Sweet Woodruff

sweet woodruff  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.

sweet woodruff tea  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.



About carolee

A former professional herb and lavender grower, now just growing for joy in my new potager. When I'm not in the garden, I'm in the kitchen, writing, or traveling to great gardens.
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8 Responses to Sweet Woodruff

  1. Going Batty in Wales says:

    I love sweet woodruff! I bought a small plant many years ago and put it on a shady bank – more by good luck than good judgement! Since then it has spread and carpets several areas. I have not tried it in wine or tea but I love its daintiness and the way it spreads. It really lights up those spaces.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. bcparkison says:

    Can we grow it from seed?I need some .


    • carolee says:

      It can be grown from seeds, but I haven’t. It spreads by underground runners so can be divided, plus it roots very easily from a stem cutting if you take it below the second or third set of leaves, pinch off the bottom set of leaves carefully and bury that pinched area in moist soil, keep in a partial shade area and keep moist. You’ll have dozens of plants very quickly!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Mybackyardgarden4b says:

    I always enjoy and learn from your posts. Thank you for sharing your knowledge.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Jo Shafer says:

    Sweet Woodruff makes me think of Olde England and Shakespeare as he mentions it in his work. I once grew a creeping patch in my shade garden but a winter deep freeze (not this one) killed it eventually. I’d like to try it again.


  5. I’m a fan of Sweet Woodruff too. Love, love, love its sweet little fragrance and its ability to cover the ground yet not be a bully. Thanks for the lesson on its uses too!


  6. Helen says:

    It sounds an appealing plant, so I might get some.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. In my garden, sweet woodruff is a little bit of bully, but I don’t care. So lovely. Never knew it could be drunk as a tea.

    Liked by 1 person

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