Herbs, perennial, with rootstock and rhizomes. Stems erect, (5-)15-70(-120) cm tall, 4-angled, densely puberulent, villosulous, or hirtellous to rarely glabrous and smooth. Leaves in middle stem region in whorls of more than 6 and up to 12, sessile; blade drying papery to subleathery, often blackening, adaxially rather shiny, abaxially paler, linear to linear-oblong, 10-30(-50) × 1-2(-2.5) mm, adaxially glabrous to densely hairy, smooth to sparsely aculeolate, abaxially usually densely puberulent to tomentose, rarely glabrescent or glabrous, base acute to cuneate, margins usually strongly revolute and antrorsely aculeolate, apex acute and shortly mucronate with tip to 1.5 mm; vein 1. Inflorescences thyrsoid or paniculate, terminal and axillary cymes few to many flowered, rather dense and bracteose; axes usually densely puberulent, hirtellous, rarely glabrous and smooth; bracts ± leaflike, 1.5-3 mm; pedicels 1-3 mm. Flowers fragrant, hermaphroditic. Ovary ellipsoid to subglobose, 0.5-0.8 mm, glabrous to densely hairy with straight trichomes. Corolla yellow to white, rotate, ca. 3 mm in diam., glabrous, lobed for 3/4 or more; lobes 4, lanceolate-oblong, subobtuse, acute to apiculate. Mericarps ellipsoid and laterally flattened, 1.5-2 mm, glabrous to densely hispidulous with straight trichomes. Fl. Apr-Aug, fr. May-Oct.
Mountains, grasslands, meadows, river beaches, open fields, ditch sides, streamsides, wet places, forests, thickets, valleys; near sea level to 4100 m. Anhui, Gansu, Hebei, Heilongjiang, Henan, Hubei, Jiangsu, Jilin, Liaoning, Nei Mongol, Ningxia, Qinghai, Shaanxi, Shandong, Shanxi, Sichuan, Xinjiang, Xizang, Zhejiang [India, Japan, Kashmir, Kazakhstan, Korea, Mongolia, Pakistan, Russia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan; SW Asia, Europe; adventive in North America and elsewhere].
Galium verum is used medicinally and ranks among the most commonly collected species of Galium in China, along with G. bungei, G. spurium, and G. hoffmeisteri. Together with closely related taxa (as G. saurense and G. consanguineum in the Chinese flora), it forms an extremely variable polyploid complex with 2x- and 4x-populations, which is still very badly understood. Together with G. humifusum, with which it can form a hybrid, it is placed into G. sect. Galium.
According to the considerable variation of Galium verum with respect to habit, indumentum of leaves, ovaries, and fruit, and flower color, Cufodontis (Oesterr. Bot. Z. 89: 216-219. 1940) and subsequently W. C. Chen (in FRPS 71(2): 266-269. 1999) have rather schematically recognized a number of varieties, which often coexist in one and the same population. Even if they do not correspond to natural entities, they are provisionally treated here for reference, in particular as to the range and adaptation to different habitats in China.