Botanical Name(s): Asperula odorata, Galium odoratum
Also known as: Woodruff; 'Musk of the Woods' (French), Ladies-in-the-Hay (English), Sweet Grass (English), Waldmeister (German - meaning 'Master of the Wood')
Description: Smooth; erect slender stems that grow up to 10 inches tall with six to nine leaves encircling the stem like the spokes of a wheel. the leaves are dark green with a lance shape to them. Sweet woodruff blooms from early summer in loose clusters with the flowers being small, white and tubular followed by bristly seed balls.
Sweet woodruff gets its common name from the Old French word, rouelle, meaning 'wheel', in reference to the way its leaves circle the stems. It is also said to symbolize humility because of the way it grows ~ almost shyly, so close to the ground. When this plant is fresh, it is odorless but it develops a fresh scent that seems to be a combination of just mown hay and vanilla as it dries. This made woodruff a popular strewing herb during Medieval times where it was used as mattress stuffing. It was also during these times that churches used woodruff to prepare for their religious holidays by hanging it. The herb was popular in Elizabethan England for use in tussie-mussies; wreaths, garlands and sachets.
In the thirteenth century, sweet woodruff was used in Germany to flavor new wine (meaning it has been bottled recently and hasn't had time to 'age') and wine cups. This tradition is still in use in some places to welcome the arrival of Spring, making a 'May drink' or 'Mai Bowle'. Since the new wine is still pretty tart, a sprig of woodruff is added along with brandy and sugar to tame it as well as adding body. Fresh woodruff can be steeped in white wine to make summer wine cups or infused in brandy to be added to punch.
Medicinally, woodruff was a valuable herb in the Middle Ages. It has been used as a calmative; diuretic, diaphoretic and antispasmodic. Folklore says that it could combat jaundice and nervousness and could regulate heart activity. The fresh leaves were applied to wounds and a tea made from it was said to ease stomach cramps. Today, while it can be used in potpourri, teas and as a garnish, the USDA generally recognizes it as safe to use only in alcoholic drinks. It has been know to cause vomiting and dizziness in large quantities and the chemical that gives woodruff its fresh fragrance ~ coumarin ~ has caused liver damage in lab animals.
1 cup water
It is said that this tea could calm the stomach.
To lend a subtle grassy/vanilla bouquet to white wine, place fresh springs in the bottle for a day or so.
Allow fresh springs of Woodruff to stand in Rhine wine overnight then float fresh strawberries in a bowl before serving.