethnopharmacology, Volume 99, Issue 2, 3 June 2005, Pages 253-257) investigating the antibacterial of 23 herbs including Galium aparine for potential anti-bacterial action noted positive effects against Staphylococcus aureus. Research in 2008 by Khan et al demonstrated the hepato-protective effect of Galium aparine noting the herb was more effective as a curative agent rather than a preventive agent. F. Quinlan, as far back as 1883, demonstrated its efficacy in the treatment of leg ulcers in a Clonmel man. Thring et al in an investigation of 21 herbs for anti-oxidant activity and inhibition of proteinases gained positive results from Galium aparine. Further research is deemed necessary to elaborate on the various virtues of this plant, however its long traditional use is testament to its efficacy.
- Tierra, M. American Herb Association Quarterly Newsletter 1990;7(2):10.
- Lans, C., Turner, N., Khan, T., Brauer, G., and Boepple, W. Ethnoveterinary medicines used for ruminants in British Columbia, Canada. J Ethnobiol Ethnomed 2007;3:11.
- Sener, B. and Ergun, F. Isolation and structural studies on the alkaloids of Galium aparine L. GUEDE J Fac Pharm Gazi 1988;5:33-40.
- Tzakou, O., Couladi, M. M., and Philianos, S. Fatty acids and sterols in spring and winter samples of Galium aparine. Fitoterapia 1990;61:93.
- Bartram, T. Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine
- Bone, K & Mills, S, Encyclopedia of Herbal Safety
- Nutri – Online website
- Frances D. Botanical Interventions in the Treatment of Psychoemotional Disorders Journal of the American Herbalists Guild. 2002;Fall/Winter:12-18.
- William Cook, The Physio-Medical Dispensatory, 1869
- Deliorman, D., Çaliþ, Ý., and Ergun, F. Iridoids from Galium aparine. Pharmaceutical Biology 2001;39(3):234-235.
- Muhammad Aman Khan, Jehanzeb, Shafiullah, Salman A Malik, Muhammad Shafi, Hepatoprotective effects of Berberis lycium, Galium aparine and Pistacia integerrima in Carbon tetrachloride (ccl4)-treated rats, J Postgrad Med Inst Apr - Jun 2008;22(2):91-4. http://www.pakmedinet.com/14389
- Christopher David Romero, Suzzette Fontenelle Chopin, Gregory Buck, Elvia Martinez, Michelle Garcia, Lisa Bixby, Journal of Ethnopharmacology, Volume 99, Issue 2, 3 June 2005, Pages 253-257
- R. Elwyn Hughs, Med Hist. 1990 January; 34(1): 52–64. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1036000/?tool=pmcentrez
- F. J. B. Quinlan, Galium aparine as a Remedy for Chronic Ulcers, Br Med J. 1883 June 16; 1(1172): 1173–1174. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2372573/
- Scudder, John, 1884, Speficic Medication and Specific Medicines 4th revision, 11th Edition (Baldwin & Co)
- Thornton, Robert John, 1812, The New Family Herbal, (Richard Philips Edition)
- Tamsyn SA Thring, Pauline Hili and Declan P Naughton, Anti-collagenase, anti-elastase and anti-oxidant activities of extracts from 21 plants, BMC Complement Altern Med. 2009; 9: 27. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2728709/?tool=pmcentrez
- Elizabeth A. Mazzio and Karam F. A. Soliman, In Vitro Screening for the Tumoricidal Properties of International Medicinal Herbs, Phytother Res. 2009 March; 23(3): 385–398. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2650746/?tool=pmcentrez