“I do not think the measure of a civilization is how tall its buildings of concrete are, But rather how well its people have learned to relate to their environment and fellow man.” Sun Bear of the Chippewa Tribe
A native perennial herb Northern Bedstraw is a member of the coffee family and its tiny seeds can be roasted as a coffee substitute. Growing in both Northern Europe and North America, bedstraw grass has a pleasant smell when dried (like newly mown grass) and was used in Europe as a stuffing for mattresses and pillows. It has a sticky nature and has also been called "Stickywillie" or "the Velco plant". Because this plant adheres so well to each other, when used as a mattress, its straw does not shift. Its clinging nature also caused it to be used in love potions. Bathing in an infusion of this plant was said to make you lucky in love. This plants was and is still used as a sieve in Sweden to strain milk for making cheese. Bedstraw grows by seed and by rhizomes and although rare, is widely distributed. The efficiency of its propagation by rhizomes causes it to sometimes form dense stands.
Some of Galium Boreale species produce a chemical called asperuloside. Asperuloside can be converted into prostaglandins earning it interest by the pharmaceutical industry as a potential source of medication formulation. Asperuloside can also produce coumarin which is the compound that gives Northern bedstraw its sweet smell and insect repellent properties. Coumarin is prescribed by physicians and nurse practitioners to prevent strokes and blood clots. Large amount of coumarin if consumed can cause fatal bleeding as well as toxicity to the liver and the kidney.
First Nations people ate young plants, and made tea out of the stems and leaves. Women and anyone with a bleeding condition should avoid bedstraw consumption because of the coumarin present. First nation’s people also made red dyes out of the roots of this plant.
Despite the potential toxicity of bedstraw, grazing animals and birds eat this plant without becoming ill. Northern Bedstraw is one of the plants that make up part of the mixed prairie grasslands of which there is less than 20% left in North America. The nectar of its small flowers attracts small bees and small flies. Consequently bedstraw is considered a good plant to attract native pollinators as well as beneficial insects. (Beneficial insects help reduce populations of pest insects) Both flowers and leaves are food for insects, moths and butterflies. While little is known about its faunal relationships native prairie plants such as bedstraw are capable of supporting significant biodiversity.
This plant and members of its family, play an important role in healthy ecosystems of North America and Europe. It provides food for insects as well as animals. It has multiple known useful functions for humans, and is being studied further for its medicinal potential. We would be wise to revere this plant and learn more about the many roles it plays and its importance for the many plants and animals associated with it.
Manitoba is where I was born and where I have spent most of the five and one half decades of my life. I lived on the outskirts of the town of Portage La Prairie at a time when tadpoles and frogs inhabited the ditches and ponds, when there were many Monarch butterflies each summer along with dragon flies and grasshoppers. Redwing blackbirds perched the cattails of the ditches. As children we picked dandelions for bouquets and made wishes before blowing dandelion seed heads. We searched clover for lucky four leaves and rolled on the grass…there was no concern of poisonous herbicides. The grass was thick. Wherever we dug…there were earthworms