Lady’s Bedstraw (or Galium Verum) is a perennial plant and a native species throughout Europe, North Africa, and parts of Asia. The bright yellow flowers of lady’s bedstraw, sometimes known as yellow bedstraw, can be spotted all over the UK during July and August, and also recognised by its sweet scent. Found in several habitats including meadows, heathlands, grasslands and in sandy coastal areas, lady’s bedstraw is thought to be so-called because its dried flowers were traditionally used for stuffing straw mattresses, often for pregnant women, as the coumarin scent kills fleas and the plant was thought to aid a safe delivery.
Lady’s bedstraw is a popular proponent in wildflower meadows and is also named by the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) as ‘perfect for pollinators’: it provides a rich sources of nectar for pollinating insects such as bumble bees and butterflies. It also provides food for caterpillars.
Growing and harvesting Lady’s Bedstraw
Lady’s bedstraw loves bright sunshine and dry soil. It is an invasive plant, regarded by some to be a nuisance weed. But its fast-growing properties and colour make it a great wild flower; just be sure to plant it where it won’t be a problem when it spreads. To promote its spreading, divide the plants in spring or early autumn. To contain its spreading, use a pot or a hoop.
Alternatively, you can make thing easy for yourself and invest in Meadowmat, a pre-grown wildflower meadow that’s as simple to lay as lawn turf. Meadowmat and organisations such as the RHS can provide further advice and tips about what and how to plant this yellow wild flower.
Traditional uses of Lady’s bedstraw
Lady’s bedstraw has many uses. At one time it was used as a remedy for urinary infections, gout and epilepsy. The leaves and stems contain an enzyme that curdles milk, and for centuries they have been used for this purpose, in place of rennet. In the 16th century it was even called ‘cheese renning’ and is these days sometimes known as cheese rennet.
Lady’s bedstraw also sweetens milk and colours cheese – at one time the plant gave Cheddar cheeses and double Gloucester their colour, before ingredients such as annatto became popular.
The plant is used for red and yellow dyes: red dye from the roots, and yellow dye from the flowers. The dye is used today by people in the crafts and arts industries, and also in the Danish alcoholic drink, bjæsk.