Lady’s bedstraw, Galium verum
Lady’s bedstraw is now classified as an endangered species, because it readily hybridises (cross-breeds) with white bedstraw (hedge bedstraw). The resulting hybrids are pale yellow.
Ever since ancient times, lady’s bedstraw has been used for making dyes. The roots are used to make a red dye, and the blooms for producing yellow. Combining the leaves and flowers gives different shades of yellow and green.
Something to try
Dyeing woollen yarn red
100 g dried or 1 kg of fresh lady’s bedstraw roots
10 g of alum (a binding agent that helps the dye to be retained by the yarn)
100 g woollen yarn
Chop the lady’s bedstraw roots into small pieces, put them in a bowl or pot and add enough water to just cover them. Allow to soak overnight.
Make the dye the next day.
Boil the infusion mixture over a low heat for a few hours.
Pour the mixture through a sieve to remove the plant material.
Add enough cold water to give 3-5 litres of dye.
Add the alum to the dye and stir well.
Wet the woollen yarn with lukewarm water and add the dye.
Slowly bring the mixture to boiling point over a low heat, stirring occasionally for about an hour.
After that, rinse the yarn thoroughly and allow it to dry in a shaded place.
The leftover dye can be used again. When reusing, add another 5g of the alum binding agent, and use the dye as before. Yarns that are coloured with reused lady’s bedstraw dye are a paler shade of red than the yarn that was coloured with the fresh dye.
Gathering the plants
The deep-yellow blooms of lady’s bedstraw blooms are at their colourful best in July and August. They can be found in Southern Finland in dry fields, on the seashore, and on rocks and by the roadside. The roots are collected before the blooms, and when dried can be stored for many years.
Other interesting facts
In the Finnish national epic The Kalevala, lady’s bedstraw is mentioned in the 19th poem: the maiden was in the countryside where lady’s bedstraw was growing, frolicking on the yellow heath. On returning with her pickings, she is described stirring cauldrons of red and boiling saucepans of yellow. The poem is here referring to using plants for dyeing woven materials to make dowry fabrics.