Connecting with Cleavers (Galium aparine)


I. Play a Game of “Bleedy Tongues”

Sounds…fun, doesn’t it? Do this within reason, of course, and at your own discretion!

Children used to play this wee game in Scotland and it consists of persuading a comrade to pop a stem of Cleavers in the mouth and then pull it out quickly (cf. KewScience, 2017). The tiny sticky hooks on the leaves apparently cling enough to draw blood during the process. I confess I have yet to try this out on my own tongue (I appear to be partially playing the game by telling you about it) but I promise to report back when I do.

Botanist and herbalist Gerard (c. 1525-1612) remarked of Cleavers that “being drawne along the tongue it fetcheth blood” (Gerard, 1636, p. 1122). We can follow this thread about the tongue even further into the past: in the 14th century the herb may have borne the appellations of Tongebledes and Tonguebleed (Grieve, 1971).

Extra tidbit: Before making yourself bleed in the pursuit of knowledge, try making a tea from fresh Cleavers (make a cold infusion, not a hot one; heat tends to destroy the properties of this plant) and have it on hand to immediately use as a mouthwash. Does the bleeding stop effectively? I ask because Cleavers seems to be forgotten as a first-aid herb. It was long ago employed as a styptic (it contains tannins), an indication which we find as far back as the 1st century CE in a suggestion of the Roman polymath Pliny the Elder to use the leaves externally to staunch wounds. Centuries later this is repeated in Renaissance age by herbalist Culpeper and by James Parkinson (1567-1650), the apothecary to King James I (who also served as botanist to King Charles I and who adds a bit more detail in his manuscript about using Cleavers for wounds).

Note: there may be some confusion with and difference among species here; herbalist Matthew Wood differentiated between Galium aparine and verum when he cited John Hill, who wrote in the 18th century that Galium verum aids in stopping all kinds of bleedings (Wood, 2008).

II. Juice the Herb

Due to its chemical profile, Cleavers is one of those herbs best used fresh. It’s also easily destroyed by heating. Experiment with juicing the herb.

Not sure how to do that? If you don’t have a fancy electric juicer, you can utilise a blender or a smoothie maker and strain out the bits. Or go the old-fashioned route with a hand juicer. Follow reasonable dosage (the juice is especially potent) and see what you can discover.

III. Feed It to Your Birds, Cows, Sheep, Horses, or Pigs… & Observe.

Offer a tasty treat to your companions; it has long been held that birds (particularly geese) are inclined to nibble upon Cleavers. Non-avian critters such as cows, sheep, and horses may also find it delectable (Grieve, 1971) while a 16th century Chinese manuscript noted that pigs possess a fondness for Cleavers.

Want other ideas? Get a (free) copy of 10 Ways to Connect with Herbs.

Another profound way to come to know an herb is through an observational experience with tisanes.

 Want to know a little more about Cleavers? Get started by visiting the Herbal Etymology Database.

We love hearing your voice. Scroll down to share your experience(s) with us in the comments below!


Gerard. (1636). The herball, or, general historie of plants. Available as of 2017 at:

Grieve, Mrs. M. (1971). A modern herbal. New York: Dover Publications, Inc. Available as of 2017 at:

KewScience. (2017). Plants of the world online. Available as of 2017 at:

Parkinson, J. (1640). Theatrum botanicum: the theater of plants: or, an herbal of large extent. London: The Cotes. Available as of 2017 at:

Pliny. (1906). Ed. K.F. T. Mayhoff. Pliny the Elder: Naturalis historia. Lipsiae: Teubner.

Shih-chen, L. (1973). Chinese medicinal herbs: a modern edition of a classic sixteenth-century manual. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, Inc.

Wood, M. (2008). The earthwise herbal: a complete guide to old world medicinal plants. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.

N.B. The author is not responsible for readers’ herbal use; I am a doctor of philosophy, not of orthodox medicine. None of this information is written with the intention of giving medical advice, prescribing, or treating health conditions. Always do your own research on herbs before using them, employ common sense, and consult with your health practitioner(s).

Join the Conversation

%d bloggers like this: