Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden
Goosegrass, Galium aparine, is also known by many other names including bedstraw (which is also sometimes used for the closely related lady’s bedstraw), catchweed, cleavers, cleaverwort, clivers, coachweed, gosling weed, hedge-burs, loveman, robin-run-the-hedge, stickaback, stickyleaf, stickyweed, sticky willy and sweethearts. It is quite definitely a weed, and will almost certainly be familiar to you if you live in Europe, and my guess is that it will be just as familiar to my American readers. It’s a close relative of sweet woodruff.
Many of the names given to this plant refer to its ability to stick fast to your legs or whatever other portion of your anatomy comes into contact with it – leading to the evident joy that the young and not-so-young gain from throwing it at each other! This is its tactic for spreading from places where it’s already well-established to other areas.
According to most of the literature, this plant is tall, reaching 4 feet in height, though I’ve only really noticed it as a ground hugging plant. Perhaps it grows better where it’s left alone, and hugs the ground in places where it’s unwelcome and frequently removed – my garden, for instance. Whatever the case, it is inadvisable, in my view, for anyone to try and cultivate it, as it will just take over. You won’t likely have any difficulty sourcing plenty of material to use for medicine should you decide to do so, without running this risk. Look for it in moist grassy areas and on riverbanks if you don’t find it right away. Just try and avoid gathering it in areas right next to a main road, of course. The correct time for this is May or June, as the plant comes into flower, and you can dry it for later use by laying it out in a thin layer on trays somewhere airy and out of the sun, turning regularly until it is ready for storage.
Despite its weedy nature, goosegrass is amazingly useful.
The young shoots can be used as a potherb, the seeds as a coffee substitute, and the whole dried plant as a tea substitute. A thick (3 to 4 inch) layer of the herb in a sieve can be used to filter liquids, and a red dye can be made from the roots.
A poultice is made by mixing chopped fresh or dried herb with hot water and wrapping in medical gauze, then applying to the area to be treated (refreshing with more hot water as required).
You can also make a salve by mixing freshly squeezed juice with butter, according to John Lust. However, sensitive people may find that contact with the juice causes dermatitis, so be careful until/unless you know that you are not one of them.
Goosegrass infusion is used externally to treat dandruff and other types of seborrhea, eczema, psoriasis and skin cancer. It is also used internally to treat the same conditions, as well as cystitis, glandular fever, hepatitis, ME and tonsillitis. It’s also useful as a diuretic and to lower temperature in feverish conditions. As a poultice it is used to treat wounds, external ulcers and other skin problems, and the salve is also used to treat skin conditions.
Not bad for an annoying weed, eh? On top of which, if you get tar on yourself, you can get rid of it, apparently, by rubbing it with some of the fresh herb. Not something I’ve tried, but I guess it may come in useful in some parts. Does it grow in Louisiana? I have no idea.
Since I don’t recommend growing it deliberately, I won’t bother telling you about the necessity of growing medicinal herbs organically, which in my view pretty much goes without saying anyway. But when you’re gathering it, try and avoid areas where it may have been polluted by traffic fumes or agricultural chemicals.