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Monday, April 23, 2012
CROSSWORT - A BEDSTRAW: HISTORY, HEALTH BENEFITS AND USES OF CROSSWORT
Crosswort is one of the bedstraw plants and is related to Lady’s Bedstraw or Yellow Bedstraw. In fact it is also known as Smooth bedstraw, with a botanical synonym of Galium cruciata. It is native to
Europe including Britain, but not it is believed, native to Ireland. It is also a native plant of western Asia. As a member of the Rubiaceae family of plants it is related to noni fruit, cleavers, sweet woodruff, wild madder, coffee, Kadamb and the cinchona quinine–producing trees.
Crosswort can grow to heights of four feet, although is more often around two feet high. Its Scots Gaelic name is Luc na croise, which is a reflection of its name in English. The flowers smell of honey and in some areas it is called honeywort. It can be found on the margins of woodland, in hedgerows and roadside verges. Its edible leaves may be added to salads or cooked like spinach.
It was once valued highly as a wound herb or vulnerary and was also used for rheumatism, dropsy and ruptures, although an old Leechbook of the 9th century, now in the British Library, Bald’s Leechbook, states that it was once used as a cure for headaches.
It has astringent properties due to its tannin content, and has diuretic properties. It was used both internally for ruptures and externally for wounds, cuts and grazes. Nicholas Culpeper writing in his herbal in the 17th century has this to say of crosswort:-
“Government and virtues. It is under the dominion of Saturn. This is a singular good wound-herb, and is used inwardly, not only to stay bleeding of wounds, but to consolidate them, as it doth outwardly any green wound, which it quickly drieth up and healeth. The decoction of the herb in wine helpeth to expectorate phlegm out of the chest, and is good for obstructions in the breast, stomach, or bowels, and helpeth a decayed appetite. It is also good to wash any wound or sore with, to cleanse and heal it. The herb bruised and then boiled, and applied outwardly for several days together, renewing it often, and in the mean time the decoction of the herb in wine taken inwardly every day, doth certainly cure the rupture in any, so as it be not too inveterate; but very speedily, if it be fresh and lately taken.”
At one time it was also used as a strewing herb, although it seems that it may not have any insecticidal properties. It flowers between April and June and these yellow flowers are followed by black berries which stay on the plant until late winter, and which resemble small blackcurrants. It could be that it was mistaken for Lady’s Bedstraw and so used in the same way.