Galium is the genus name for the bedstraws which includes over six hundred annuals and perennials most of which are weeds. The genus name is derived from the fact that Galium verum, yellow bedstraw, can be used in cheese making to curdle the milk. Yellow bedstraw is native to Europe and Asia and its roots have been used for red dye, its tops for tan to yellow dye. In the Middle Ages the plant was used for mattress stuffing because of its pleasant scent.
A more popular garden plant is Galium oderatum, sweet woodruff. A native of Europe, North Africa and Asia, it smells like new-mown hay and its dried leaves were used in Elizabethan England for wreaths, garlands, sachets, and tussie-mussies. In Scandinavia sweet woodruff was used to make cordials in the Middle Ages while in Germany sweet woodruff is used to flavor May wine.
Loose clusters of small white flowers with four petals appear in late spring to early summer. The sessile leaves are lanceolate and carried along square stems in whorls of six to eight. Plants are about eight inches tall and make an excellent ground cover especially for partly shady areas.