3 Ways to Get Acquainted with Cleavers (Galium aparine)


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: https://archive.org/stream/herballorgeneral00gera#page/1120/mode/2up.

Grieve, Mrs. M. (1971). A modern herbal. New York: Dover Publications, Inc. Available as of 2017 at: http://www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/c/cliver74.html.

KewScience. (2017). Plants of the world online. Available as of 2017 at: http://powo.science.kew.org/taxon/urn:lsid:ipni.org:names:30007294-2.

Parkinson, J. (1640). Theatrum botanicum: the theater of plants: or, an herbal of large extent. London: The Cotes. Available as of 2017 at: https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=ucm.5326186323.

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).

Herbal Ice Cubes - Borage

Herbal Ice Cubes

It’s a simple thing to preserve the beauty of herbs: freeze them.


(Here we focus on swiftly amplifying the beauty of blossoms, but see below for details on variations.)

1. Collect your blossoms, making sure you know what flowers you are using—i.e., that they are fully edible—and do not gather from areas near vehicle exhaust or in which there have been chemical sprays. We’ve used Starflower here (Borago officinalis) but you could experiment with Heart’s Ease (Viola tricolor), Rose petals, Hibiscus, or other flowers. You can also use leaves (Mints, Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis), and so on.*

2. Place a blossom (or more if you desire!) in each ice cube section and then fill only halfway with pure water. Why halfway? Because the flowers tend to float to the top and therefore will not be fully covered by the frozen water.

3. Once frozen, fill your tray the rest of the way with water and refreeze.

4. Serve in glasses of water, lemonade, or other libations—preferably for the delight of the company you keep!

5. To preserve not just the beauty of an herb but also its medicinal properties, you can also make an infusion (medicinal-strength tea) from plants of your choice. Strain and then use the infusion for your freezing liquid instead of plain water.


making herbal ice cubes


Have you made herbal ice cubes? Share with us in the comments below.

* Note: we’ve used Borago officinalis in the ice cubes pictured here. Do not consume if pregnant or nursing, and do not give to children. Always do your own research and/or consult with your practitioner(s) if you have doubts or concerns about what herbs you are using.

red poppy syrup

Le Sirop de Coquelicot | Red Poppy Syrup

In the days leading up to the Summer Solstice, le Coquelicot, or the red poppy (Papaver rhoeas), flourishes here in the fields of France.


Historically le coquelicot was noted as symbolic of the war dead, especially in Europe, but my grandparents also remember being handed little paper poppies in the States on Armistice Day.

I make this syrup every summer, which yields a gorgeous color.

One can find red poppy syrup to purchase rather easily in Europe, where it is largely used as a culinary treat or as an addition to desserts and drinks. Herbalists traditionally used poppy syrup for coughs, various respiratory ailments, pain, or sleeping problems.

Poppies do have a narcotic quality and you should follow proper dosage (typically a very small teaspoonful but this varies according to the age and constitution of the person). I once served this syrup after a luncheon celebrating my wedding and it created a collective sleepiness.*

Your syrup will vary in color according the type of poppy and other variables (for instance, some folks counsel removing any black portions of the petals to get a lighter-colored syrup).

The recipe and video version (easy on the eyes but featuring far less instruction) are below. Enjoy!


Sirop de Coquelicot | Red Poppy Syrup

  • fresh red poppy petals (Papaver rhoeas)
  • pure water (preferably boiled and distilled)
  • sugar (pure white; if using unrefined, you will need to skim the surface of your simmering syrup. There are varying opinions on the use of sugar, and this recipe calls for it, but honey may be used as a substitute.)
  • sterilized bottle and lid (if you’ve created a small quantity of syrup, consider a small vessel in order to lessen the affects of oxygen each time you open your bottle)
  • additives to avoid fermentation (optional)**


1. Gather your poppies from a safe place (free from pollution: do not harvest near the edges of roads or in places where the poppies might be affected by chemical spraying, etc.). Make sure you are only using the correct flower and gather only the petals (no stems, leaves, seed pods, or green portions). 9 am on a dry morning is ideal. Poppies also tend to close up their petals later in the day.

2. Place the petals into a saucepan and pour enough pure water over them to just cover. Warm over medium heat (preferably covered), stirring from time to time (roughly 15 minutes).

3. Remove from the heat and strain your liquid, removing the petals, which should be blanched at this point (whitish).

4. Next, measure the amount of strained liquid.

5. Mixing in an amount of sugar equal to that of your liquid (for example, if you had two cups of liquid, add in two cups of sugar). But that’s a rough folk measurement. Traditionally and more specifically, one could also say 2 parts sugar (by weight) to 1 part water/herbal infusion.

6. Put the concoction back on the stovetop and simmer until it reaches the thickness you desire. Sometimes this can take up to 2 hours! (Note: do not let it get as thick as that shown in the video or you’ll end up with hard candy).

7. Finally, let cool and pour into sterilised vessels. Make sure your bottle is also completely dry to avoid fermentation.**

Your syrup, if fully saturated by the sugar, could have a shelf-life of around one year if you keep it in a dry, cool, dark place with a stable temperature. In the fridge it may last longer (around 2 years). If your syrup wasn’t saturated enough by the sugar content, it may start to go off in a matter of weeks or over a couple of months. Always keep an eye out for mold.

Wondering how to use your poppy syrup? Scroll down past the video for some ideas.



* Be absolutely certain that you are working with the correct type of poppy. As Mrs. Grieve noted, “that [poppy] with the oblong capsule should not be used, as it contains an alkaloid resembling Thebaine in action.”

** Additives that help avoid fermentation are sometimes added to simple syrups, such as brandy, glycerin, or honey.


Using Your Poppy Syrup

While medicinally red poppies have been frequently used as an antitussive–a cough syrup–or to aid sleep, they also have gourmet applications:


  • Add to sparkling water for a “soda”.
  • Experiment with cocktails.
  • Add a spoonful to yogurt to sweeten and to give color.
  • Drizzle over ice cream, cream, pancakes, and other desserts & baked goods.
  • Add to steamed milk for a before-bed treat.
  • Dress up a fruit salad.
  • Garnishes.


This information is based upon both personal experience and research and the author is not responsible for errors. Always do your own research when working with herbs and remember to consult with your own health practitioner(s).