QUITE A SIGHT: Ladies’ bedstraw can be seen on the upper Demesnes
QUITE A SIGHT: Ladies’ bedstraw can be seen on the upper Demesnes

Ladies’ Bedstraw. Galium verum Gallion Pertimugget

IN late summer, swathes of this glorious, yellow-flowered plant can be seen on the upper Demesnes, almost like a yellow mist.

The plant is perennial, with a creeping stock and numerous erect branches which can reach up to a yard high, each with whorls of very fine dark green leaves which are rough above and slightly woolly on the undersides.

They are reminiscent in appearance of a club moss or Polytrichum (Hair Moss).

It is found on grassland and in hedgerows throughout the UK, except on the most acid soils.

It will grow up to over 2,000 feet in altitude in Scotland, and it is found throughout Europe, except for Russia.

The flowers appear in July and August, and are grouped on the top two inches of the stems, although tiny, they stand out because of their bright colour.

They measure just over an eighth of an inch across, have four petals and a protruding stigma, all of which serve to beckon the small insects, especially flies, to come and pollinate them.

The flowers smell distinctly of honey. The small fruits eventually turn black and shed what looks like poppy seed.

During hay-making, it is the harvested ladies’ bedstraw which provides the familiar aroma, as a result of the chemical compound coumarin, of new mown hay.

It is a useful plant, known historically as “cheese renning” for its capacity to coagulate milk in the cheese-making process.

Also, the stocks, or stolons (runners) yield a red dye.

As one might guess, the name Ladies’ bedstraw comes from the plant’s use in stuffing mattresses, particularly, traditionally, for women about to give birth, since it also supposedly has the the very useful property of purging the “stinking punayses” (bedbugs).

Culpeper claims that preparations of the stems and flowers help to cure kidney stones, provoke urine, and can control internal bleeding, while a decoction of the leaves and flowers “is good to bathe the feet of travellers and footmen, whose long running causes weariness and stiffness in their sinews and joints”.

So, all you committed ramblers remember to gather some up on your last trudge up the slope on the Demesnes.

Dr Richard Warren is a botanist from

Barnard Castle