It is edible raw though said to be unpalatable, mainly used as a pot-herb or as an addition to soups. Cleavers seed is said to be one of the best coffee substitutes, it merely needs to be dried and lightly roasted and has much the same flavor as coffee.
Cleavers has been used for centuries as an alternative medicine by indigenous peoples on many continents. Using the plant as a vegetable has a slimming effect on the body. Cleavers has a long history of use as an alternative medicine and is still used widely by modern herbalists. It is used both internally and externally in the treatment of a wide range of ailments. The dried or fresh herb is alterative, anti-inflammatory, antiphlogistic, aperient, astringent, depurative, diaphoretic, diuretic, febrifuge, tonic and vulnerary. A valuable diuretic, it is often taken to treat skin problems such as seborrhoea, eczema and psoriasis, and as a general detoxifying agent in serious illnesses such as cancer. The plant contains organic acids, flavonoids, tannins, fatty acids, glycoside asperuloside, gallotannic acid and citric acid. It has a mild laxative effect and stimulates the lymphatic system and has shown benefit in skin related problems.
The fresh plant or juice is used as a medicinal poultice for wounds, ulcers and many other skin problems. An infusion of the herb has shown of benefit in the treatment of glandular fever, tonsilitis, hepatitis and cystitis. The infusion is also used to treat liver, bladder and urinary problems. The plant contains the valuable constituent asperuloside, a substance that is converted into prostaglandins by the body. Prostaglandins are hormone-like compounds that stimulate the uterus (so care should be taken with pregnant women) and affect blood vessels. Much more scientific research is being done on the plant it is of great interest to the pharmaceutical industry. Leaves are applied as a poultice to reduce swelling.
Gather the above ground plant, being careful not to gather whatever it touches. Dry for later herb use, should be picked through before drying to ensure herb is contaminant free.
Medicinal Tea: To 1 pint of boiling water add 3 heaping tbls. of dried or fresh herb, steep 10 min. Take in mouthful doses throughout the day.
Found growing in hedgerows, woods, fields, among cultivated crops and in waste places, the stems and leaves of cleavers are covered with little hooked bristles, which it uses to fasten itself to adjacent shrubs, to climb its way upwards through dense undergrowth into daylight, often forming matted masses. Leaves are narrow, lance-shaped and are rough along the margins and surface, the prickles pointing backwards, they occur in whorls of 6 to 8 leaves, around and along the square, delicate, branching stem which may grow to 6 or more feet in length. The flowers are white, tiny, 1/16 to 1/8 inch in diameter and star-like, growing in a stemmed bud rising from the leaf axils and arranged in clusters or whorls, six or eight together, blooming separately, 2 or 3 at a time, so flowers and seeds are present in each cluster. The seeds are little round vessels, covered with hooked bristles and readily clinging to whatever they touch, ensuring dispersal of the seeds. Some species produce only 2 or 3 flowers and seeds to a cluster.