Galium boreale
Northern bedstraw

Alaska Wildflowers | White

The inflorescence and leaves in whorls of 4 of Galium boreale, or northern bedstraw.

Galium boreale
Northern bedstraw

Common Names

gaillet boréal
boreal bedstraw
northern bedstraw

Synonyms

Galium boreale var. boreale
Galium boreale var. hyssopifiolium
Galium boreale var. intermedium
Galium boreale var. linearifolium
Galium boreale var. scabrum
Galium septentrionale
Galium strictum

Subspecies

none

Genus: Galium
Family: Rubiaceae
Order: Gentianales
taxonomic heirarchy

Duration – Growth Habit

Perennial – Forb/herb

Identification and Information

Galium boreale, commonly known as northern bedstraw, is a perennial herb that grows 20-80 cm tall from slender, creeping rhizomes. The stems are square, erect or ascending, and may be simple or branched. The leaves are found in whorls of four. Leaves are lanceolate with rounded or blunt tips, entire margined, 3-veined, sessile (no petiole), and 2-6 cm long.



The inflorescences form in the leaf axils (branched from the leaf whorls) and as terminal panicles. Each inflorescence contains numerous white or cream-colored flowers 3.5-7 mm wide. The flowers are both male and female on separate plants and have four petals and four stamens. The fruits are a pair of round, hairy achenes fused at the center, 1.8-2 mm long.


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Uses

For information only (typically historical) – I take no responsibility for adverse effects from the use of any plant.

There are numerous culinary and medicinal uses for Galium boreale and other smooth-leaved species within the genus Galium. These uses are detailed in Plants of the Western Forest, Alaska’s Wild Plants, and in the Native American Ethnobotany Database (links in the reference section).

Galium boreale is a member of the Rubiaceae, or coffee, family. The seeds can be dried and roasted to make a coffee substitute, and the leaves and roots can be used to make teas. Plants of the Western Forests note that it contains an irritant and should be used sparingly as a tea as it will irritate the mouth, and some report contact dermatitis from the plant. It is used as a fragrant stuffing for pillows or mattresses, for which it is named “bedstraw.” The root is used as a red dye by the Cree in Hudson Bay.

The plant is used as a diuretic and diaphoretic. Bedstraw “juice” has been used for numerous skin issues, such as rashes, eczema, and ringworm. Dena’ina Athabascans apply it for aches and pains.

Plants of the genus Galium have also been shown to have antimicrobial properties, as discussed in the study (Vasilevna, 2021).


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Distribution and Habitat

Map data from the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF), NatureServe Explorer, and Kew

Galium boreale has a widespread circumpolar distribution and is prolific throughout Eurasia and North America. It is very common in Alaska.

It also grows in a variety of habitats, including rocky slopes, open forests, meadows and clearings, and shorelines.

Classification

RankScientific Name (Common Name)
KingdomPlantae (plantes, Planta, Vegetal, plants)
SubkingdomViridiplantae (green plants)
InfrakingdomStreptophyta (land plants)
SuperdivisionEmbryophyta 
DivisionTracheophyta (vascular plants, tracheophytes)
SubdivisionSpermatophytina (spermatophytes, seed plants, phanérogames)
ClassMagnoliopsida 
SuperorderAsteranae 
OrderGentianales 
FamilyRubiaceae (madders, rubiacées)
GenusGalium L. (gaillet, bedstraw)
SpeciesGalium boreale

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References and Further Reading

Guidebook

Pratt, V. E. (1989). Field Guide to Alaskan Wildflowers: Commonly Seen Along Highways and Byways (p. 54). Alaskakrafts, inc.

Brandenburg, D. M. 2010. National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Wildflowers of North America. Sterling Publishing. (p. 492)

Johnson, D., Kershaw, L., & MacKinnon, A. (2020). Plants of the Western Forest: Alaska to Minnesota Boreal and Aspen Parkland (3rd ed., p. 202). Partners Publishing. ISBN 978-1772130591.

Classification and Taxonomy

Integrated Taxonomic Information System. (2024). Galium boreale. Retrieved May 5, 2024, from https://www.itis.gov/servlet/SingleRpt/SingleRpt?search_topic=TSN&search_value=528209#null

Canadensys. (2024). Galium boreale. Retrieved May 5, 2024, from https://data.canadensys.net/vascan/name/Galium%20boreale

Catalogue of Life. (2024). Galium boreale. Retrieved May 5, 2024, from https://www.catalogueoflife.org/data/taxon/6K7KQ

United States Department of Agriculture. (2024). Galium boreale. Retrieved May 5, 2024, from https://plants.usda.gov/home/plantProfile?symbol=GABO2

Uses

Native American Ethnobotany Database. (2024). Galium boreale. Retrieved May 5, 2024, from http://naeb.brit.org/uses/species/1684/

Schoefield. (2020). Alaska’s Wild Plants (pp. 22-23). Alaska’s Northwest Books.

Johnson, D., Kershaw, L., & MacKinnon, A. (2020). Plants of the Western Forest: Alaska to Minnesota Boreal and Aspen Parkland (3rd ed., p. 202). Partners Publishing. ISBN 978-1772130591.

Pharmacognosy Communications. (2021). Pharmacognosy Communications, 6(1), 42. Retrieved May 5, 2024, from https://phcogcommn.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/PharmacognCommn_6_1_-42.pdf

Map and Distribution

GBIF. (2024). Galium boreale. Retrieved May 5, 2024, from https://www.gbif.org/species/2914338

Plants of the World Online. (2024). Galium boreale. Retrieved May 5, 2024, from https://powo.science.kew.org/taxon/urn:lsid:ipni.org:names:749626-1

NatureServe Explorer. (2024). Galium boreale. Retrieved May 5, 2024, from https://explorer.natureserve.org/Taxon/ELEMENT_GLOBAL.2.144847/Galium_boreale

Description and Information

Hultén, E. (1968). Flora of Alaska and Neighboring Territories: A Manual of the Vascular Plants (1st ed.) (pg. 837). Stanford University Press.

Ecological Atlas of Denali’s Flora. (2024). Galium boreale. Retrieved May 5, 2024, from https://ecologicalatlas.uaf.edu/index.php/browse-plant-species/atlas-page/?nps_id=895

E-Flora BC: Electronic Atlas of the Flora of British Columbia. (2024). Galium boreale. Retrieved May 5, 2024, from https://linnet.geog.ubc.ca/Atlas/Atlas.aspx?sciname=Galium%20boreale&redblue=Both&lifeform=7

 

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