Goosey, goosey, gander, whither do ye wander? says an old

nursery rhyme by way of warning to the silly waddling birds not to

venture into hedgerows, else will they become helplessly fettered by

the tough, straggling coils of the Clivers, Goosegrass, or,

Hedgeheriff, growing so freely there, and a sad despoiler of


The medicinal Goosegrass (Galium aparine), which is a highly

useful cu
ative Simple, springs up luxuriantly about fields and waste

places in most English districts. It belongs to the Rubiaceous order

of plants, all of which have a root like madder, affording a red dye.

This hardy Goosegrass climbs courageously by its slender, hairy

stems through the dense vegetation of our hedges into open

daylight, having sharp, serrated leaves, and producing small white

flowers, pearking on the tops of the sprigs. It is one of the

Bedstraw tribe, and bears [231] a number of popular titles, such as

Cleavers, Clithers, Robin run in the grass, Burweed, Loveman,

Gooseherriff, Mutton chops, Clite, Clide, Clitheren, and Goosebill,

from the sharp, serrated leaves, like the rough-edged mandibles of a


Its stalks and leaves are covered with little hooked bristles, which

attach themselves to passing objects, and by which it fastens itself in

a ladder-like manner to adjacent shrubs, so as to push its way

upwards in the hedgerows.

Goosegrass has obtained the sobriquet of Beggar's lice, from

clinging closely to the garments of passers by, as well as because

the small burs resemble these disgusting vermin; again it is known

to some as Harriff, or, Erriff, from the Anglo-Saxon hedge rife, a

taxgather, or robber, because it plucks the wool from the sheep as

they pass through a hedge; also Grip-grass, Catchweed, and

Scratchweed. Furthermore, this Bedstraw has been called Goose-grease,

from a mistaken belief that obstructive ailments of geese can

be cured therewith. It is really a fact that goslings are extremely

fond of the herb.

The botanical name, Aparine, bears the same meaning, being

derived from the Greek verb, apairo, to lay hold of. The generic

term, Galium, comes from the Greek word gala, milk, which

the herb was formerly employed to curdle, instead of rennet.

The flowers of this Bedstraw bloom towards August, about the time

of the Feast of the Annunciation, and a legend says they first burst

into blossom at the birth of our Saviour. Bedstraw is, according to

some, a corruption of Beadstraw. It is certain that Irish peasant girls

often repeat their aves from the round seeds of the Bedstraw,

using them for beads in the absence of a rosary; [232] and hence,

perhaps, has been derived the name Our Lady's Be(a)dstraw. But

straw (so called from the Latin sterno, to strew, or, scatter about)

was formerly employed as bedding, even by ladies of rank: whence

came the expression of a woman recently confined being in the

straw. Children style the Galium Aparine Whip tongue, and

Tongue-bleed, making use of it in play to draw blood from their


This herb has a special curative reputation with reference to

cancerous growths and allied tumours. For open cancers an

ointment is made from the leaves and stems wherewith to dress the

ulcerated parts, and at the same time the expressed juice of the plant

is given internally. Dr. Tuthill Massy avers that it often produces a

cure in from six to twelve months, and advises that the decoction

shall be drank regularly afterwards in the Springtime.

Dr. Quinlan, at St. Vincent's Hospital, Dublin, successfully

employed poultices made with the fresh juice, and applied three

times in the day, to heal chronic ulcers on the legs. Its effects, he

says, in the most unlikely cases, were decisive and plain to all. He

gave directions that whilst a bundle of ten or twelve stalks is

grasped with the left hand, this bundle should be cut into pieces of

about half-an-inch long, by a pair of scissors held in the right hand.

The segments are then to be bruised thoroughly in a mortar, and

applied in the mass as a poultice beneath a bandage.

Dr. Thornton, in his excellent Herbal (1810), says: After some

eminent surgeons had failed, he ordered the juice of Cleavers, mixed

with linseed, to be applied to the breast, in cases of supposed cancer

of that part, with a teaspoonful of the juice to be taken every night

and morning whilst fasting; by which plan, after a short [233] time,

he dispersed very frightful tumours in the breast.

The herb is found, on analysis, to contain three distinct acids--the

tannic acid (of galls), the citric acid (of lemons), and the special

rubichloric acid of the plant.

In cancer, says Dr. Boyce, five fluid ounces of the fresh juice of

the plant are to be taken twice a day, whilst constantly applying the

bruised leaves, or their ointment, to the sore.

Some of our leading druggists now furnish curative preparations

made from the fresh herb. These include the succus, or juice, to

be swallowed; the decoction, to be applied as a lotion; and the

ointment, for curative external use. Both in England and elsewhere

the juice of this Goosegrass constitutes one of the Spring juices

taken by country people for scorbutic complaints. And not only for

cancerous disease, but for many other foul, illconditioned ulcers,

whether scrofulous or of the scurvy nature, this Goosegrass has

proved itself of the utmost service, its external application being at

all times greatly assisted by the internal use of the juice, or of a

decoction made from the whole herb.

By reason of its acid nature; this Galium is astringent, and therefore

of service in some bleedings, as well as in diarrhoea, and for


Gerard writes: The herb, stamped with swine's grease, wasteth

away the kernels by the throat; and women do usually make pottage

of Cleavers with a little mutton and oatmeal, to cause leanness, and

to keep them from fatness. Dioscorides reported that: Shepherds

do use the herb to take hairs out of the milk, if any remain therein.

Considered generally, the Galium aparine exercises acid, astringent,

and diuretic effects, whilst it is of [234] special value

against epilepsy, and cancerous sores, as already declared;

being curative likewise of psoriasis, eczema, lepra, and other

cutaneous diseases. The dose of the authorised officinal juice

is from one to two teaspoonfuls, and from five to twenty grains of

the prepared extract.

The title Galium borne by Bedstraws has been derived from the

Greek gala, milk, because they all possess to some extent the

power of curdling milk when added to it. Similarly the appellation

Cheese rennet, or, Cheese running (from gerinnen, to

coagulate), is given to these plants. Highlanders make special use of

the common Yellow Bedstraw for this purpose, and to colour their


From the Yellow Bedstraw (Galium verum), which is abundant

on dry banks chiefly near the sea, and which may be known by its

diminutive, puffy stems, and its small golden flowers, closely

clustered together in dense panicles, an ointment, says Gerard, is

prepared, which is good for anointing the weary traveller.

Because of its bright yellow blossoms, this herb is also named

Maid's hair, resembling the loose, unsnooded, golden hair of

maidens. In Henry VIII's reign maydens did wear silken callis to

keep in order their hayre made yellow with dye. For a like reason

the Yellow Bedstraw has become known as Petty mugget, from

the French petit muguet, a little dandy, as applied in ridicule to

effeminate young men, the Jemmy Jessamies, or mashers of the

period. Old herbalists affirmed that the root of this same Bedstraw,

if drunk in wine, stimulates amorous desires, and that the flowers, if

long smelt at, will produce a similar effect.

This is, par excellence, the Bedstraw of our Lady, who [235]

gave birth to her son, says the legend, in a stable, with nothing but

wild flowers for the bedding.

Thus, in the old Latin hymn, she sings right sweetly:--

Lectum stravi tibi soli: dormi, nate bellule!

Stravi lectum foeno molli: dormi, mi animule!

Ne quid desit sternam rosis: sternam foenum violis,

Pavimentum hyacinthis; et praesepe liliis.

Sleep, sweet little babe, on the bed I have spread thee;

Sleep, fond little life, on the straw scattered o'er!

'Mid the petals of roses, and pansies I've laid thee,

In crib of white lilies; blue bells on the floor.