By Janelle Eklund
The wood stove radiates a cozy warmth throughout the house - a house made from the same kind of trees - spruce - that keep the fires burning throughout the winter. This winter, snow and frost decorated sister trees standing outside my window. It's February 26 and for the last few days morning light has gingerly appeared starting around 6:30. This welcoming light gives a hint of a vision of green and colorful days ahead. Wrapping my brain around that thought the sweet scent of Bedstraw wafts into my memory.
The common name, Bedstraw, and the botanical name, Galium, were given to this plant for two different reasons.
Before the invention of manufactured mattresses Bedstraw was used as stuffing to make a soft and pleasant smelling surface to sleep on. Thus the name Bedstraw. Legend has it that this was the mattress of choice for baby Jesus. Galium is derived from Greek. Gala means milk in Greek and the plant was named after this because of its rennet producing abilities. Rennet is the ingredient used to coagulate milk in the cheese making process. In 'Discovering Wild Plants' by Janice Schofield she says, "To obtain this rennet, the herb is blended with an equal amount of salt, covered with water, and then simmered until half the original amount of fluid remains".
Four leaves dance around the square shaped stem of this plant. Another stem extends from this whorl of leaves, where tiny white flowers shine in the sunlight and can permeate the air with their sweet perfume.
Bedstraw does have some medicinal qualities. The plant can be put into massage oils to help relieve sore muscles. 'The Boreal Herbal' by Beverly Gray says it contains asperuloside which is an anti-inflammatory and mildly laxative; is reported to be very effective in treating urinary and reproductive-organ inflammations; acts as a lymphatic tonic, diuretic and blood cleanser; leaves and flowers are used topically in a hot compress to stop bleeding, soothe muscle aches and help with skin conditions like eczema; mashing the plant and rubbing it into the scalp can encourage hair growth. In 'Discovering Wild Plants', Schofield says "The herb is said to dissolve stones in the bladder, rid organs of toxic waste, and strengthen the liver. Hepatitis, jaundice, goiter, and painful urination have all reportedly been helped by this herb. For goiter and mouth cancer, the tea is drunk plus used as a gargle."
This plant is edible, the fresh tender young plant best lightly steamed or fried in butter or olive oil. The flowering plant also makes a nice tea. Freezing the tea is one way to store it for winter months. Or dry the plant in bundles for later use, making into tea or tincture. The tea has been known to be used to help with weight loss by speeding up the metabolism. Using the tea continuously can cause irritation to the mouth and tongue so use with caution. Also, if you are diabetic avoid using this herb.
Enjoy the increasing light of each day and wrap yourself in visions of greens, blues, purples, yellows, creams, pinks, whites and all the other hues brought on by the re-emergence of plant life.
From my light to yours-
References: The Boreal Herbal by Beverley Gray; Discovering Wild Plants by Janice Schofield
Who We Are
WISEfriends are several writers connected with Wrangell Institute for Science and Environment, a nonprofit organization located in Alaska's Copper River Valley. Most of these articles originally appeared in our local newspaper, the Copper River Record.