Woodruff (Galium odoratum) is a well-known herb that is one of the spring plants. The leaves of the plant are often used for bowling, jellies and other desserts. It is less well-known that woodruff is also used in medicine, where it can alleviate liver problems, difficulty falling asleep and even migraine. However, despite its wide range of uses in the kitchen and herbal medicine, the plant must not be overdosed.
Profile of Woodruff:
Scientific name: Galium odoratum
Plant family: bedstraw family, coffee family, madder family (Rubiaceae)
other names: sweet scented bedstraw, wild baby’s breath, master of the woods (literal translation of the German Waldmeister)
Sowing time / Planting time: October – February
Flowering period: April – June
Harvest time: March – April
Location: partially shaded to shady locations
Soil quality: moist, calcareous and nutrient-rich soils
Use as a medicinal herb: nervous restlessness, stress, migraine, spring tiredness, liver complaints, stomach cramps
Use as spice herb: (cold) punch, pudding, cakes and tarts, drinks
Plant characteristics and classification of Woodruff
Origin and distribution of woodruff
Woodruff is a common herb in broad deciduous forests, where it can be collected mainly in beech forests. It occurs in Northern and Central Europe as well as to Eastern Europe and Western Asia. It is also found at altitudes up to about 1,400 meters (4,500 feet).
Plant order of woodruff
Woodruff (Galium odoratum) is a member of the bedstraw family (Rubiaceae), which are rarely seen in herbal medicine. The herb is related to crops such as coffee or the cinchona tree. Furthermore, it belongs to the genus of cleaver (Rubia), which is very species rich with about 650 species.
Look and characteristics of woodruff
Woodruff is a perennial herbaceous plant that can reach stature heights between 10 and 50 cm (5 and 25 in). The plant has a creeping rootstock (rhizome), which serves as a hibernating organ and vegetative organ of reproduction.
The leaves of the woodruff are very characteristic. The lanceolate, rough and between 2 to 5 cm (0.8 to 2 in) large leaves sit on the four-edged stems. The leaves are arranged in so-called beaters, which means that between 6 and 8 leaves are arranged on a leaf knot. The leaves are characterized by a whitish segment in the middle, which extends from the leaf tip to the leaf node.
Woodruff flowers mostly between the beginning of April and the beginning of June and is therefore considered a typical spring bloomer. The duration of flowering depends heavily on the location and prevailing weather conditions. During flowering, the herb forms petite, star-shaped, white flowers that sit in a cyme. The petals are tetramerous and are up to 8 mm wide (0.3 in). Each flower contains four stamens. The flowers have a characteristic and aromatic fragrance, which becomes more intense after withering.
From the hermaphrodite flowers form schizocarps, which disintegrate into two part-fruits. Up to 3 mm (0.12 in) long fruits contain bur bristles, which stick on to animals and thus serve the spread of the herb.
Woodruff – cultivation and care
Woodruff is an unpretentious and easy-care plant, inasmuch as it has an optimal location and is always kept moderately to well moist. In many gardens it is cultivated as a decorative and aromatic plant.
Woodruff prefers to grow in shady to partially shaded spots with moist, slightly calcareous, nutrient-rich soils. Optimal is the cultivation under shady deciduous trees or on balconies with north or east orientation.
Sowing is best done between October and February. The herb is a cold germ and needs cold temperatures and frost for a long time, so that the seeds begin to germinate. Depending on the time of sowing, the seeds need between 20 and 100 days until the first cotyledons become visible. If the plant is cultivated on the balcony, commercially available potting soil is sufficient as a growing medium. In the garden, a planting distance of at least 20 x 20 cm (8 x 8 in) should be kept, otherwise nutrient competition prevails.
The cultivation should always take place over a longer period of time. Woodruff can easily grow better by creating more beneficial rhizomes and making the plant more resistant. So you can enjoy the plant for a longer time without re-planting the herb every year.
Like many native herbs, woodruff can also be grown in the garden or on the balcony. Since the herb prefers partial shade, western or eastern balcony layers are optimal. In south facing areas, a sun-sheltered place should be chosen.
In the first year there is no need to be fertilized. Woodruff is a light feeder and needs little nutrients. In the second year only a light fertilizer such as compost should be used. If it grows on the balcony in potting soil, a liquid fertilizer can be used once in the second year. Basically ready-to-use potting soil is pre-fertilized anyway, so that no fertilization is needed in the first year. However, necessary is a planter or pot that provides enough space.
Especially important is the water supply of the plant. Woodruff should always be kept moist (but not wet). A prolonged drying of the soil must be avoided at all costs, as otherwise the vegetative part of the plant (rhizome) can die.
When harvesting woodruff, it should be noted that drying the herb will cause the taste to change slightly. The herb should be picked before the flowering.
Towards the end of October / beginning of November, woodruff is being prepared for winter. Plants that do not grow in pots in the field are carefully covered with leaves and brushwood. Woodruff in flower boxes or planters is brought in the house.
Diseases and pests
Woodruff is a fairly undemanding and resistant plant. With proper care, diseases or pest infestation are rarely observed. If the planting distances are too short and the humidity is high for a long time, brownish to ocher-colored coatings may form on the leaves. Mostly it is downy mildew. The leaves should be removed at a large area. Moistening the leaves should then be avoided.
Woodruff and its use
Woodruff is known to many as a herb for sweet foods and drinks. In fact, there are countless recipes for the preparation of the plant. Less well known is that it is also a well-known herb, which is still used in folk medicine today.
Woodruff as an aromatic herb
In the kitchen woodruff is mostly used for desserts or drinks. The aroma of the herb is mainly influenced by the ingredient coumarin. It has a very own taste, which is not comparable with other herbs and flavors. Pure it can be compared to slightly bitter with a pleasant fresh aftertaste.
Woodruff is included in many ready-to-drink beverages as a flavor carrier. Woodruff lemonades, which are especially popular with children and teenagers, are quite common. However, the herb is also available in the form of syrup and as a liqueur. Possible, and quite popular, is the use of the plant in cocktails or (cold) punch. The famous (German) May wine (May punch), which is made from white wine and sparkling wine, is often drunk at festivities.
But also in the preparation of sweet dishes connoisseurs rely on the green herb from the forest. Woodruff pudding or the jelly/jello is quite well known, which is always an eye-catcher due to its noticeable green color. Also for creams, pies, muffins or cupcakes and fillings, there are plenty of recipes, for which especially the woodruff syrup is used. For sweets it can also be combined with other herbs such as peppermint, stevia or ground ivy.
In the production of ready-to-drink beverages, synthetic ingredients are often used to imitate the taste of woodruff. The reason is that with frequent use, it can cause headaches and liver problems. The occasional consumption is considered completely harmless. Children should consume only small amounts of woodruff-containing food and drinks.
Woodruff as a medicinal plant
The woodruff was already known in antiquity and the Middle Ages as a medicinal herb. However, his range of applications was usually limited to external complaints. In old herbal books the root of the herb was recommended for the attainment of unchastity, which presumably meant an increased libido. The flowers of the plant were crushed as powder used in burns. The leaves and flowers were also used for foot baths to regenerate tired limbs. The herb was cultivated in various monasteries as a medicinal herb.
The ingredients contained in woodruff are generally anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antioxidant and sometimes antiviral (against herpes simplex). Some studies have investigated the use of woodruff as a possible remedy for burn wounds. There it could be observed that the effect of many ingredients led to faster skin regeneration.
In folk medicine, the woodruff herb is still occasionally used for some complaints or cures. Known applications are minor complaints in bile and liver or stomach and intestinal disorders (stomach and intestinal spasms). But more applications are the following:
- badly healing wounds
- bladder stones
- cardiac insufficiency
- falling asleep
- invigorating vessel
- menstrual cramps
- nerve pain
- nervous insomnia
- nervous restlessness
- reduces blood clotting
- spring fever
- venous insufficiency
- wounds and injuries of the skin
The woodruff is often taken in the form of a herbal tea.
Preparation of woodruff tea
- 1 to 2 teaspoons of fresh or dried herb
- dash with 250 ml (8 fl oz) hot water
- Let the tea steep for about 5 to 7 minutes
- woodruff tea can be sweetened with honey
- for a treatment, the medicinal drink is taken between two to three times a day for a period of about one week.
Instructions for use and side effects
Woodruff may not be consumed permanently for a long period of time. Overdose can cause headache and liver problems. Pregnant women should refrain from consuming drinks and home remedies containing woodruff.
Ask your doctor or pharmacist. Visiting this page can not replace the visit to the doctor. For serious or unclear complaints, consult your doctor.
Buy woodruff – What is there to pay attention to?
Since woodruff is a popular spring herb, it can be purchased commonly in plant centers and hardware stores. Take a look at the soil, if it is sufficiently moist. High quality woodruff plants have a rich foliation. Large gaps between the leaf nodes are usually signs of inferior quality.
For the cultivation from seeds the most well-known seed manufacturers provide appropriate seed. Since woodruff is not a rare and consuming plant, the costs for a bag of seeds should not be to expensive.
Dried woodruff herbs can also be purchased for medical applications and for use in the kitchen. Some tea producers also offer woodruff tea in teabags. The prices for loose herbs are a little bit higher, as the demand for fresh plants is higher, and therefore dried herbs are produced less frequently.