A member of the Bedstraw family this plant is the commoner of 2 yellow-flowered bedstraws, the other being Crosswort. It is a perennial herb that grows in grassland, hedge banks, machair and sand-dunes throughout Scotland, but is less common in the Northwest.
The stem is squared in its lower sections and round further up, and the whole stem is covered in very fine hairs. The needle-like leaves grow out of the stem in whorls, with up to 8 leaves to a whorl.
Flowers grow in dense fluffy heads at the tops of the stems and are golden yellow, giving off a feint smell of honey. Each tiny flower is 3mm in diameter, and fused at the base with 4 lobes instead of true petals. Each has 4 yellow stamens.
In years gone by Lady’s Bedstraw was used to stuff mattresses, hence the name. The sweet smelling stems were also put under corpses as they were laid in their coffins.
The flowers of bedstraw give out a yellow dye which has been used, among other things, to colour cheese, and the roots elicit a red dye, which was once very important in the dye industry.