Catchweed Bedstraw

in Garden,Herbalism

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Catchweed Bedstraw (Galium aparine) is a member of the madder family.

I grow Red Madder (Rubia tinctorum) so I was familiar with the velcro-like teeth covering the leaves of members of this clan.  You can see them somewhat in this photo:

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Those little fibers are tenacious grabbers.  No wonder the name catchweed.  It’s also called cleavers, and in modern times, velcro plant.

Until two years ago, I never saw catchweed in my yard.  Then I brought some seeds in with a bale of straw, and it’s spreading around like wildfire.  I used the straw as mulch around my blackberry plants, and when the catchweed began to grow, so did the blackberry canes, protecting the catchweed from my weeding efforts quite nicely.  The catchweed went to seed.  It was all over at that point.  One catchweed plant (which can go from germination to flowering in only 8 weeks, by the way) can produce 100 to 400 seeds apiece.  Or more.  Those little seeds went everywhere when I finally got in there to tear the viney plants out with a rake.  As much as I thought I was containing them, it was no use.

So now I think catchweed is here to stay.  The seeds remain viable for up to three years, and those seeds have a little hook on them like the leaves, so they travel easily.  I am trying to pull them up wherever I find the little babies all over the yard, before they go to seed, but it will be an ongoing challenge.

Like Red Madder, the roots of Catchweed have been used to make a red dye.  Perhaps I’ll try it one day in self defense when I’m overcome with this stuff.  The seeds can be roasted to make a coffee substitute (it’s related to coffee) and catchweed was once used to stuff mattresses because the bristly stuff doesn’t mat down very easily.  It would have to be covered in some pretty thick ticking to make me want to bed down on top of it.  I have to use gloves to weed it out, especially when the plants are starting to get big.

Medicinally, catchweed is listed as anti-inflammatory.  I guess that’s to make up for its inflammatory effect on my skin.

 

 



{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Diane April 4, 2013

We have this in our garden too! I’ve heard it’s edible when young but I’ve never tried eating it. My husband is from Scotland and they call it Sticky Willie there. Kids commonly pull it up and throw it at each other and/or try to stick it to each other without the victim noticing. ;)

2 Vicki April 4, 2013

We have that all over too, but I didn’t know what it was called. I can’t imagine making bedding out of the stuff, but I like the idea of using the roots for red dye.

3 Elizabeth April 4, 2013

Is it safe for the chickens to eat? Free food :)

4 Daisy April 4, 2013

Elizabeth–The only thing I can find on this subject is a source that says prairie chickens will eat the seeds and livestock will eat the plants. I also saw where someone’s chickens ate some with gusto. No follow-up to see if it agreed with them, though!
It’s probably fine.

5 olivia April 8, 2013

Started finding this weed in our yard after a hurricane. It is a mess to clean up, it sticks to my gloves and clothes and I can never be sure the seeds aren’t being spread around. I pull what I see of the plants and a week later there is more. Don’t think I will be eating it anytime soon.

6 Elizabeth April 8, 2013

Thanks for the info Daisy!

7 Susan April 13, 2013

Red Madder was used by Mary Pickersgill to dye the wool bunting she used to make the Star Spangled Banner. You can see it at the Smithsonian’s Museum of American History in Washington ,D. C.

8 stacy April 13, 2013

Nice to know what this is called. It’s such a nuisance plant around here. If you let it dry and go to seed the seeds are like little burrs that get all over the dog and cat. And my chickens love the stuff! I pull it up as soon as I see it but have a neighbor who let’s it get 2 feet tall…I pull it and they fight over it.

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