Native to a wide region of Europe, North Africa and Asia from Britain and the Canary Islands to Japan, goosegrass is now naturalized throughout most of the United States, Canada, Mexico, Central America, South America, Australia, New Zealand, some oceanic islands and scattered locations in Africa. Its scientific name is galium aparine, with ‘aparine’ coming from the Greek, meaning to “lay hold of” or “seize.” Galium is the name Dioscorides, a Greek physician, pharmacologist, botanist, and author of De Materia Medica (Ancient Greek for On Medical Material), a five-volume encyclopedia about herbal medicine and related medicinal substances, gave to the plant. It is derived from the Greek word for ‘milk’, because the flowers of galium verum were used to curdle milk in cheese making
Goosegrass has many other common names, including cleavers, clivers, “bort”, bedstraw, catchweed, stickyweed, stickybud, robin-run-the-hedge, sticky willy, sticky willow, stickyjack, and grip grass. It is a herbaceous annual plant of the family Rubiaceae.
Galium aparine prefers moist soils and can exist in areas with poor drainage. It reportedly flourishes in heavy soils with above-average nitrogen and phosphorus content, and prefers soils with a pH value between 5.5 and 8.0. Catchweed is considered a noxious weed in many places. Galium aparine is often found in post-fire plant communities in the United States, likely developing from onsite seed and therefore rendering controlled burns as an ineffective means of removing galium aparine in areas where it is considered a noxious weed.
This plant has creeping straggling stems which branch and grow along the ground and over other plants. They attach themselves with the small hooked hairs which grow out of the stems and leaves. The stems can reach up to three feet or longer, and are angular or square shaped. The leaves are simple, narrowly oblanceolate to linear, and borne in whorls of six to eight.
Cleavers have tiny, star-shaped, white to greenish flowers, which emerge from early spring to summer. The flowers are clustered in groups of two or three, and are borne out of the leaf axils. Bort’s globular fruits are burrs which grow one to three seeds clustered together; they are covered with hooked hairs which cling to animal fur, aiding in seed dispersal.
There is some debates as to whether bedstraw is native to North America. It is considered to be native in most literature. For some people, skin contact with galium aparine causes an unpleasant localized rash known as contact dermatitis.
The chemical constituents of stickyweed include: iridoid glycosides such as asperulosidic acid and 10-deacetylasperulosidic acid, asperuloside, monotropein and aucubin, alkaloids such as caffeine, phenolics such as phenolic acids, anthraquinone derivatives such as the aldehyde nordamnacanthal (1,3-dihydroxy-anthraquinone-2-al), flavonoids and coumarins, organic acids such as citric acid and a red dye.
Stickybud is edible. The leaves and stems of the plant can be cooked as a leaf vegetable if gathered before the fruits appear. However, the numerous small hooks which cover the plant and give it its clinging nature can make it less palatable if eaten raw. Geese thoroughly enjoy eating galium aparine, hence its common name of goosegrass. Robin-run-the-hedge is in the same family as coffee. The fruit of sticky willy has often been dried and roasted, and then used as a coffee substitute which contains less caffeine.
Poultices and washes made from sticky willow were traditionally used to treat a variety of skin ailments, light wounds and burns. As a pulp, stickyjack has been used to relieve poisonous bites and stings. To make a poultice, the entire plant is used, and applied directly to the affected area. Goose grass is also used as a lymphatic system aid, as it assists the lymph nodes in cleaning out toxins. Making a tea with the dried leaves is most common. It can be brewed hot or cold. For a cold infusion, steep in water and refrigerate for 24 to 48 hours.
Dioscorides reported that ancient Greek shepherds would use the barbed stems of cleavers to make a “rough sieve,” which could be used to strain milk. Linnaeus later reported the same usage in Sweden, a tradition that is still practiced in modern times.
In Europe, the dried, matted foliage of the plant was once used to stuff mattresses. Several of the bedstraws were used for the purpose that name implies because the clinging hairs cause the branches to stick together, which enables the mattress filling to maintain a uniform thickness. The roots of cleavers can be used to make a permanent red dye.
The plant can be found growing in hedges and waste places, limestone scree and as a garden weed.
The anthraquinone aldehyde nordamnacanthal (1,3-dihydroxy-anthraquinone-2-al) present in galium aparine has an antifeedant activity against Spodoptera litura, the Oriental leafworm moth, a species which is considered an agricultural pest. The Acari Cecidophyes rouhollahi, a plant parasite. can be found on galium aparine.
Primarily from Wikipedia.

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