Famous as a groundcover for shady areas, sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum) is also a fairy plant, often called “Fairy Parasols.” All of the members of the Galium family are noted for their pointed leaves that form a “ruff” around the stem, rather like an umbrella. Sweet woodruff has dainty, star-shaped white blooms in spring. It is a hardy perennial growing only 5” in height in my experience, although some sources report it reaches 8”. If happy, it will form a pretty mat. In Germany, where conditions are often to its liking is it called Waldmeister, or “master of the forest,” because it can carpet large areas in shaded, good soil.
Sweet woodruff is included in potpourris and potpourri gardens, for when dried, the leaves have a sweet scent of newly-morn hay due to the coumarin it contains. It was often used as a mattress stuffing, or placed in linen closets. It is valuable, for a bowl of dried sweet woodruff placed in a stuffy, enclosed location, like a neglected camper or cabin can refresh the air.
I chose to write about it now, because I was sitting here enjoying a cup of sweet woodruff tea, which my daughter in Germany sends me by the case. It is delicious, slightly sweet naturally and caffeine free. I generally drink it hot, but it is also delicious iced. Sadly, I haven’t established a patch of sweet woodruff in the shaded part of the Fairy Garden, and I should have/could have moved plants from the farm before it sold, but it was one of many things that were forgotten in the rush of closing the herb farm. It’s on the to-do list as soon as I locate some plants.
In addition to a delicious tea, sweet woodruff is an essential ingredient to add to flavor May Wine. Either the fresh or dried leaves and flowers can be steeped in a white Rhine wine for at least a week, two is better. Strain and serve chilled with Alpine strawberries (or sliced regular strawberries) and float edible flowers (pansies, violas, violets) in the punch bowl.
Note: At one time there was concern that the coumarin contained in some plants, like the galiums, was a carcinogenic. However, further studies do not seem to concur. In his excellent book, The Big Herb Book, Dr. Art Tucker recommends using not more than 4 oz. woodruff to a gallon of white wine, for the best flavor and just to be on the cautious side. The Germans, who are far ahead of us in terms of herbal research, don’t seem concerned at all, so I feel safe in consuming sweet woodruff tea in moderation.