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What is Galium?

Angie Bates
Angie Bates

Galium is a genus of plants in the Rubiaceae family. Consisting of over 600 species, galium plants can be found in most parts of the world. Some species in this genus are considered weeds, some are used for dyes or herbal remedies, and some are used in gardening.

Most species of galium prefer consistently moist soil and shade. They usually have tall straight stems a few feet high with whorls, or circular patterns, of long thin leaves. Their white or yellow flowers are generally small and clustered. Mostly annual, some species are biennial. Many species of galium are commonly called bedstraw.

Man mowing the grass
Man mowing the grass

Also called catchweed bedstraw, goose grass, or stickywilly, Galium aparine is considered a pest plant in much of North America. Catchweed bedstraw ranges through all of the continental Unites States, most provinces of Canada, some of Mexico, and is very common in Alaska. It usually grows best in disturbed or cultivated sites and is frequently found among crops.

The stems of this plant have small prickles covering them, and the branches are tangled. The tiny fruit is also spiny and clings readily to clothing. Handling this species can sometimes cause allergic reaction or skin irritation. Overall, aparine is not considered an attractive plant, and planting seeds is actually forbidden in several New England states.

Galium verum, also called yellow bedstraw or Our Lady's bedstraw in England, originated in Europe but is now found in North America as well. Sometimes used to make yellow or red dye, in the middle ages it was also stuffed into mattresses to improve their smell. Additionally, this plant can curdle milk so was once used in England to make cheese, and the tips of the yellow flowers are still sometimes used to make a summer drink. Although it is no longer frequently used for medicinal purposes, this species is still sometimes used to cure urinary diseases and is thought to help epilepsy.

Popularly used as a ground cover for shady areas in gardens or under trees, Galium odoratum is considered as appealing as aparine is considered undesirable. Often found in herb and rock gardens, this slow-spreading plant has bright green foliage when young, which darkens as it matures. Only growing to about 1 foot (0.3 m), odoratum, also called sweet woodruff, stays low to the ground and spreads out, rather than up, as it grows. It is considered easy to grow, with fragrant, attractive, flowers and few pest or health problems.

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