poetry and prose about place

Rough Bedstraw (Galium asprellum Michx.)

with 10 comments

Rough Bedstraw (Galium asprellum Michx.) is a common sprawling weed.  It forms a tangle across low pastures, brooksides and ditches.    The tangle looks springy and comfortable, the perfect mattress stuffing, but feels rough and sticky when rubbed backwards from stem to flowers, due to the plant’s  rasping, hooked prickles.

Other names for bedstraw are Cleavers and, in French, gaillet.  The generic name is from the Greek gala meaning ‘milk’, since milk is curdled by some species.

Rough Bedstraw is one of a number of common Galium species. They all have the same general habit… small narrow leaves are arranged in whorls of six or eight around the stem.  They are all useful plants.  They were used as stuffing because of their physical characteristics and because the smell of the dried plant repels fleas.

To identify the species of  Galium mentioned below:

~ smell the plant in question

~ count the leaves

~ look for the color of the flowers

~ determine if the plant is rough or smooth



Galium asprellum Michx.

Rough Bedstraw has its leaves in sixes, and is rough with recurved bristles.  Its flowers are white.  This species has weak stems and reclines on other vegetation. Asprellum means ‘somewhat rough’. It has been used to stuff mattresses.

Galium triflorum Michx.

Sweet-scented Bedstraw or Fragrant Bedstraw grows in forested areas.  It has white flowers arising along the stem and its leaves in sixes.  It reclines and clings, but is not as bristly as Rough Bedstraw.  Fragrant Bedstraw is used for stuffing mattresses and has the smell of vanilla when it dries.

Galium verum L.

Lady’s Bedsraw or Yellow Bedstraw has yellow flowers borne at the top of the upright stem, and leaves in sixes or eights.  The plant is hairy but not clinging.  The word verum means ‘true’, derived from the Christian tradition that Yellow Bedstraw lined Jesus’ manger at Bethlehem.  The roots also make a red or yellow dye.

Galium aparine L.

Cleavers, Goose-grass, Stickywilly, or (in Ireland) Robin Run the Hedge is bristly and has white flowers and leaves in eights. Aparine is the old generic name and probably means to ‘scratch, cling or catch’. The young shoots can be cooked as greens or used as a salad. The nuts are roasted and ground for a coffee substitute.

Galium mollugo L.

White Bedstraw, Hedge Bedstraw, or Wild Madder has white flowers and its leaves mostly in eights.  It is smooth, without bristles and stands upright.  A red dye is made from the roots.  Its leaves are edible as a potherb or salad.  It has a mildy astringent taste.

Most of the Galium along the roadsides in our area is Wild Madder (Galium mollago L.).



Rough Bedstraw

(Galium asprellum Michx.)


Our mattress is lumpy, as though stuffed

with Rough Bedstraw, fragrant as new sheets

but uncomfortable


I sleep poorly

and a spring sticks in my back,

just where arthritis begins, along the spine


Small back-pointed bristles

thwart my turning, bed-clothing tacky

on this humid night



©  Jane Tims 2012

1. never eat any plant if you are not absolutely certain of the identification;
2. never eat any plant if you have personal sensitivities, including allergies, to certain plants or their derivatives;
3. never eat any plant unless you have checked several sources to verify the edibility of the plant.

10 Responses

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  1. I think the alien G. aparine is by far the most common species in Austin, alas. I have trouble telling the species apart, so I appreciate your taking time to distinguish among them.

    Steve Schwartzman


    Steve Schwartzman

    June 21, 2012 at 9:39 am

    • Hi Steve. Even after working through the post, I am still having trouble. Leaf numbers seem highly variable and I keep forgetting to smell them!!! Jane


      jane tims

      June 21, 2012 at 11:19 am

  2. Greetings, Jane. Your poem speaks to me… as if I wrote it. It’s how I slept last night.



    June 20, 2012 at 7:54 pm

    • Hi Robin. Thanks! I wish I could say, for cooler weather just come back to the Maritimes, but, last night was pretty hot and humid. Jane


      jane tims

      June 21, 2012 at 8:36 am

  3. Another great post, Jane… I think I’m getting a college education along the way… Many thanks.



    June 20, 2012 at 5:49 pm

  4. Jane, your well-crafted poem makes me appreciate my new, modern matress even more than usual!!


    Jane Fritz

    June 20, 2012 at 3:13 pm

    • Hi. I’m glad you like the poem. Especially on these hot nights and days, I am also grateful to our modern conveniences! Jane


      jane tims

      June 21, 2012 at 7:39 am

  5. I can see how a plant that repels fleas would be a valuable commodity, even if it does make for a lumpy mattress! It’s supposed be hot and humid today, just in time for summer…


    Barbara Rodgers

    June 20, 2012 at 10:11 am

    • Hi Barbara. Time to get your Bedstraw mattress down from the attic! We are so lucky! Jane


      jane tims

      June 20, 2012 at 11:08 am

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