Rachel Lambert: forager, author, guide

How to Make Wild Cleaver Coffee

Over the centuries many different grains and plants have been used as an alternative or substitute for coffee. In the 2nd World War acorns and chicory were used. Roasted rye, brown rice and malted barley have also been used across the world.

Handful of cleaver seeds

These are Cleaver seeds, Goosegrass (Galium aparine), sticky grass or sticky willy - as we called it as children. Cleavers makes the best alternative to coffee I know.

Related to coffee, when roasted their flavour resembles coffee’s taste and smell. Cleavers even contain some caffeine. Each plant can produce hundreds of seeds, anything from 300 to over a thousand. Giving you a bounty to forage if you have the patience. Oh, and a little perspective, by the time you’ve finished reading this page, you could have collected enough seeds to make a mug of cleaver coffee.

Picking cleaver seeds

Where can you find cleavers?

Cleavers can be found in fields, crop fields and hedgerows. They prefer nutrient-rich soil, can survive dry conditions well and can grow from just above sea level up to 1,500 ft. A straggly, creeping plant that can grow more than 1 metre long. Each seed is covered in tiny hooks that attached themselves to, pretty much anything, except plastic.

Close up of handful of goosegrass seeds

When to harvest cleaver seeds?

The seeds start from summer; though these aren’t the ones you want to harvest. Instead, wait until they turn from green to brown in late summer or autumn. You can keep an eye out for them throughout winter too.

What are the benefits of cleaver seeds?

Cleaver seeds are a mild laxative, stimulate the lymphatic system and are good for treating urinary irritations. A word of warning though, don’t try and bite on dried cleaver seeds, they are very, very hard.

Roasted cleaver seeds

How to Make Cleaver Coffee

For committed coffee drinkers, this is the best wild substitute that you can find in the hedgerows. It may not impress expresso lovers though! However, it suits desserts faultlessly and can be used to make a coffee-flavoured drink with a mild caffeine hit.

Makes 90 g (9 tbsp)


100 g Cleaver seeds (picked off the stems)

Pick the dry, brown seeds and discard as much of the stems as possible. Preheat the oven to 180°C/fan 160°C, place the seeds on a baking tray and dry roast for 45 minutes to an hour. The more seeds you have, the longer the roasting will take. An aroma reminiscent of weak coffee will be released when they are ready, and they’ll turn a little darker, though don’t let them burn.

Remove the seeds from the oven, allow to cool a little before grinding, or store and grind on demand. You’ll need a good, strong seed or coffee grinder to break those hard seeds into a ground powder. Stores well for up to a year.

Want to learn more and make some cleaver coffee?

This recipe, along with 3 cleaver coffee flavoured treats are in my book: Wild and Sweet. Where you will find 101 seasonal desserts to forage and make.

6 comments on “How to Make Wild Cleaver Coffee”

  1. I am allergic to caffeine but need to shrink my lymphs and this herb is one of the best. How much caffeine does it have in it - is it worth taking a chance?

    1. Hi Sandra, you'd want the fresh, green growth not the seeds. It's the seeds that contain caffeine. Please note I am not a medical herbalist and cannot prescribe.

  2. I can't seem to get an answer on any website in regards to these Clevers and I'd like an answer before they die. How can I get the seeds off the plants to use as coffee substitute (do I pick them while green then brown them or wait until they brown up on the plant). The thing is I also need to use the plant itself so if I have to wait until the seeds dry up on the plant then I won't be able to use the plant but I'm very new to all this anda don't have guidance.

    1. Hi Cheryl, if you read this blog you will find the answers very clearly. There is also more information in my Wild and Sweet book. Thank you.

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