Cleavers Seed Coffee

coffee cup with pale brown liquid

Cleavers (Galium aparine) seeds can be easily harvested this time of year by simply trying to pick some elderberries, and then scraping the seeds off your pants when you emerge from the ravine. I’d read the seeds could be used as a coffee substitute, so despite my general suspicion of the whole concept of “coffee substitutes” I decided to bring a few home.

This morning we ran out of coffee after our first cups, so I figured it’d be a good day to try a weird, disappointing replacement. Atomic Shrimp has a good overview of the preparation process. I roasted my seeds at 325ºF for 12 minutes, and then rubbed off most of the seed coats – though I was lazy and left the more stubborn ones on. I ran them through a spice grinder and brewed them up cowboy-style in my smallest mug.

The results, like Atomic Shrimp’s, were weak, but otherwise not bad. The tea was mild enough that I drank it black (usually I am a milk and sugar coffee kind of girl). I probably won’t bother with it again – even though the harvesting is basically a sunk cost, since I end up having to scrape seeds off my pants no matter what I do, the roasting and de-coating is still more than I want to bother with for an ok-but-not-great beverage.

While I was trying to figure out if the seeds might have any caffeine (cleavers is a relative of coffee, so it seemed plausible, but unfortunately doesn’t seem to be true) I ran across an article identifying a UV-fluorescent anthroquinone in cleavers sprouts. I immediately pulled out a blacklight but the tea didn’t glow; I’ll try again the next time I make cleaverade from young shoots.

Health warning: If you are a chicken, do not eat cleavers seeds – they might clog your gizzard with fatal results.


  1. Margaret wrote:

    I guess if one is out of coffee–glad I am not a chicken :>) Think one could do anything with maple tree seeds (helicopters)–all i have in my yard.

  2. Maria wrote:

    You can eat maple seeds! Too bad I didn’t know that growing up.

    Apparently they vary a lot from tree to tree so might be bitter, or might be delicious. And might taste better after leaching some of the tannins out in cold water.

  3. erica wrote:

    Oh cool, I have wanted to do this. Cheers.

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