Today we have Hedge Bedstraw, I can say this with confidence as the information has come direct from Chris on Wild About Britain. It has been much harder to find something interesting to say about it though. Everywhere Google and I looked, it was a case of “and , of course, there’s Hedge Bedstraw” or “there are many other members of the Bedstraw family, such as Hedge Bedstraw.” I definitely began to get the impression that Hedge Bedstraw is the poor relation, or perhaps the middle child.
Goosegrass or Cleavers seems to be the favourite, we certainly have it in abundance around here. Perhaps this is the reason for its popularity, just its plain numbers. If you needed a new mattress and you were gathering Bedstraw to fill it, you would be pleased to find large quantities readily to hand. Just think about how much Bedstraw you would need to have a mattress-full, not just full but stuffed full, so as to keep you off the cold, hard ground.
I really don’t have to tell you that this boringly common Bedstraw, uses those little hooks to climb all over the plants nearby. It certainly doesn’t stand on its own two feet or its own one stalk either. It needs something to provide support. Something like a hedge, say?
Hedge Bedstraw on the other hand is quite independent and self supporting. It does not require a hedge to climb on.
Common Bedstraw is, indeed very common. Too common, some might say. It catches on everything, with the little hooked hairs on its leaves, stalks and seeds being more like Velcro than Velcro. But it’s this coat of small barbs that make the Bedstraw useful for, guess what, beds. We don’t sleep on straw mattresses these days thankfully, but if we did the really irritating thing about them would be their tendency to spread and collapse. You might go to sleep on a nice plump mattress but, like many a camper’s air bed, you would wake up next morning, on its sadly, deflated equivalent. Because Bedstraw sticks to everything including other Bedstraw, a mattress stuffed with this holds its shape much better.
Then, those nasty little hooks make an ideal sieve for milk, as many a shepherd, both Greek and Swedish, has found. On the other hand, Geese just love the stuff and indeed, Goosegrass is one of its many aliases. Humans can eat it too, but you probably wouldn’t want to chew on a mouthful of wiry barbs – ‘they’ say that it isn’t too bad if you cook it. Hmm. . .
Then, there are the seeds. Those horrible, get stuck to anything seeds. If you were to collect them, which shouldn’t be too difficult given their natural affinity for everything. Then dry them and roast them, they make one of the best substitutes for coffee there is.
Not surprising, seeing that the Bedstraws and Coffee are from the same family.
This is Sliverweed or Goosewort or Prince’s Feathers or More Grass or Goose Tansy or Silver Cinquefoil and on and on for a good couple of paragraphs. Now, it is my firm belief, that people in ‘The Olden Days’ or ‘The Middle Ages’ were actually just like you and me. So the average person then, knew just as much about the plants and wildlife as you and I do. They, however, didn’t have easy access to the Internet nor, at the time, were bookshops at the prime of their lives.
So, if a plant has a great many names, it usually means you can eat it or it is a deadly poison, the two most important things to anyone who lived in a rural environment – a common paradigm of the aforementioned times. Next on the list must be that it is either harmless or harmful to livestock, then down the bottom of the list comes that it has medicinal properties.
Silverweed fits neatly into my theory, not only is it non-poisonous but it is reputed to be quite tasty (we’ll try a bit and let you know) most animals – except sheep, this is probably down to bad marketing – or perhaps there’s none left by the time it’s their turn, really like it and it also has quite useful medicinal properties.
Apart from strengthening the faculties, which every herb does without a second thought, it is also good for sunburn.