Woodruff (Galium odoratum) is one of my favourite herbs of early summer. Beneath the burgeoning trees and shrubs of woodland and garden, small tufts of white flowers emerge from grassy green foliage, Sweet Woodruff covers the ground, rampantly spreading itself over the earth, a white flecked carpet of fresh vibrant green, exuding the scent of freshly cut grass.
Growth and Cultivation
Woodruff spreads! I will say this now and only once, this is your first and last warning…gardeners beware, plant Woodruff and you will get a whole lot more Woodruff so be very selective where you decide to grow it! If space is limited in your garden then consider growing woodruff in a small pot, even beneath a potted tree Woodruff still looks really attractive. Woodruff is a woodland plant (no surprise with a name like ‘Woodruff’), it likes dappled / semi shade and actually looks best where its tufts of white blossom on those magical May evenings can luminesce in the dusky light. As you can see from the pictures, I have a lot of Woodruff in my garden, I started with a tiny amount which transported itself in a pot along with another plant from a previous garden. It’s a robust very low growing ground cover plant which seems to tolerate remarkably poor soil. I have it growing in gravel, between paving stones, over wooden steps….everywhere! If you have a shady corner of the garden where nothing else grows try Woodruff!
To propagate (I have plenty of anyone wants some!) simply dig a clump out of the soil and replant elsewhere, Woodruff’s roots stay very close to the surface and grow like a fibrous carpet beneath the soil surface, controlling Woodruff is not so easy…He is stubborn especially when he’s happy and I find I’ve had to be rather firm with him in the past and treat him almost like grass…pulling out great clumps when he gets a little over excited. On the plus side, Woodruff doesn’t seem to compete much, again its shallow root system doesn’t interfere with neighbouring plants with deeper roots. I have to admit….I’ve kinda just let him run free now!
You can buy seeds, I have it on good authority that they don’t germinate easily and certainly not quickly so you are probably better of finding a nursery which sells plants or find a willing donor.
The latin name Galium derives from the greek ‘Gala’ meaning milk because many of the species were used in cheese making. Other plants included in the Galium family are Cleavers (G. aparine), that wonderful lymphatic herb again associated with late spring / early summer and Yellow Bedstraw (G. verum). ‘Odoratum’ obviously refers to its earthy sweet scent…especially when dry…like freshly cut grass!
Woodruff is one of those herbs that seem to have fallen out of favour in the home. I have to admit I’ve not experimented with Woodruff greatly but one use I do like is to infuse wine. This is really easy to do and makes a perfect tipple for May Day celebrations. If you don’t brew your own wine (this year I tried this in home brewed Oak Leaf wine!) you can use your preferred store bought white wine. Pour the contents into a large jar (retain the bottle) with a generous handful of Fresh Woodruff. Give the jar a good shake and leave somewhere dark for a couple of weeks shaking regularly. Strain the wine back into its original bottle and there you have a very quick, woodruff infused May Day libation. Woodruff gives the wine a sweet earthy ‘green’ taste…like hay meadows! Don’t drink too much though, it can produce headaches in some!
This drink originates from Germany and was traditionally served on May Day and weddings also. There is nothing to stop you adding other herbs which are also in season…violets for example, you can even make this a real sabbat party drink by pouring everything into the cauldron at the centre of your group ritual!
Woodruff is predominantly used for its fragrance, so whilst not strictly ‘culinary’ Woodruff can be dried and used in Potpourri and fragrance bags for clothing / linen etc (highly recommended as it keeps its scent for a long time!). A simple potpourri can be made by placing a handful of dried herbs (try Woodruff, Oakmoss, Pine Needles and Mugwort, a handful of each) in a large kilner jar along with a tablespoon of Salt (to absorb moisture) and a tablespoon of a suitable fixative like Orris Root or dried citrus peel. Add any liquid fragrance (essential oils) gradually, then shake the jar, give it a sniff, add more of something, shake, sniff and repeat until you have the desired scent. Then put the jar away in a dark place for a month and let everything mature and get well acquainted. Then all you need to do is give it a final tumble and take out as much potpourri as will fill your chosen vessel (keep the jar) and place on your altar, coffee table or whatever. If the scent starts to fade a little, pour everything back in the jar give it a shake, top up any fragrance if you need to and leave for a little while. Potpourri is actually a really nice way to continually fragrance a permanent altar when we can’t have incense burning all the time!
Interestingly our Feline housemates seem to adore woodruff, they lay on it, roll in it and I often find them asleep in it…maybe because it creates a soft little bed…maybe for some other reason?!
Interestingly Culpepper doesn’t have much to say about Woodruff, he doesn’t even assign planetary correspondences so we are left to establish a relationship with this herb and discover for ourselves what uses it can bring magically….no bad thing in my book!
For me Woodruff feels masculine and youthful and I associate Woodruff with the energy of early summer, with fresh foliage, foraging bees, the first grass cut, the birds’ dawn chorus, the first flush of acid green oak leaves, the Green Lord of all things wild. Woodruff is the scent of quickening, of the earth after a gentle rain…its natural I suppose that I would therefore associate Woodruff with fertility, love, marriage and such like, all things typically associated with the month of May.
With that in mind I would include Woodruff in charms of blessing for a newlywed couple, being so vibrant and rampant in growth I definitely think Woodruff is for the boys. Perhaps include Woodruff in the groom’s button hole or even to strew over the marital bed along with the traditional red rose petals, and, again can be used dried in something like pot pourri and placed in the bedroom to help give the man-folk that extra zing on their weeding night! Failing that just adding some to the wedding drink, as German tradition would dictate and simply toast the happy couple.