Cleavers: Benefits, Side Effects, Preparations

Cleavers: Benefits, Side Effects, Preparations

Cleavers (Galium aparine) is an herb found throughout Europe, North America, Asia, Greenland, and Australia. It is described as an edible weed or a wildflower. When it has a sturdy base to climb, it can grow three feet tall and beyond, adorned with small greenish-white flowers.

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.

This article explains how cleavers is used, with its possible benefits and side effects. It discusses some of the research on cleavers and why more studies are needed to confirm its use.

  • Active ingredients: Alkaloids, alkanes, anthraquinones, coumarins, flavonoids, iridoids asperuloside, phenols, saponins, and tannins
  • Alternative names: Catchweed bedstraw, cleaverwort, clivers, goosegrass, grip grass, scarthgrass, sticky willy, velcro plant, white hedge
  • Legal status: Legal, but seed is prohibited in parts of United States because of invasive species concerns
  • Suggested dose: May vary based on the specific dosage form and medical condition
  • Safety considerations: Minimal risk, though side effects and allergic reaction are possible

Illustration by Laura Porter for Verywell Health

What Is Cleavers Used For?

Cleavers is believed to support the immune system and have diuretic (water pill), antispasmodic, and anti-inflammatory effects. Cleavers has been used on skin conditions like psoriasis and eczema.

Research studies have explored its benefits in treating cancer and other conditions, though more evidence is needed to support any recommendations about cleavers use.


Immunomodulators are bioactive substances that support the body’s natural defenses in fighting against pre-cancerous cells. This group of drugs is used to treat multiple myeloma and a few other cancers.

Although more human studies are needed, cleavers has been shown to boost the production of lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell. This effect suggests the potential for immune system benefits and cancer cell reduction.

Other 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).

These results are promising, while keeping in mind that isolated effects in the lab can’t always predict what will happen in the human body.


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. You’ll want to ask your rheumatologist about using cleavers as part of your overall psoriasis management plan, especially since there’s no indication that cleavers would interfere with other therapies.

Other Uses

While some herbalists may tout the benefits of cleavers for additional uses, peer-reviewed research studies are lacking to support these uses. Potential uses for cleavers have included:

  • Gonorrhea: Cleavers was once believed to cure gonorrhea. However, 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 may help to reduce swollen glands along with 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.
  • Liver toxicity: A damaged or diseased liver isn’t as effective at removing toxins and waste from your blood. A 2022 study found cleavers protected against acetaminophen-induced liver toxicity in rats but more study is needed to understand how this may apply to humans.

You may choose to consult an experienced herbalist or alternative medicine practitioner to discuss the above conditions. However, if you experience a severe burn, an acute urinary tract infection, or another serious medical concern, seek immediate treatment from your healthcare provider 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:

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 (ml), 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 ml 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 ice cube 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. If possible, purchase live sprigs of the fresh herb, rather than commercial products, to avoid added toxins or hidden ingredients.

Exercise caution when purchasing supplements, even if they come from a seemingly reputable online company or natural food store. When possible, choose a supplement that has been tested by USP, ConsumerLabs, or NSF.

In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate supplements the way it regulates prescription drugs. That means some supplement products may not contain what the label says. When choosing a supplement, look for third-party tested products and consult a healthcare provider, registered dietitian nutritionist (RD or RDN), or pharmacist.


Cleavers is an edible wildflower sometimes used for its health benefits, although more research evidence is needed to support its use in treating cancer, liver toxicity, and more. It can be used as a tea or tincture, or juiced in a blender with water.

Cleavers is considered generally safe to use, but you may experience side effects and an allergic reaction is possible. Talk to your healthcare provider before using cleavers or other supplements, in order to avoid complications due to your existing health conditions or the medications you take.

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Washington State University. Catchweed bedstraw.

  3. Department of Agriculture. Galium Aparine.

  4. University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources, Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program. Catchweed bedstraw.

  5. American Cancer Society. Immunomodulators and their side effects.

  6. 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

  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. What is psoriasis?.

  8. Duke JA. Handbook of Edible Weeds. CRC Press; 2019.

  9. Sahin B, Karabulut S, Filiz AK, Özkaraca M, Gezer A, Akpulat HA, et al. Galium aparine L. protects against acetaminophen-induced hepatotoxicity in rats. Chem Biol Interact. 2022 Oct 1;366:110119. doi:10.1016/j.cbi.2022.110119. 

  10. ND Health Facts. Galium aparine.

  11. Pflipsen MC, Vega Colon KM. Anaphylaxis: recognition and management. Am Fam Physician. 2020;102(6):355-362.

Cleavers: Benefits, Side Effects, Preparations

By Anastasia Climan, RDN, CD-N

Anastasia, RDN, CD-N, is a writer and award-winning healthy lifestyle coach who specializes in transforming complex medical concepts into accessible health content.

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