Goosegrass

(Galium aparine) "This weed is considered excellent food for goslings, who are very fond of it" (Akerman). The roots will dye red (Grieve. 1931), and the seeds, roasted, have been used as a coffee substitute (Barton & Castle), and still are, sometimes, in Ireland (Usher). Another use of the seeds, in the green state, was to adorn the tops of lacemakers' pins; the young seeds were pushed on to the pins to make a sort of padded head (Mabey. 1977).

This is a plant traditionally used to soothe wounds and ulcers (Schauenberg & Paris). In Ireland a whole mass of the herb would be applied to ulcers, while the juice was given internally at the same time (Moloney). In country medicine, it has long been given for skin diseases, acne in particular, and also scurvy, etc., (Grigson. 1955), because it is said to rejuvenate the tissues (A W Hatfield). There is an early charm "against eruption of the skin" that involved elecampane, viper's bugloss, bishop's wort and goose-grass. The patient was told to "pound the four herbs together well, squeeze them out, add a spoonful of old soap to it". Then he was told to "scarify the neck after sunset, silently pour the blood into running water, spit three times after it, then say: "Take this disease, and depart with it". Go back to the house by an open road, and go each way in silence" (Storms).

A poultice of goose-grass is still advised for boils in Somerset (Tongue. 1965), and they use it in France for sores and blisters (C P Johnson). Gypsies say that an infusion drunk very hot last thing at night is a remedy for a cold in the head (Vesey-Fitzgerald). The tops have been used as a country "spring drink" (Grieve. 1931). That is probably what Evelyn meant when he said the tender shoots, with young nettle tops, were used in "Lenten pottages" (Evelyn. 1699). Another use for the plant is as a solvent of stone or gravel in the bladder (Quelch). It does actually act on the kidneys and bladder, and is mildly laxative (A W Hatfield). American Indians also used it for kidney and bladder trouble (H H Smith. 1945). Gypsies claim that goose-grass is a very ancient remedy for cancer (Vesey-Fitzgerald), and Thornton does record its use for tumours in the breast. It appears to be one of the ingredients of a recipe for abortion used among the gypsies of the former Yugoslavia (Clebert). Lastly, a slimming remedy from Gerard: "Women do actually make pottage of Cleavers with a little mutton and Ote meale to cause lanknesse, and keepe them from fatness".

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