Monday, 30 April 2012


It was probably inevitable that declaring a hosepipe ban would usher in weeks of heavy rain. After all, it is April. And if there’s one plant in particular that I’ve noticed making the most of the wet weather and romping through every garden, it’s goosgrasss. I spent most of Friday afternoon gardening up to my elbows and, at one point, ears in the stuff (I should point out that I was lying down in order to weed under an awkward cornus – it’s rampant, but not that rampant). Galium aparine is known by many other names; in addition to goosegrass, perhaps most commonly cleavers, but also stickyweed, catchweed, coachweed, bedstraw (from its historic use as a matress stuffing), robin-run-the-hedge and, of course, sticky willy. Though I’m much too mature to find that particular epithet even remotely funny.

I lied, of course, it’s ridiculously amusing, and at least fifty percent accurate as a description. This stuff is sticky – persistently, annoyingly so, clinging to your hands, your clothes, even your hair as you try to disentangle it from your prize plants without pulling bits of them off in the process. But, like so many other weeds, the characteristics that make it so frustrating for the gardener are the same ones that allow it to flourish and colonise our borders with such abandon, its long, sprawling stems creeping over the ground, and inveigling their way through and over plants, finally smothering them utterly. And then it turns out that the plant isn’t sticky at all – rather tiny hairs on the leaves and stem work in the same way as velcro, with hooked ends which grasp skin, hair and fur, and of course, give the plant a firm hold on any plant matter it feels the need to clamber over. Effective stuff.

While hoiking it out by the handful it may be diverting to muse that herbalists have found several uses for it. Just as well you might think, it being so wanton, although I think I might stick to oranges and tomatoes for my daily dose of vitamin C in which it’s apparently particularly rich. It has been used to lower blood pressure, as a treatment for bites and for cystitis, although quite how you apply it I’m not entirely sure. A tea made from the stuff is a diuretic and a laxative (I have a sneaking suspicion that if you make a tea from sufficient quantities of any plant, it’ll have a similar effect. Unless it kills you first.)

All most interesting and very worthy. Mine’s still going on the compost.