Cleavers (Galium aparine) are herbaceous annual plants of the family Rubiaceae, which are native to North America and Eurasia.
Cleavers creep along the ground and over the tops of other plants, attaching 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.
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.
The globular fruits grow clustered 1-3 seeds together; and are covered with hooked hairs (a burr) which cling to animal fur, aiding in seed dispersal.
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. Geese also thoroughly enjoy eating G. aparine, hence one of its other common names, "goosegrass".
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 a much lower amount of caffeine).
Chemical constituents of Galium aparine include: iridoid glycosides such as asperulosidic acid and 10-deacetylasperulosidic acid,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), flavonoids and coumarins, organic acids such as citric acid and a red dye.
As a tea, the plant acts medicinally as a diuretic, lymphatic, and detoxifier. As a lymphatic tonic, it is used in a wide range of problems involving the lymph system, such as swollen glands (e.g. tonsillitis).
Poultices and washes made from cleavers were traditionally used to treat a variety of skin ailments, light wounds and burns. As a pulp, it has been used to relieve poisonous bites and stings. To make a poultice, the entire plant is used, and applied directly to the affected area.
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. Ethnobotanist Dr. James A. Duke recommends a dosage of one ounce of dried leaves to a pint of water, 1 to 2 teaspoons of tincture, or 2 to 4 grams of the dried herb in a cup of boiling water, three times daily.
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.
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.
The roots of cleavers can be used to make a permanent red dye.
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. The Acari Cecidophyes rouhollahi can be found on G. aparine.
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.
Closeup of G. aparine leaf. Note the hooked barbs used to climb over substrate.
- ^ Other common names include: Clivers, Goosegrass, Catchweed, Robin-run-the-hedge, Sticky Willy and Grip Grass.
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- ^ 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
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- ^ Dukes, James A. (2002). The Green Pharmacy Herbal Handbook. Macmillan. p. 103. ISBN 9780312981518. http://books.google.com/books?id=AdwG0jCJYcUC&pg=PA103.
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- ^ 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