General: perennial, mostly 20-80 cm tall, with numerous erect stems from well-developed, creeping rhizomes, the stems commonly short-bearded just beneath the nodes, otherwise hairless or slightly rough.
Leaves: whorled in fours, stalkless, hairless or rough, lanceolate or nearly linear, blunt to pointed with minutely rounded tip, commonly 1.5-4.5 cm long, more or less strongly 3-nerved, often bearing mostly sterile branches with somewhat smaller leaves from leaf axils, and the whole plant thus appearing very leafy.
Flowers: numerous in terminal, rather showy, repeatedly 3-forked clusters. Corollas white or slightly creamy, 3.5-7 mm wide, with 4 spreading lobes which are separate almost to the base.
Fruits: pairs of nutlets, about 2 mm long, softly hairy with short, straight or curled, but not hooked, hairs that are inconspicuous to the naked eye, or hairless.
In a wide variety of not too dry habitats, from the plains to timber line, in most parts of MT. Also circumpolar, in America extending s. to CA, AZ, TX, MO, and WV.
Northern bedstraw is related to coffee, and the seeds can be dried, roasted and ground as a coffee substitute. The leaves and roots are used to make tea, and the plants are cooked as a potherb. Continual use of this plant will irritate the mouth. It is suggested that people with poor circulation and diabetes avoid this plant.
Bedstraw plants were used to make sweet-smelling hot compresses to stop bleeding and soothe sore muscles. Bedstraw tea has been used as a weight loss aid. It is said to speed up the metabolism of stored fat and to reduce weight in about 6 weeks. The plant induces perspiration and urine production. A decoction has been used as a contraceptive. A number of species in this genus contain asperuloside, a substance that produces coumarin and gives the scent of new-mown hay as the plant dries. Asperuloside can be converted into prostaglandins (hormone-like compounds that stimulate the uterus and affect blood vessels), making the genus of great interest to the pharmaceutical industry.
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