Goosey, goosey, gander, whither do ye wander? says an old
nursery rhyme by way of warning to the silly waddling birds not to
venture into hedgerows, else will they become helplessly fettered by
the tough, straggling coils of the Clivers, Goosegrass, or,
Hedgeheriff, growing so freely there, and a sad despoiler of
The medicinal Goosegrass (Galium aparine), which is a highly
ative Simple, springs up luxuriantly about fields and waste
places in most English districts. It belongs to the Rubiaceous order
of plants, all of which have a root like madder, affording a red dye.
This hardy Goosegrass climbs courageously by its slender, hairy
stems through the dense vegetation of our hedges into open
daylight, having sharp, serrated leaves, and producing small white
flowers, pearking on the tops of the sprigs. It is one of the
Bedstraw tribe, and bears  a number of popular titles, such as
Cleavers, Clithers, Robin run in the grass, Burweed, Loveman,
Gooseherriff, Mutton chops, Clite, Clide, Clitheren, and Goosebill,
from the sharp, serrated leaves, like the rough-edged mandibles of a
Its stalks and leaves are covered with little hooked bristles, which
attach themselves to passing objects, and by which it fastens itself in
a ladder-like manner to adjacent shrubs, so as to push its way
upwards in the hedgerows.
Goosegrass has obtained the sobriquet of Beggar's lice, from
clinging closely to the garments of passers by, as well as because
the small burs resemble these disgusting vermin; again it is known
to some as Harriff, or, Erriff, from the Anglo-Saxon hedge rife, a
taxgather, or robber, because it plucks the wool from the sheep as
they pass through a hedge; also Grip-grass, Catchweed, and
Scratchweed. Furthermore, this Bedstraw has been called Goose-grease,
from a mistaken belief that obstructive ailments of geese can
be cured therewith. It is really a fact that goslings are extremely
fond of the herb.
The botanical name, Aparine, bears the same meaning, being
derived from the Greek verb, apairo, to lay hold of. The generic
term, Galium, comes from the Greek word gala, milk, which
the herb was formerly employed to curdle, instead of rennet.
The flowers of this Bedstraw bloom towards August, about the time
of the Feast of the Annunciation, and a legend says they first burst
into blossom at the birth of our Saviour. Bedstraw is, according to
some, a corruption of Beadstraw. It is certain that Irish peasant girls
often repeat their aves from the round seeds of the Bedstraw,
using them for beads in the absence of a rosary;  and hence,
perhaps, has been derived the name Our Lady's Be(a)dstraw. But
straw (so called from the Latin sterno, to strew, or, scatter about)
was formerly employed as bedding, even by ladies of rank: whence
came the expression of a woman recently confined being in the
straw. Children style the Galium Aparine Whip tongue, and
Tongue-bleed, making use of it in play to draw blood from their
This herb has a special curative reputation with reference to
cancerous growths and allied tumours. For open cancers an
ointment is made from the leaves and stems wherewith to dress the
ulcerated parts, and at the same time the expressed juice of the plant
is given internally. Dr. Tuthill Massy avers that it often produces a
cure in from six to twelve months, and advises that the decoction
shall be drank regularly afterwards in the Springtime.
Dr. Quinlan, at St. Vincent's Hospital, Dublin, successfully
employed poultices made with the fresh juice, and applied three
times in the day, to heal chronic ulcers on the legs. Its effects, he
says, in the most unlikely cases, were decisive and plain to all. He
gave directions that whilst a bundle of ten or twelve stalks is
grasped with the left hand, this bundle should be cut into pieces of
about half-an-inch long, by a pair of scissors held in the right hand.
The segments are then to be bruised thoroughly in a mortar, and
applied in the mass as a poultice beneath a bandage.
Dr. Thornton, in his excellent Herbal (1810), says: After some
eminent surgeons had failed, he ordered the juice of Cleavers, mixed
with linseed, to be applied to the breast, in cases of supposed cancer
of that part, with a teaspoonful of the juice to be taken every night
and morning whilst fasting; by which plan, after a short  time,
he dispersed very frightful tumours in the breast.
The herb is found, on analysis, to contain three distinct acids--the
tannic acid (of galls), the citric acid (of lemons), and the special
rubichloric acid of the plant.
In cancer, says Dr. Boyce, five fluid ounces of the fresh juice of
the plant are to be taken twice a day, whilst constantly applying the
bruised leaves, or their ointment, to the sore.
Some of our leading druggists now furnish curative preparations
made from the fresh herb. These include the succus, or juice, to
be swallowed; the decoction, to be applied as a lotion; and the
ointment, for curative external use. Both in England and elsewhere
the juice of this Goosegrass constitutes one of the Spring juices
taken by country people for scorbutic complaints. And not only for
cancerous disease, but for many other foul, illconditioned ulcers,
whether scrofulous or of the scurvy nature, this Goosegrass has
proved itself of the utmost service, its external application being at
all times greatly assisted by the internal use of the juice, or of a
decoction made from the whole herb.
By reason of its acid nature; this Galium is astringent, and therefore
of service in some bleedings, as well as in diarrhoea, and for
Gerard writes: The herb, stamped with swine's grease, wasteth
away the kernels by the throat; and women do usually make pottage
of Cleavers with a little mutton and oatmeal, to cause leanness, and
to keep them from fatness. Dioscorides reported that: Shepherds
do use the herb to take hairs out of the milk, if any remain therein.
Considered generally, the Galium aparine exercises acid, astringent,
and diuretic effects, whilst it is of  special value
against epilepsy, and cancerous sores, as already declared;
being curative likewise of psoriasis, eczema, lepra, and other
cutaneous diseases. The dose of the authorised officinal juice
is from one to two teaspoonfuls, and from five to twenty grains of
the prepared extract.
The title Galium borne by Bedstraws has been derived from the
Greek gala, milk, because they all possess to some extent the
power of curdling milk when added to it. Similarly the appellation
Cheese rennet, or, Cheese running (from gerinnen, to
coagulate), is given to these plants. Highlanders make special use of
the common Yellow Bedstraw for this purpose, and to colour their
From the Yellow Bedstraw (Galium verum), which is abundant
on dry banks chiefly near the sea, and which may be known by its
diminutive, puffy stems, and its small golden flowers, closely
clustered together in dense panicles, an ointment, says Gerard, is
prepared, which is good for anointing the weary traveller.
Because of its bright yellow blossoms, this herb is also named
Maid's hair, resembling the loose, unsnooded, golden hair of
maidens. In Henry VIII's reign maydens did wear silken callis to
keep in order their hayre made yellow with dye. For a like reason
the Yellow Bedstraw has become known as Petty mugget, from
the French petit muguet, a little dandy, as applied in ridicule to
effeminate young men, the Jemmy Jessamies, or mashers of the
period. Old herbalists affirmed that the root of this same Bedstraw,
if drunk in wine, stimulates amorous desires, and that the flowers, if
long smelt at, will produce a similar effect.
This is, par excellence, the Bedstraw of our Lady, who 
gave birth to her son, says the legend, in a stable, with nothing but
wild flowers for the bedding.
Thus, in the old Latin hymn, she sings right sweetly:--
Lectum stravi tibi soli: dormi, nate bellule!
Stravi lectum foeno molli: dormi, mi animule!
Ne quid desit sternam rosis: sternam foenum violis,
Pavimentum hyacinthis; et praesepe liliis.
Sleep, sweet little babe, on the bed I have spread thee;
Sleep, fond little life, on the straw scattered o'er!
'Mid the petals of roses, and pansies I've laid thee,
In crib of white lilies; blue bells on the floor.