Goose grass { Past and Present Medicinal Uses }

Close up the flower and foliage

This marvelous image reveals the open flowers ,which are tiny  and better seen through a hand lens
This marvelous image reveals the open flowers ,which are tiny and better seen through a hand lens | Source

Introduction to Galium aparine

Goosegrass or Cleavers belong to the family of plants referred to as the Rubiaceae which is the Bedstraw and Madder family. Cleavers one of its popular names derives from the old English word cleave meaning to cling and refers to the small hooked hairs which grow out of the stem and foliage and cling to clothes and fur. The other popular name of Goose grass which alludes to the fact that goslings are supposedly fond of eating it.

The specific name of aparine means to seize and again alludes to the hairs on the stems and foliage. The Generic name of Galium derives from the Greek word gala meaning milk. The latter alludes to the time when milk was produced in open vats or barrels. The stems of this plant where dragged along the top of the milk and any foreign bodies would stick to the hooked hairs and would be removed from the milk.

For the purposes of this article the plant will be referred to as the Goose grass. Here we review its past and present medicinal and culinary uses with historical references and notes. As always we commence with a description of the species under review..

Components of Goose grass

Billeder af Norden's Flora 1917-1927
Billeder af Norden's Flora 1917-1927

Description of Galium aparine

The roots are annual, slender,somewhat four sided, and furnished with a few short delicate fibres The stems which arise from the roots are weak, totally relying on support of other species such as bramble or hedgerow tenants, for any height they achieve. The stems are jointed, square, very rough at the angles with re-flexed bristles. They can attain the length of between two and six feet. They have a straggling nature.

The leaves are simple, lanceolate and hairy above and glabrous below. They are arranged in whorls of about eight in a stellate form. {This typical of the Bedstraws.}

The flowers are few, tiny and white. They are borne on short stalks that arise from the axils of the leaves. They are grouped int two or threes.The calyx {sepals etc} is an indistinct four-toothed margin. The corolla {petals etc} is wheel shaped with four deep acute segments, the petals are white.

The fruit is a dry two lobed pericarp {two globose bodies united together} with two cells and two seeds.

This common plant is found in almost every edge,on waste ground, and woodland. It often grows with brambles and nettles. It flowers in May and continues until August.

The united fruits of Goose grass

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General and historical information

This plant the " Pale Gander Grass" of Izaac Walton was once used either alone or with nettle juice for the purpose of curdling milk, which gave rise to an old country title of 'cheese rening'. In Scotland it was commonly referred to as grip grass {again alluding to the hooked hairs}. It was also referred to {along with Stitchwort}, as 'Robin-run-in-the-hedge', alluding to the long stems that straggle over the more robust species, making the matter of tracing it back to the roots a most difficult task.

The Greeks termed it Philianthropon , fancifully attributing its climbing habit to the love of mankind, though, of course, the cause is purely mechanical. In archaic times when households in the country were not plentifully supplied with utensils, this plant and other rustic contrivances were frequently employed and the words of the poem was much applicable in that time of our history-

" For first an Osier colender provide,

Of twigs thick wrought;such toiling peasants twine,

When through streight passages they strein their wine"


Edward Hulme in his book ' Familiar Wild Flowers states " Anyone who has brushed along the hedgerows while blackberrying will be familiar with the look of the numerous fruits of the Goose grass that will be found attached to the dress." I think it is apt at this point to advise dog owners that thy should be aware of these seeds,which become entangled in the dogs fur. These are irritating to the animal who can cause infected sores whilst scratching themselves to rid their fur of these persistent and clinging capsules.

Goose grass has no real connection to the true grasses despite its name. However, our forefathers did not go in for nice distinctions, and called many other lowly herbs a grass on better grounds. A very old name of Anglo Saxon origin is the Harrif, a word compounded by two others, and signifies 'hedge robber'.



Straggling stems of the Goose Grass

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Qualities and historical medicinal uses.

The root in common with other members of this order will dye red. The seeds roasted bear a considerable resemblance to coffee and have been used as substitute in days gone by. The plant when dry was said to prove injurious to cattle on account of the rigid round curved hairs, however, when fresh it is eaten by animals and as previously mentioned goslings are particularly fond of it. The leaves and stalks yield, upon expression, a large quantity of juice, which is green and turbid at first, but when departed becomes clear and of a reddish colour.

Goose grass like many other plants, has from time to time had various advocates, although in the present day its efficacy is much questioned as regards the more illustrious claims. The expressed juice, however, has been given with decided advantage as an aperient, diuretic and antiscorbic medicine.

Theodore Torquet of Mayerne {Prax.Med. pars.page 396}, found it extremely serviceable in the cure of dropsy, particularly in the earlier stages of the disease. For this complaint he directed three ounces of the juice to be mixed with wine and taken twice a day. Ray attests that a decoction of the plant in white wine was found useful in nephritic cases, tended to expel calculi of the kidneys.

Simon Pauli { Mat.Med. tom iii, page 103} says that in Denmark the distilled water proved beneficial in affections of the chest and in hypchondriacle cases. Whereas {Flora Medicale tom iv page 68} doubt its utility all together. Durand {Flora Economique page 238} also prescribes it in jaundice, obstructions of the liver, and in diarrhoea.

As a remedy in scrofula { swelling in the neck glands was referred to as the King's evil in England} the plant was long in repute, for which complaint it was especially recommended in Italy by Gaspari { Observazioni Storcihe, Mediche 1731 page 17} ,both externally and internally, but the benefits said to have been derived from its use are not confirmed by others. {Parrs Med. Dictart Aparine}.

In Graves Chomel { L'Hist. Plant. Usuell tom i page 444} it considers a decoction to ameliorate the irritability of the bladder, which opinion seems to have been borne out by Ray.

In this and other countries, the juice of Goose grass made one of the 'spring juices' and was taken by country people for Scorbutic complaints, for which it was also recommended by Dr. Edwards {Treatice on the Goose grass, or clives and its efficacy in the cure of the most inveterate scurvy}

By the 1800's it was not the internal use that Goose grass was held in estimation, as for its external application. The herb well bruised and mixed with lard, so as to form a cataplasm, would be applied in all swellings and indulations more particular in glandular and scrofulous cases. { Dioscorides Mat.Med.lib. 3 cap 104}. But for no disease was it so celebrated as for cancer " Its application to cancerous ulcers has in some instances been attended with a complete cure"

As cancer,however, depends on a particular state of the constitution, it can scarcely be expected to be removed by merely topical applications; According to the British Flora Medica which states ' Still whatever can be found to cleanse the unhealthy surface of these sores, and to remove the offensive effluvium, which is by no means the smallest calamity resulting from this formidable disease, is a valuable acquisition to the suffering patient. Not only the cancerous odour, but the pain also is generally taken away by this application, and the life pf the patient prolonged and rendered more comfortable'

J.A. Waller { R.N.Brit.Dom.Herb page 90} -states, " I have seen a most extensive and foul cancer, the stench and pain of which were hastening the unhappy victim to the tomb, so that the utmost period of existence that could be rationally expected, was not more than two or three weeks, which in two days was so changed by this application, that the horrible smell which had infected the whole house for months past was not to be perceived, and the pain, which had driven sleep from her couch, for, almost as long a period, was entirely removed.

" The surface of the ulcer, in a few days, was clean and healthy, and shortly after made some progress towards healing. The life of the patient was prolonged to nearly twelve months, when she at length fell victim to the disease" Another physician claimed " not only in cancerous, but in every foul ill-conditioned ulcer, whether scrofulous or scorbutic, this plant will be found of the utmost service,but its external application will at all times be greatly assisted by the internal use of the juice of the decoction. A tea-cup full of the juice, taken internally, and gradually increased to half a pint, should be taken two or three times a day, and the cataplasm applied every six hours, or more frequently if necessary"

he recommended that a decoction of Goose grass was to be produced in the following manner--- Take of leaves and stalks of Goose grass ---two ounces. Of water ---two pints.Boil gently until reduced to a pint. A tea cup to half a pint to be taken three times a day.

An old writer proclaims that in his day it was frequently taken-" as a broth,to keep them lank and lean that are apt to grow fat" however, our writer does not convey what benefit to health or beauty was gained by being 'lank and lean'.

The above information is for historical information only and not as a guide to self medication.

Goose grass with Sweet Woodruff and other relatives.

The flowering Plants, grasses, sedges and ferns of Great Britain Anne Prattand Edward Step courtesy of the BHL
The flowering Plants, grasses, sedges and ferns of Great Britain Anne Prattand Edward Step courtesy of the BHL

Modern day uses

The main use of Goose grass, in respect of herbal medicine is for external use, although a tea is still recommended by many for stomach and intestinal catarrh's, and for irritation of mucous membranes, tonsil problems and those of the urinary tract.

The juice of the plant is used by some herbalists to apply to skin problems, the juice being allowed to dry before application. It is still used in European countries to heal wounds. The infusion also makes a good face wash to enhance complexion. Due to its refrigerant properties it is considered effective in the case of fevers, Scarlet fever, Measels and all epidemical diseases.

The juice of the fresh plant for immediate use or the dried plant for later use.

An infusion of one ounce of the dried herb in one pint of warm {not boiling water} for two hours will produce a tea.The dose is recommended as 2-8 tablespoons, three to four times a day. This infusion used as a tonic makes a first rate tonic for the scalp removing dandruff.

If you are trying a herb for the first time only take a little to test your body tolerance.

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For Foragers

The Goose grass once formed one of the ingredients for a cooling spring drink,popular among the older ladies in days gone by. As previously mentioned the seed capsules roasted make a good substitute for coffee.

The stems and leaves can be added to soups and stews. I have often used Goose grass {along with nettles} as the main ingredient for spring soups. The hooked hairs {as is the sting of nettles} are destroyed by boiling water. The soup is not only tasty and warming, but also has the added bonus of being a blood purifier. The plant also contains a significant amount of vitamin C.

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5 comments

aviannovice profile image

aviannovice 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

Very interesting read! I had never heard about goose grass until now. Thanks so much.


D.A.L. profile image

D.A.L. 2 years ago from Lancashire north west England Author

Kerlunda74,

Nice to meet you, yes they are classed as a weed /wildflower , Thank you for visiting and for taking the time to comment,it is appreciated. Best wishes to you.


kerlund74 profile image

kerlund74 2 years ago from Sweden

Very interesting, this is somehow a weed, so great if there are some good use of it:)


D.A.L. profile image

D.A.L. 2 years ago from Lancashire north west England Author

DDE,

hello Devika, thank you for your visit. Plant identification and some of their uses and history, make a walk a much more knowledgeable experience. Best wishes to you my friend.


DDE profile image

DDE 2 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

Impressive about Goose grass I had no idea until now you surprise me with such helpful information. I enjoy reading your useful hubs. The photos give me more an easy picture of what the Goose grass looks like.

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