The plants are typically small with very small, radially symmetrical, 4-petalled flowers distributed in branched clusters. The narrow smooth edged leaves are either opposite or in whorls. In the Gallium genus, the most important in this area, the stem is square and often bristly and the tiny flowers are in whorls.
The name bedstraw came about from the old use of these plants as straw for beds. Gardenias and coffee are two well known cultivated bedstraws. Quinine is made from the bark of the cinchona tree, another bedstraw family species.
This family contains flowers.