Northern Bedstraw

Northern Bedstraw (Galium boreale)
Northern Bedstraw (Galium boreale) has leaves that are arranged in whorls of four.

In early September, I did a day hike in Paradise Meadows in Strathcona Provincial Park. While walking the new section of boardwalk back to the trail head I kept an eye out for Northern Bedstraw (Galium boreale). This native bedstraw has three-veined leaves that are arranged in whorls of 4. It has a terminal cluster of white to creamy flowers that are very noticeable at this time of year in the meadows. Northern Bedstraw has a sweet smell, caused by the release of coumarins when the leaves are crushed or bruised. The typical habitat for this plant is stream banks, moist forests, thickets and clearings, in partial shade.

Northern Bedstraw (Galium boreale)
The showy white flowers of Northern Bedstraw (Galium boreale) have a beautiful fragrance.

I did find several sources that described the medicinal and edible uses of Northern Bedstraw. Europeans traditionally used members of the genus Galium to stuff mattresses because of their fragrance (I would think that the smooth leaves and stems of Northern Bedstraw would be preferable to Cleavers!). Many of the plants in this genus contain asperuloside which is of interest to pharmaceutical companies because it can be converted to prostaglandins, compounds that stimulate blood vessels and the uterus. Poultices of bedstraw have been used to reduce swelling and bleeding, while the juice of the plant is apparently beneficial for a number of skin problems like rashes, sun burns, eczema, and ringworm. A red dye can be made from the roots and the leaves can be made into a tea that induces weight loss although continual use is not recommended. According to Willowhouse Chronicles in Ontario, the seeds can even be roasted and brewed as a coffee substitute! With any plant it is best to know exactly what you are harvesting and consult with an expert who is familiar with the plant before using it.

Look for Northern Bedstraw on the section of boardwalk that connects the new trail head at the Mount Washington’s Raven Lodge with the old boardwalk at the beginning of the old trail head. It is only place where this plant can be easily seen in Paradise Meadows.