Posted by: gardenshf | March 10, 2012

Now Growing: Galium aparine – Useful Herb Or Invasive Weed?

Native Americans gardened by the moon as well as the weather. Each month the full moon was given a particular name. Some of the names given to the March moon include Sap Moon, Crow Moon, Lenten Moon and Worm Moon.

These names were most likely given because life above and below the ground begins to stir in March, as the longer days mean life begins again.

Most gardeners would agree that March could be named the month of weeds as their presence in the garden becomes the focus of gardening chores. Many weeds have beneficial attributes, but for most of us they become the green fuel needed in our compost piles. Because the Gardens at Heather Farm is an educational garden, we sometimes plant things we want to teach about, only to find that it becomes a thug in the garden bed.

Many years ago, Galium aparine was planted in the herb garden. One of the common names for the genera Galium is bedstraw, because early settlers used it for stuffing mattress. It has also been called “Lady’s bedstraw” because Christian legend says it was one of the cradle herbs used in the manger in Bethlehem.

Galium has many attributes. Its roots produce a red dye. In China, an infusion of the leaves was added to a bath or directly under the arms as an antiperspirant. The yellow-flowered Galium verum was used for centuries as rennet to curdle milk and as a source of the rich color of England’s Cheshire cheese.

Greens were a welcome addition to the spring diet, at a time when leafy vegetables were not available. Galium was one of the spring herbs considered to be rich in vitamin C, and young shoots were considered a tonic for cleansing the body. Juice was expressed from the leaves and stems were taken to improve the health of skin and as a cleanser to the bladder; a tea would help with insomnia or take the sting out of a burn.

Galium’s small, star-shaped flowers are small and frequently overlooked. However, the seeds of some species, when roasted and ground, have a flavor similar to coffee. Galium odoratum (sweet woodruff) is still infused with wine to create a drink called May wine.

Galium often goes unnoticed until it has sprawled throughout the garden. Its stems are quite flimsy, but it will spread aggressively with or without water. The quadrangular or ribbed leaves have small hairs that make it feel a bit like sandpaper.

For the sake of education, Galium will continue to live in the herb garden, but its presence in other areas will not be tolerated. However it will continue to be a great source of nitrogen to the compost heap.

— Patrice Hanlon, Garden Manager

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