Botanical Source.—Galium aparine is an annual, succulent plant, with a weak, procumbent, quadrangular, retrorsely-prickled stem, which grows from 2 to 6 feet long, and is hairy at the joints. The leaves are 1 or 2 inches in length, 2 or 3 lines in width, verticillate in sixes, sevens, or eights; linear-oblanceolate, nearly sessile, mucronate, tapering to the base, and rough on the margins and midvein; the peduncles are axillary and 1 or 2-flowered; the flowers white, small, numerous and scattered. Calyx 4-toothed, corolla rotate and 4-parted, stamens 4 and short, styles 2. The fruit is large and bristly, with hooked prickles (W.—G.).
History, Description, and Chemical Composition.—This plant is common to Europe and the United States, growing in cultivated grounds, moist thickets, and along banks of rivers, and flowering from June to September. Its root consists of a few hair-like fibers, of a reddish color. Ɣ There are several species of Galium, all of which possess similar medicinal virtues, as Galium asprellum, Michaux, Rough or Pointed cleavers, which differs from the above in having its leaves in whorls of 4 or 6, and smaller, its fruit smooth, its stem less in length, and is perennial; Galium verum, Linné, or Yellow bedstraw, with an erect stem, leaves in whorls of 8, root long, perennial, fibrous, flowers densely paniculate, yellow, and terminal; Galium trifidum, Linné, or Small cleavers, with a perennial root, decumbent stem, herb smaller than the others, leaves in fours or fives, and white flowers; Galium triflorum, Michaux, or Sweet-scented bedstraw contains coumarin (C9H6O2), an odorous principle found also in tonka beans, melilotus and other plants; the Galium tinctorium, a variety of the G. trifidum, having a stouter and a nearly smooth stem, leaves of the branches in fours, of the stem in sixes; peduncles 2 to 3-flowered; parts of the flowers usually in fours; G. lanceolatum, Torrey, and G. circaezans, Michaux, are sometimes known as Wild licorice on account of their taste.
In a green state these plants have an unpleasant odor, but are inodorous when dried, with an acidulous, astringent, and bitter taste. Cold or warm water extracts the virtues of the plants; boiling destroys them. The roots dye a permanent red, and the bones of the animals who eat the plant are said to be colored, similar to that caused by madder. The flowers are said to curdle milk, but this is not a constant effect. Analysis has detected in G. verum and G. aparine rubichloric acid, galitannic acid, citric acid, starch, chlorophyll, etc., G. aparine contains more citric acid than G. verum, while the latter holds the most galitannic acid. Oxalic acid may be present.
Action, Medical Uses, and Dosage.—A most valuable refrigerant and diuretic, and will be found very beneficial in many diseases of the urinary organs, as suppression of urine, calculous affections, inflammation of the kidneys and bladder, and in the scalding of urine in gonorrhoea. It is contraindicated in diseases of a passive character, on account of its refrigerant and sedative effects on the system, but may be used freely in fevers and all acute diseases. It has been recommended in scorbutic and nervous affections, but can not be depended upon. Growth or deposits of a nodular character in the skin or mucous membranes are regarded as indications for its use. An infusion may be made by macerating 1 1/2 ounces of the herb in a pint of warm water for 2 hours, of which from 2 to 4 fluid ounces may be given 3 or 4 times a day, when cold. It may be sweetened with sugar or honey. Equal parts of cleavers, maiden-hair, and elder-blows, macerated in warm water for 2 or 3 hours, and drank freely, when cold, form an excellent drink in acute erysipelas, scarlatina, and other exanthematous diseases, in their inflammatory stages. The infusion made with cold water is also considered very beneficial in removing freckles from the face, likewise lepra, and several other cutaneous eruptions; the diseased parts must be washed with it several times a day, and continued for 2 or 3 months in case of freckles. It has also been found useful in many cutaneous diseases, as psoriasis, eczema, lichen, cancer, and scrofula, and is more particularly useful in these diseases when they are combined with a strumous diathesis. The infusion may be prepared and administered as above mentioned. Of specific galium the dose is from 5 to 60 drops.
Galium tinctorium is said to be nervine, antispasmodic, expectorant, and diaphoretic. It has been used successfully in asthma, cough, and chronic bronchitis, and appears to exert an influence principally upon the respiratory organs. The plant has a pungent, aromatic, pleasant, persistent taste. A strong decoction of the herb may be given in doses of from 1 to 4 fluid ounces, and repeated 2 or a times a day, according to circumstances. The root of this plant is said to dye a permanent red.
Specific Indications and Uses.—Dysuria, painful micturition; renal and cystic irritation with burning; diuretic for inflammatory states of the urinary tract, and for febrile conditions; "nodulated growths or deposits in skin or mucous membranes" (Scudder).
King's American Dispensatory, 1898, was written by Harvey Wickes Felter, M.D., and John Uri Lloyd, Phr. M., Ph. D.