This Week’s Weed – Bedstraw
ChiloquinNews article August 20th, 2012
Galium aparine, otherwise known as common bedstraw, goosegrass, cleavers, stickywilly and in Ireland, “Robin run the hedge”, is an annual plant of the family Rubiaceae, which is native to North America and Eurasia. It’s not the worst of the weeds we have to deal with, but it’s an interesting one. Galium is a large genus including annuals and perennials, and common bedstraw is very similar in appearance to the perennial Sweet Woodruff (Galium odoratum) when the plants are young. However that is about the extent of the similarity, because while Sweet woodruff remains a very pretty groundcover for shade, common bedstraw clambers over everything it comes across making a tangled mass of sticky stems.
Bedstraw is covered all over in tiny hooked hairs that make the plant feel sticky. The hairs allow the plant to cling to other plants and objects, providing support for the stems which are quite slender and weak. They also help with seed dispersal by sticking to passing animals.
In Europe, several of the bedstraw species were once used to stuff mattresses due to the fact that the clinging hairs cause the dried, matted branches to stick together, which enabled the mattress filling to maintain a uniform thickness.
Common bedstraw is edible. The leaves and stems of the plant can be cooked as a leaf vegetable, if gathered before the fruits appear. However, the numerous small hooks which cover the plant and give it its clinging abiity, are not pleasant on the tongue if it is eaten raw. Geese however, thoroughly enjoy eating it, hence one of its other common names, “goosegrass”.
Bedstraw is in the same family as coffee. The fruits have been dried and roasted, and then used as a coffee substitute (which contains a much lower amount of caffeine).
As a tea, the plant acts medicinally as a diuretic, lymphatic, and detoxifier. As a lymphatic tonic, it is used in a wide range of problems involving the lymph system, such as swollen glands (e.g. tonsillitis). Poultices and washes were traditionally used to treat a variety of skin ailments, light wounds and burns. As a pulp, it has been used to relieve poisonous bites and stings. To make a poultice, the entire plant is used, and applied directly to the affected area. It also acts as a mild sedative, and one study showed that bedstaw extract lowers the blood pressure of dogs, without slowing their heart rate, or any other dangerous side effects. Ethnobotanist Dr. James A. Duke recommends a dosage of one ounce of dried leaves to a pint of water, 1 to 2 teaspoons of tincture, or 2 to 4 grams of the dried herb in a cup of boiling water, three times daily.
The roots can be used to make a permanent red dye.
Dioscorides, a Greek physician from the 1st century reported that Greek shepherds would use the barbed stems to make a “rough sieve”, which could be used to strain milk. Linnaeus later reported the same usage in Sweden — a tradition that is still practiced in modern times.
So all in all, a multi-use weed, though quite unsightly in this gardener’s opinion.