Asperula odorata / Galium odoratum
Sweet woodruff (botanical name Asperula odorata) is a perennially growing plant that spreads into clumps reaching a maximum height of 8 inches to 15 inches (20 cm to 38 cm). The flowers produced by sweet woodruff have a sweet hay aroma, which enhances as they dry out. Sweet woodruff is a much loved small plant that is found growing on it's own in the forests and also on hedge banks in shaded areas. It is easy to recognize this plant by its little white flowers that bloom on soft stalks during the period between May and June. Sweet woodruff produces slender, vivid green leaves, which grow in whorls resembling stars in succession something similar to clivers or goosegrass just beneath the flowers. Each whorl of sweet woodruff comprises approximately 8 leaves. However, dissimilar to goosegrass, the stems of sweet woodruff are straight and smooth.
As aforementioned, sweet woodruff is a perennial plant having a slender, crawling root stock. Since sweet woodruff has a preference for forest lands and shady locales, when sweet woodruff is grown in partial shade, it develops best dark green foliage. Partial shade here denotes to places where it is difficult for sunlight to enter. If the branches of the plant that provide it shadow are cut away and complete sunlight is allowed to fall on the herb, it will lose its original color and become very pale rapidly. The tiny ball-shaped seeds of sweet woodruff are covered with bristles and they appear when the flowers have withered away. This herb is extremely distinguishing and can be identified or found without any difficulty.
Sweet woodruff is considered to be an extremely valuable plant in Germany, where people consider spring to be incomplete without this plant, whose twigs are necessary for preparing May wine. In effect, Germans drink this wine in the form of a spring tonic as well as to greet the new season. Blended with fodder, sweet woodruff is given to cows as it provides their milk a delectable scent. However, it needs to be borne in mind that as in the case of sweet clover, when sweet woodruff becomes wet, it is likely to decompose and turn into molds, which produces an anti-coagulant agent that may result in haemorrhages in the cattle.
While the aroma of majority of the herbs disappears when they dry out, the sweet hay scent of sweet woodruff actually becomes stronger when the plant is dried and it also lasts for several years. According to findings by researchers, this quality of sweet woodruff is attributed to coumarin, a chemical substance enclosed by the plant. Often this chemical substance is employed in the form of a fixative while manufacturing perfumes. Owing to the herb's pleasing aroma, there was a time when sweet woodruff was employed in the form of an aromatic herb to perfume homes and churches. In addition, sweet woodruff was also used as a stuffing material for mattresses. When dried leaves are placed in closets, they impart a sweet fragrance to linen and also help to ward off moths.
In addition to its use as an aromatic herb, sweet woodruff has also been employed as a therapeutic herb of some significance. The fresh leaves of this herb are used for dressing cuts and wounds, while a decoction prepared from the leaves serves as a cordial and stomach digestive. An herbal tea prepared from sweet woodruff leaves is used to treat liver ailments as well as in the form of a diuretic.
Sweet woodruff is thought to possess tonic properties and also has noteworthy anti-inflammatory and diuretic actions. The chemical substance coumarin and flavonoids enclosed by this herb are responsible for its positive effect in treating phlebitis and varicose veins. In addition, sweet woodruff has also been employed in the form of an antispasmodic and is administered to children and adults alike to cure sleeplessness or insomnia.
It may be noted that sweet woodruff has a long reputation for being a tonic for curing liver ailments. It is also globally well known as the aromatic ingredient for making May wine and even to this day this herb is used in punches as well as other drinks. Present day herbalists prescribe sweet woodruff in the form of a purgative as well as an anti-arthritic. Several studies have hinted that sweet woodruff is likely to be useful only for easing the symptoms of arthritis. Currently, people cultivate sweet woodruff primarily for its use as a ground cover.
Sweet woodruff possesses tranquilizing attributes and infusions prepared from this plant are ingested to treat insomnia as well as nervous irritability. In addition, sweet woodruff also puts off blood coagulation, reinforces the capillaries and is taken orally to cure thrombophlebitis (inflammation of a vein with presence of thrombus).
Habitat and cultivation
Sweet woodruff is indigenous to Europe and also grows in Asia as well as the northern regions of Africa. This herb grows on its own in the forest lands and shaded locations. Sweet woodruff is harvested during the later part of spring when the plants are in full bloom.
Sweet woodruff is a perennially growing herb, which serves as an excellent ground cover and spreads very fast. It is possible to propagate this plant by means of root division or cutting during spring. Alternately, sweet woodruff may also be grown by its seeds, which need to be sown immediately when then ripen. However, when grown by its seeds, the germination process is very sluggish.
Generally, sweet woodruff is not cultivated, but gathered from the forests. Nevertheless, this plant can be grown beneath orchard trees as well as propagated by its seeds soon after they ripen. The seeds need to be sown in beds prepared with good soil. It is best to sow the seeds by July end or in the early part of August. Alternately, if you intend to propagate the plant by means of root division, it should ideally be done in spring or the early part of summer, immediately after the flowering season is over. The seedling ought to be planted in damp soils, at intervals of one foot, in places that are partly shaded.
The seeds of sweet woodruff take too much time to germinate and, therefore, it is best to adopt the root division method for its propagation. It is advisable that you either divide the roots of mature plants and sow them during spring or fall, or take cuttings of mature plants and plant them for rooting in a mixture of perlite and peat moss. Plant these cuttings at least at a distance of one foot from each other. It may be noted that this plant is actually self-sowing and when sweet woodruff plants are established, they may turn out to be a pesky weed. The leaves of sweet woodruff are collected during the later part of spring prior to the appearance of the flowers. After harvesting, the leaves should be hung upside down in a dark place to dry them out. Alternately, the leaves as well as the stems of the herb may also be frozen for use when necessary.
As soon as the plant's seed is somewhat mature and dry, it turns into a small rough ball that is densely covered with supple, curved hairs. These seeds are white underneath, but black-tipped and may get attached to the fur and feathers of animals and birds that may rush through the undergrowth. This way the sweet woodruff seeds are normally scattered.
May wine punch
In Germany, people use the tender sweet woodruff plants to prepare May wine during spring and is taken in the form of a spring tonic. The ingredients required to prepare May wine punch include:
Take a big bowl and mix sweet woodruff, sugar and one bottle of dry white wine or Moselle. Cover the bowl and permeate the ingredients for about 30 minutes. Subsequently, take the cover away, beat the mixture, take away the sweet woodruff from it and pour the wine in a punch bowl over ice. Now, add the other ingredients and stir the solution. You should serve this wine immediately when it has become absolutely chilled.