Goosegrass (Cleavers)

Goosegrass plant (Galium aparine)
Goosegrass is a common plant, sometimes considered a weed, that creeps along with straggling stems. Kids (and not so) still like to throw "sticky willy" to annoy other kids in the playground., as it sticks to the clothes.

Table of Contents

Goosegrass: Plant profile

Common names

Cleavers, Goosegrass, Sticky Willy, Stick-a-Back, Catch Weed, Coachweed, Scratch Tongue, Garbhlus

Botanical name

Galium aparine

Plant family

Rubiaceae (Coffee)

Distribution

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.

Goosegrass lookalikes

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.

Goosegrass leaves (Galium aparine)

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.

Goosegrass plant (Galium aparine)

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.

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Alvaro Docio

Alvaro Docio

I am the person behind British Local Food. As a forager and wild food educator, my aim is to inspire you to go outdoors, familiarise with your local plants and make the best of their culinary and medicinal properties, in the hope you'd pass on any knowledge gained down to the next generation.

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11 thoughts on “Goosegrass (Cleavers)”

  1. I heard it’s full of biotin so it’s good to add to animal feed if they’ve hoof or nail issues. One pony eats a lot of it fresh so I assume he knows its beneficial (?)

    Reply
  2. One of my dogs used to eat a lot of goosegrass. I wonder why. Another used to eat green alkanet. Another dog’s mercury – although I was told this was poisonous it seemed to do him no harm.

    Reply
  3. This also has another colloquial name- For at least the past 40 years since I was a kid this has been locally known as ‘sticky weed’, at least on the Wirral and in North Wales.
    Didn’t know you could have it in omelette though, will give that a try!

    Reply
    • Hi Katherine,
      It depends. A pad soaked in a goosegrass infusion can be good to ease skin ulcers and inflammations, a cream treatment is best for psoriasis, etc.
      I would recommend you talk to a herbalist for qualified and comprehensive advice.

      Reply

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