Galium aparine is in the Madder Family and goes by the common names of bedstraw and catchweed bedstraw. Bedstraw is a winter annual, which means the seeds ripen in the fall and germinate and survive the winter in a dormant state.
Appearance: The plant sprawls in masses on the ground, but if growing under a taller plant, it will use that plant for support to climb. Bedstraw will grow from 3 to 4 feet long. Bristly leaves are in sets of six to eight that are in whorls along the square stem. The white flowers are in tiny clusters, which are not showy. Some references call the flowers inconspicuous, but they are readily visible. Each plant can produce 100 to 500 seeds.
Problems: Bedstraw is rarely considered a problem in farm fields, but can become invasive in yard and garden areas. Pulling it before it flowers will cut down on the seed availability for fall germination. The sap from the plant may cause dermatitis in sensitive people.
What most people notice is that Gallium aparine sticks to clothing, gardening gloves, and animal fur, hence other common nicknames sticky weed, Velcro plant, and sticky Willy. The leaves, square stem, and seeds have hairs which are hooked. This allows the plant to “grab” onto fabrics.
Where: Bedstraw is native to most of the world. In Nebraska it is mostly found in the eastern part of the state. Galium aparine is adaptable. It grows best in shade or part shade and may scorch in hot full sun. It can be found in ditches, fence rows, moist areas and gardens. Bedstraw will adapt to soils whether acid, neutral, or alkaline. It tolerates soils that are somewhat sandy, loamy, or clayey.
Uses: While most of us consider bedstraw a weed, others encourage planting it. It benefits butterfly larvae that use it as a food source. It is moderate forage for white-tailed deer. Other wildlife, including wild turkeys, pheasants, and prairie chickens, eat the fruits and seeds. Livestock may make a meal of bedstraw if it is abundant enough.
The hooked hairs or bristles help keep the plant from compressing, which is why it worked well in olden days as stuffing for mattresses and pillows. Many people tout roasting the seeds and using them in place of coffee. Drinking tea made from the plant has been promoted by herbalists as cures for bites from spider, snakes and other venomous creatures. Bedstraw tea is said to cure a multitude of diseases. A mat of the stems has been used as a sieve for milk and is believed to give the milk healing properties. Bedstraw also is supposed to get rid of freckles. Folklore has it that some Native American women would bathe in it to be lucky in love. And to top it off, it may be made into a hair tonic for growing long hair.
Rarely is bedstraw considered a problem in farm fields, but it can become invasive in yard and garden areas. Pulling it before it flowers will cut down on the seed availability for fall germination.