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Sunday, October 30, 2011


Ladies Bedstraw is also called Our Ladies Bedstraw, as it was once believed that it was one of the dried kinds of plants that were laid in the manger by Jesus’ mother Mary to make it comfortable for him. It is also known as Curdwort and Cheese Rennet as in the past it was used to curdle milk and process cheese. The yellow colour that Cheshire cheese was famous for was produced by this plant. John Gerard writing in the 16th century explains this, saying that the best Cheshire cheeses were made in Nantwich. Today the yellow food colouring is from annatto. The whole chopped plant is used for rennet.
  This plant was used in Nativity scenes in churches, dried, as we can see from this extract from the Red Book of Hengist and the works of the Physicians of Myddfai,
The bite of the spider, will not be found venomous, save from the feast of the nativity of the Virgin Mary, to that of her purification, and then by applying the yellow bed straw thereto bruised, the venom will be extracted therefrom.”
The Physicians of Myddfai also used yellow bedstraw for swellings :-
“For a swelling, the result of an injury. Take the juice of the yellow bed straw, the juice of the plantain, rye meal, honey and the white of eggs. Make into a plaster, and apply thereto.”
  More traditionally however, the plant has been used as a diuretic in the treatment of gout and other diseases whose symptoms include excess fluids in the body.
  Given that it has the name Bedstraw, you might guess correctly that it was used in the past to stuff mattresses with, as it is sweet-smelling, like freshly cut hay and is reputed to have insect-repellant properties. It is also said that if you put a sprig of this in your shoes if you are walking a long way, you will not get a blister. It is closely related to Sweet Woodruff, Galium odorata.
  This plant is native to Europe and western Asia, and is a common sight in waste land, and in fields. The leaves can be eaten raw or cooked, like spinach, and the seeds when roasted are said to make a good coffee substitute, like chicory or dandelion roots. (Coffee, of course is also in the Rubiaceae family of plants.)  In Britain the plant is in flower in July and August and can be collected then and dried for later use. The root leaves and stems produce a yellow dye which women used to dye their hair blonde in Britain in the Renaissance. It may be that in France men also made use of this dye as there it was called “Petit muguet” or “little dandy” and this was adulterated into another English name for this plant, Petty Mugget. The roots alone produce a red dye like that of Madder (Rubia tinctorum) to which yellow bedstraw is related as it is in the same Rubiaceae family of plants.
  The flowering tops have been used as a folk remedy for epilepsy and are thought to have antispasmodic properties. Culpeper writing his Complete Herbal in the 17th century believed that yellow bedstraw was good for all kinds of internal bleeding and for nosebleeds.
   An infusion or decoction of the plant has been used in the past to remove stones and gravel from the internal organs, although I don’t think it is used for these ailments today.
  The flowering plant used to be made into an ointment for skin problems and a powder from the plant can be applied directly onto the skin to stop itching and inflammation. A poultice of the chopped plant, heated can be applied to heal wounds and clean them too.
  The plant contains asperuloside which produces coumarin and it is this which is responsible for the smell of new mown hay which the plant emits. This can be further converted to produce prostaglandins which are hormone- like compounds that stimulate the uterus and affect blood vessels, so the pharmaceutical industry is currently very interested in this plant, although little research has yet been published on it.
  You can make a foot bath to relieve swollen or aching feet by boiling the stems and flowers in water. If you take a cupful of the herb and boil it in a couple of pints of water for half an hour, reducing it to a simmer after boiling point has been reached, then pour it into a bowl and add more hot water to cover your feet, you should feel a little better after a period of soaking your feet.

2 tbsps fresh flowers of Yellow Bedstraw
1 cup boiling water
honey to taste

Put the flowers in a large mug and pour the boiling water over them.
Leave to steep for 15-20 mins.
Strain and flavour with a little honey.
This is a useful diuretic.
This has Taste and is a Treatment).

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