- Asperula odorata L.
- Galium odoratum
- Madder family
of the woods
Parts Usually Used
Description of Plant(s) and Culture
Woodruff is a perennial plant, 6-12 inches high; its thin creeping
rootstock with numerous matted, fibrous roots sends up many slender
stems, which are square, shiny, and glabrous. The soft but rough-edged
and bristle-tipped, narrow dark green leaves grow around the stalk
in successive whorls with 6-8 leaves in each whorl. The lower leaves
are oblong-obovate, the small, white, four-petaled flowers bloom in
loose branching cymes from May to June, followed by a leathery, bristly
fruit. Makes a good ground cover for shady areas. Has the fragrance
of freshly mowed hay.
Grows in woods and gardens in Europe, Asia, and North Africa; cultivated
in the United States. Often found in the deepest recesses of the forests,
where the sun penetrates only with difficulty.
Anodyne, antispasmodic, calmative, cardiac, diaphoretic, diuretic
Legends, Myths and Stories
Teutonic warriors wore a sprig of woodruff in their helmets in the
belief that it promoted success in battle. In the Middle Ages, garlands
of woodruff were hung in houses as air fresheners. It is said that
Queen Elizabeth I, when she wished to honor an individual with temporary
favor, gave him a sprig of woodruff. Today in Germany, woodruff is
used to flavor May wine. Woodruff tea is a delightful, fragrant tea.
Made from green dried leaves. It can be steeped up to an hour.
Before the days of insulation and cooling systems, Gerard wrote of
woodruff being suspended in houses, in the summer heat, to temper
the air, cool and make the place fresh.
Traditionally used as an ointment and a perfume. The green plant
itself is almost odorless.
Germans love this small fragrant herb and have numerous names for
it; best known are Waldmeister, Herfreund and Magerkraut.
In the 14th century, the plant was used in England and Scandanavian
countries to make an herb water for cordials. The plant first appears
in print in the 13th century, as "wunderove", derived, some scholars
believe, from the French "rovelle", a wheel, which refers to the spoke-shaped
leaves of the plant. In France, the plant was called "Muge-de-boys",
musk of the woods. In Germany, as early as the 13th century, the herb
was used to flavor May wine. The Mai Bowle or Maitrank is served today
in Germany and in the German sections of American and South American
cities on May Day and thereafter for the rest of the month.
Throughout the Middle Ages, woodruff used to be hung in churches
and placed in boxes with lavender and roses on special days, such
as St. Peter's and St. Barnabas' Day.
Sweet woodruff is famous for its use with the May Bowl Punch. Steep
the leaves and blossoms in one quart of white Rhine wine for a few
hours. Add some orange and lemon, strawberries, ice, and more sweet
woodruff. Freshly cut sweet woodruff has the aroma of newly mown hay
and adds a unique flavor to fresh strawberries.
Sweet woodruff is used to flavor certain fine Swiss candies, syrup
filled chocolates, liqueurs, etc. A pinch of herb adds a delicate
flavor to Oriental black tea. A tsp. of the herb steeped in boiling
water from 3-5 minutes, makes a most delicious tisane.
A very old Maibowle recipe: into 1 qt. jar, put a small bunch of
dried sweet woodruff, a few lumps of sugar and 2 or 3 slices of lemon
or orange, or both. Then fill up with white wine--Rhinewine is the
proper to use. Allow to steep several days or strain of lemon, orange
and woodruff when desired flavor is obtained. (Auf Ihr Wohl!)
Waldmeisterschnaps uses brandy; Waldmeisterlimonaden uses white wine
and lemon-ade. There are many recipes for Maibowle. In France champagne
is used; in Switzerland, cognac or Benedictine. Anyway, don't steep
the herb too long in order to obtain only the delicate essence of
the herb flavor.
Sweet woodruff flavored syrup: boil sugar in water to make thick
syrup and add enough May wine to flavor.
Beneficial for jaundice and
recommended where a tendency toward gravel and bladder stones exists.
It acts as an anodyne for migraine
and neuralgia, and as a calmative for nervous conditions such as restlessness,
and hysteria. The tea relieves stomach
pain, improves appetite,
regulates heart activity, and is a diuretic. Old timers state it was
used against the plague. It is sometimes used to improve the taste
of mixed herb teas. Externally, helps heal wounds.
Formerly used as a strewing herb and mattress-stuffer, it still is
an ingredient in potpourris and a linen-closet freshener. In Germany,
it is used to transform Rhine wine into May wine.
Formulas or Dosages
Infusion: use 2 tsp. dried herb to 1 cup boiling water; take
1/2 to 1 cup per day.
Cold extract: soak 2 tsp. dried herb in 1 cup cold water for
8 hours. The extract can be warmed as desired after straining.
Consumption of large quantities can produce symptoms of poisoning,
including dizziness and vomiting.