Goosegrass (Galium aparine)
|TY Biologists get hooked on goosegrass|
Yesterday some Transition Year biologists got a bit hooked on ‘goosegrass’ (quite literally) when carrying out a botanical survey of the College grounds. This is a common plant throughout Ireland and indeed across Europe, Canada and parts of the USA. It grows in hedgerows, amongst tall herbage or low shrubs, and is a common weed in gardens and arable fields. The best known feature is of course that the leaves and stems stick to clothing etc. because they are covered in fine hairs with little hooks at the end. This allows the plant to climb over other plants and shade them out. Other common names include: stickywilly, sticky weed, cleavers, catchweed, everlasting friendship, grip grass, loveman, sweethearts and Robin-run-the-hedge. It is a member of the Rubiaceae (madder) family and is a bedstraw. It is thus distantly related to the coffee plant Coffea arabica.
Stems are square in cross-section and can grow up to 2 m long and sprawl along the ground or over other plants. Leaves are simple, elongate and slender, about 2 cm long, and are borne in whorls of 6-8 all the way along the stem. Flowering occurs from June to August and the flowers are small (2-3 mm) and white with 4 petals – occurring in most of the leaf nodes. Fruits are small, hard and spherical, turning from green to purple and occur in pairs. They are covered in small hooks and act as burrs which cling to fur and feathers etc. to aid dispersal.
Goosegrass is edible, is used as a herbal remedy and its roots can produce a red dye. The numerous hooks on the plant’s surface mean that it can’t really be eaten raw but when boiled (before the fruits appear) it can be eaten as a leaf vegetable, or the dried leaves can be used to make a herbal tea. The seeds can be lightly roasted and used as a coffee substitute. It is thought to be rich in vitamin C and was traditionally used to treat skin diseases, bladder infections and to lower blood pressure. There are written records of bunches of goosegrass being used to strain milk in the 1st Century AD in the process of cheese making, and it was supposedly used in the making of traditional Cheshire cheese in the 16th and 17th Centuries.