Goosegrass: Plant profile
Cleavers, Goosegrass, Sticky Willy, Stick-a-Back, Catch Weed, Coachweed, Scratch Tongue, Garbhlus
Native to a wide region of Europe and north and western Asia. Naturalised in many countries around the world. Common in the UK and Ireland.
Where to find Goosegrass
Hedgerows, roadsides, woodland and gardens.
When to find Goosegrass
Young leaves mid to late spring.
How to identify Goosegrass
This plant is a fast-growing herbaceous annual that creeps along with straggling stems that branch out. The leaves grow in small rosettes along the vertical stem and are small, long and thin with fine hairs. The flowers are really tiny, have 4 petals and are white in colour.The seeds (which are actually a fruit) are dry, rough and covered with short hooked bristles, separating when ripe into 2 small, seeded cases. The whole plant has a square stem covered in many tiny hooks, which makes it sticky.
Other members of the same family Gallium sp., such as Woodruff (Galium odoratum) or Wall Bedstraw (Gallium parisiense) have similar leaves when young, but are easy to tell apart.
All about Goosegrass
Goosegrass is that long hairy plant, well-known amongst children that are thrown on friends’ jumpers to get it stuck on each other’s back for a laugh. It has also been a long standing enemy of the allotment owner, as their ‘sticky’ seeds easily propagate and become a sprawling nuisance in beds and borders.
Medicinal properties of Goosegrass
Goosegrass is depurative, diuretic and astringent. Take 1 cup of tea made of fresh leaves three times a day to help tackle urinary problems and alleviate the pain of cystitis. It’s also a febrifuge that helps to bring down a high temperature and reduce fever.
Apply externally to ease ulcers and wounds or treat eczema and psoriasis. Just a word of caution: although not very common, there are some reported cases of contact dermatitis in sensitive people, which causes an unpleasant localized rash and inflammation of the skin when the irritant is activated by sunlight.
Culinary uses and recipes with Goosegrass
The tender young shoot tips have a mild flavour and can be used as a convenient vegetable to bulk up spring soups, stews and pies. Wilt them in butter and use in stir fries or omelettes. Use with Nettles, Sea Beet and similar leaf vegetables.
It’s said the roasted seed produces a coffee substitute. It does make sense since Goosegrass is in the coffee plant family.
Safe foraging of Goosegrass
Cleavers may cause skin irritation to some individuals, though it’s not very common.
Ecological importance of Goosegrass
Insect pollinators may use the flowers of Cleavers sparingly.