Welsh, Brinwydd, Gwendron, Gwenwlydd; (G. aparine), Llys yr Nidl; (G. verum), Llys y cywen. - French, Muguet. - German, Kleberig, Klebekraut.
Very nearly relating to the madder, and possessing the same subtle quality of imparting its colour to the bones of animals feeding on it, is the bedstraw, or cleavers, the goose-grass of little children, the "Pale gander-grass " of Izaac Walton, the properties of which, as a red dye, are little, if at all, inferior to its more-valued congener.* In the island of Jura it is largely employed for this purpose. This quality, though extending to all the galiums, is more especially possessed by the large yellow bedstraw (G. verum). The galiums are used either alone or with salt and nettle-juice, for the purpose of curdling milk, which gives rise to their old name "cheese rening," and also to the botanical galium, which is derived from the Greek word (milk).
* Curtis considers the G. verum even superior to the madder.
The G. verum is the bedstraw so prettily known in Scotland as the "hunder-fald," or hundred-fold, from the great number of blossoms densely crowded into its panicles of yellow flowers. It is the sweetest of all the genus, and was formerly much used for strewing floors and laying in beds, whence, probably, the name of bedstraw or strewe. The leaves and stem boiled with alum yield a good yellow, though the root, as before-mentioned, gives a red dye. According to Ray, the flowering tops distilled make a pleasant and refreshing beverage, and the dried plant, being astringent, is useful in cases of hemorrhage. It is one of the brightest and prettiest little plants which decorate our driest sandbanks, gaily blossoming during full three quarters of the year.
The cross-wort bedstraw (G. cruciatum), which has also a yellow blossom, and abounds in hedgerows, is distinguished from the last by its whorls of four leaves each, while the G. verum has its whorls eight-leaved, or nearly so. This is the "galion" of Northumberland.
The next division has white flowers with smooth fruit. It contains the white water bedstraw, and the rough marsh (G. uliginosum), and (G. palustre), whose names bespeak their habitats in marshes, rarely overflowed boggy grounds, and wet ditch sides. The smooth heath bedstraw (G. saxatile), positively whitens hill sides and dry heaths in the months of July and August. Most probably the least mountain bedstraw (G. pusillum), which occurs on the limestone in Cumberland, Derbyshire, and in two or three localities in Scotland and Ireland, is simply a variety, more or less persistent, of this species; and so undoubtedly is the grey spreading bedstraw (G. cinereum) of the "Edinburgh Catalogue," a rare variety of the upright plant (G. erectum), if, indeed, this last may lay claim to the dignity of being a distinct species. Few plants are more difficult accurately to distinguish than the galiums, though variations of growth, etc, frequently appear to present very specific differences of character. Sir J. W. Hooker justly says, "scarcely any genus requires illustration more than Galium".
The bearded G. aristatum, though very common in Angusshire, appears to be almost confined to that locality.
The great hedge (G. mollugo), and the wall bed-straw (G. parisiense), we must pass over as much too doubtful to be either discussed or described in a work of the present character.
The warty-fruited bedstraw (G. saccharatum), is a rare, but very well-defined plant, occurring only in the north. Of the three blossoms crowning each peduncle the two outer ones are sterile, and die away to make room for the overgrown and warted fruit of the centre one.
The rough-fruited G. tricorne occurs principally on the chalk, though it is by no means confined to that formation.
The smooth-fruited G. spurium, which has been only found in corn-fields in the neighbourhood of Forfar, so closely resembles the cleavers or goose-grass (G. aparine) that Sprengel considers them to be the same. It is however apparently kept apart from this plant by the distinct smoothness of its fruit; that of the Galium aparine being distinctly bristled with hooked appurtenances, as is also the cross-leaved G. boreal?-, on which account these two are separated from the remaining galiums; the G. aparine is the grip grass of Scotland, from its cleaving, "gripping," or clinging to the dress of the passer-by, or to the coats, manes and tails of horses; it is the "bluid tongue" of Scotch children, so called from the schoolboy fashion of whipping the tongue with it in order to make it bleed.
This is properly the "Robin-run-i-the-hedge," though the name is frequently applied to the stitch-wort (stellaria) which in the same manner runs and twines through every other hedge plant, so that when a blossom is found it is frequently a matter of no slight difficulty to trace the stem to its root.
A tea made from the G. aparine is administered for colds in the head, and its seeds roasted are said to be an excellent substitute for coffee, to which tribe of plants it belongs. In Sweden it is considered worth while to collect the seeds for this purpose, and in France the galium tribe are employed in cases of epilepsy; and the little town of Tain, in the department of Drome, has been rendered famous by M. Larnage from his having effected wonderful cures by means of the galium, which the French call G. blanc* and which they use instead of spermaceti in the ointments applied after a blister has been raised.
Goose-grass or Cleavers. Galium aparine.
* Probably G. saxatile.