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Bedstraw is a Nutritious, Resilient Forage

By   /  August 8, 2016  /  3 Comments

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Photo courtesy of University of Vermont

Bedstraw (Galium verum) grows throughout southern Canada and the northern United States. It thrives in fallowed fields and land with low soil fertility and low pH, but can also flourish on well-managed lands with high-nitrogen, high-phosphorus, neutral soils. Cool and wet, or droughty, bedstraw tolerates a range of conditions better than many of our usual forage species. Photo courtesy of University of Vermont

If you have bedstraw  on your farm or ranch, lucky you! According to forage analysis done by the Vermont Pasture Management Outreach program, protein values for this plant were around 19%. That means we should quit thinking of it as a weed, and instead look at it as a very palatable that is good for your livestock.

If your animals aren’t already eating bedstraw, you may have to teach them that this is a good food to eat. That’s what Kimberly Hagen, of the Vermont Pasture Network did in 2011. She followed Kathy Voth’s training recipe, to trained her sheep to eat bedstraw as shown in the video below. When she moved them to new pasture elsewhere as part of her parasite management program, she trained the visiting cattle to eat this forage. (Click here for more information on how you can train your own livestock.)

Timing of Grazing

Kathy Voth and Kimberly Hagen teaching sheep to eat Bedstraw

Kathy Voth and Kimberly Hagen teaching sheep to eat Bedstraw

Nobody wants an entire pasture made up of just one forage. So even though bedstraw is a great food, you want to graze it in a way that will let it complement the rest of your forages.

We know that mowing bedstraw before it has gone to seed can slow the rate of spread. Our problem becomes the timing of mowing because bedstraw, once it has begun to flower, can go to seed within days or practically overnight. Then mowing works against you, spreading the seed around the field. That’s where using your livestock to graze this plant might work more in your favor.

Trained livestock will graze bedstraw throughout the growing season. Sheep trained to eat bedstraw decreased its presence from 30% of the plants growing in a paddock to less than 10% in a single season. So, while getting rid of bedstraw may be nearly impossible, keeping it in check and minimizing its spread is more likely.

Other Uses for Bedstraw

Bedstraw has a variety of uses that we can take advantage of. People in Oregon and southwestern Washington might watch for sweetscented bedstraw because it indicates moist, well-drained sites, and in riparian zones suggests high productivity sites for conifers.

It also has medicinal applications. It’s still used to a limited degree as a popular remedy in gravel, stone, and urinary diseases. Bedstraw has also been used as a remedy for epilepsy and hysteria, and is still considered for these uses in France.

If you don’t plan to feed it to your animals, you could use it in your own menu. The flowering tips yield an acid liquor which was thought to form a “pleasant summer drink.” It is also sometimes called “Cheese Rennet” because it can curdle milk, and has been used to make cheese and add color to it.

Our suggestion: take advantage of your bedstraw! Perhaps this summer you can enjoy a cool glass of bedstraw liquor with some bedstraw assisted cheese, while watching your livestock graze it!

This article is drawn from one previously published in On Pasture

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About the author

Rachel and Kathy are co-editors of On Pasture. They often collaborate on articles so that you get the best they have to offer.

3 Comments

  1. When we moved to our current farm in the Adirondacks of NY 4 years ago, our pastures were easily over 50% bedstraw. Didn’t know what it was at the time, and coincidentally had it identified at a grazing talk with Kathy that was being held in our area. Four years later, after intense rotational grazing and one frost-seeding of clover, the grasses have expanded exponentially along with red clover, but the bedstraw persists, but that’s not a bad thing really. Its somewhat dense habit helps fill in the gaps left by the grasses and provide more cover/forage, and in the poorer, sandier areas where the grass and clover still hasn’t made a good foothold, the bedstraw again helps fill in.

    Do you know what bedstraw is symptomatic of? E.g. does it just establish itself when there’s low pressure from grass, or lack of mowing or grazing? Does it take to lower pH soils than grass or clover like?

  2. Ed Rayburn says:

    Thanks for this article. Our forage testing of bedstraw in WV and NY supports your observations. Bedstraw has nutritional value similar to the grass in the pasture. Rotational grazing is often the only training needed to teach cattle to eat bedstraw. My cattle like bedstraw in early bloom when the flowers smell like clover. Thank you for your efforts to let producers know that many “weeds” are high quality forage in disguise.

    • Geralyn Devereaux says:

      I have been using it in my herbal tea blends for years as it supports a healthy gall bladder. When I heard that my weeds were useful (amazing right? lol) I had to try it for a pain under my right ribs (mostly after meals) and three cups of it took the pain away for quite a while! After drying it on a fence and crumbling the leaves into a big brown paper bag I then ran it through the Ninja with multiple blades and sifted it through a colander! Wow! Smells just like a barn load of fresh hay. Here is a site I just found that looks thoroughly researched and no woo woo stuff! http://www.ahealthgroup.com/folk-medicine/phytotherapy/phytotherapy-and-cholecystitis.html

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