Ladys Bedstraw and the Myth behind it

Lady’s Bedstraw is a flowering perennial which is popular in Europe but has been transplanted around the world.  It grows requiring little care and has many uses other than just as an attractive leafy green flowering plant with yellow leaves.  It’s full name is Our Lady’s Bedstraw which is derived from the myth about it, that The Madonna Mary saw the plant blooming outside of the stable and plucked the white flowers and laid them in the bottom of the cradle in the manger for her newborn infant, Jesus.  According to legend, the flowers turned to a gold color to signify the divinity of the newborn infant.

The botanical name of Lady’s Bedstraw is gallium verum, derived from the Greek ‘gala’ for milk, and the Latin for true.  It is a flowering plant, angiosperm, of the Family of woody plants, Rubiaceae.  The bright yellow flowers grow in clusters, i.e. described botanically as paniculated, generally blooming in July and August.  It is a hardy plant with a wide variety of useful properties which made it very popular in Europe.

The flowers of one variety, Galium triflorum, have a vanilla like smell, and the plant itself a fresh grass like smell, very useful in the middle centuries in homes, whether peasant or a manor, where good hygiene was next to impossible to maintain, there being no hot running water  for bathing, washing dishes and clothes, keeping the house clean, and refrigeration to keep foods from spoiling.  People stuffed its flowers inside their mattresses because of its fragrance and another of its special properties-it contains coumarin,the ingredient in rat poison, important to the hygiene of the rude houses of the day, discouraging vermin from moving in.

In addition to the attractiveness of its pleasant smell and helpfulness in maintaining a home environment in the closed in, small confines of the typical peasant home, it had useful properties for dying fabrics and in cheese making.  The plant has the ability to curdle milk-hence its Greek derived name gallium-and to color the cheese a bright yellow.  As a fabric dye it was used by the Celts of Scotland and Ireland to dye wool a bright crimson color and to this day is used to hand dye specialty wools.

Lady’s Bedstraw has earned a distinguished place in the plant world with all of its special properties. Historically it appears to have an enduring importance in the mind and heart of humanity as its myth of the Virgin Mary and the infant Jesus lives on.