It’s worth taking note from Miles Irving, another fellow forager who doesn’t mince his words, on the efficacy of using lady’s bedstraw as a rennet. In his brilliant, The Foragers Handbook he states, “There are many accounts of people finding it quite useless for this purpose. It is more likely to have been used to flavour the cheese”. I suspect he is right in this way of thinking and I also suspect that science and the nomenclature for the one of the country names for bedstraw (cheese rennet) were half remembered truths passed down and mixed with a little folklore. This is often the case with country ways that may have been passed down orally.
But this perennial has been a very familiar asset in the herbalists armoury, helping with a whole manner of aliments including, kidney stones, gout, to stop bleeding and to aid the liver. Maria Treben the author of, Herbs through God’s Pharmacy and renowned Austrian herbalist suggests that it should be used fresh and that “When suffering from a disorder of the lymphatic system, one should drink this tea daily”.
Maria Treben also found some evidence to support the notion that bedstraw can aid with those suffering from cancer of the tongue, she suggests that some of here patients having gargled with it reported good health after a matter of weeks. Another Austrian author and plantsman Richard Willfort suggests that drinking bedstraw tea is an excellent remedy and he also suggests that mixing with bedstraw with butter as a remedy for cancerous growths and skin cancer. Although, Dr. Heinrich Neuthaler in “The Herb Book” rather angrily disagrees: “The white flowering Bedstraw is recommended for cancer in some districts even today – a nonsense that cannot be opposed strongly enough.” As with all treatments it is worth doing your own research before making your mind up.
Beyond the kitchen and the pharmacy the dyer might well seek out the delights of lady’s bedstraw as the roots have been used for the colour red. They have lower concentrations of dye than many red producing plants (such as Madder or St Johns wort), but this is perfect if you are after paler reds. Often therefore, it is was used in the more remote places where other plants were unavailable. There is rich tradition, for example, of dyeing woolen items on the Hebrides. It was always foraged for as attempts to cultivate have been less than satisfactory as it’s tiny roots mean you have to cultivate huge areas in order to obtain any workable amount of dye.
My experience of Bedstraw is to give a little flavour to drinks. Just a few sprigs used as a Gin and tonic garnish can infuse it with a delightful floral flavour that is hard to place.
Go go on get out there and start exploring, as it is well worth seeking out this multifaceted herb.