An often forgotten herb, Galium odoratum, known as Sweet Woodruff can be a valuable addition to the garden, particularly shaded gardens. It makes an excellent ground cover plant due to its low-growing nature and spreading habit.
In spring, tiny white, vanilla-scented flowers hover above fresh green whorls of star-like leaves. Valuable as an under-planting, the plants form a carpet under shrubs and trees and add interesting texture and spark to a deeply shaded part of the garden. The leaves persist right though the year until the new ones burst through the older leaves. A great choice to mix with spring flowering bulbs which can come up through this plant.
Sweet Woodruff is very cold hardy but does not do well in hot areas. It prefers a semi-shady spot that's protected from the sun during the hottest part of the day. It likes moist conditions, and given enough water will grow to a nice low height of about 20cm (8in) tall.
Once established, it likes to take over a patch of ground, it’s not overly aggressive, but will spread nicely within a few years to around 60cm (24in) wide. Be careful to keep it from crowding out other small plants, luckily it is shallow rooted and easy to control. The less light and moisture it gets, the less it will spread.
Sweet Woodruff can tolerate quite a bit of abuse. It will thrive in full or dappled light, and although it likes rich, sandy soil and lots of moisture, it can be planted in the shade around tree roots, which makes it a great plant to help fill in those shady bald spots in the garden.
The soft green leaves are carried in whorls on stems and when the small-petalled white flowers appear above this lush carpet in May and June, the effect is enchanting.
Sowing: Sow seeds as soon as possible.
Sweet Woodruff seeds like many others germinate easily when they are fresh from the plant. As they dry out the germination inhibitors develop and need a period of cold to help break them down.
They are easiest grown when sown directly outdoors in autumn. The seeds require several months of cold winter temperatures to germinate. Keep a check on the compost to make sure it does not dry out. Thin the seedlings in the outdoor bed as necessary.
At other times of year in order to germinate successfully, the seeds may need to be stratified. This replicates the sort of conditions found in nature and is easily achieved by mixing the seed with damp sand or vermiculite and leaving in a polythene bag in the fridge for four weeks. After which time seed can be sown as normal into a seedbed or prepared seed or plug trays. Prick out seedlings into individual pots when they are large enough to handle and plant them out in spring after the frosts are over.
Transplant out into garden into a sunny or part shaded position with well drained, humus rich, moisture retentive soil. After the plants are established, growing sweet woodruff is very simple. It does not need to be fertilised and should only be watered in times of drought.
It is recommended that you plant Sweet Woodruff as a ground cover in an area that you would not mind seeing naturalised. In moist soil. The plants can spread very quickly, you can keep them under control by spade edging around the bed yearly. Remove any sweet woodruff plants that are outside the bed.
It is unattractive to Deer.
As an Insect Repellent:
When wilted or crushed, woodruff releases a sweet, pleasant odour reminiscent of spring grass or newly mown hay. The plants have a much stronger fragrance when dried, so if you like its scent, try using a few dried woodruff stems in your next potpourri.
The plants are natural insect repellents and moths avoid the herb’s aroma. Its perfume is a major improvement on mothballs and when kept among clothes it affords some protection against insects.
During the Middle Ages, the herb was hung out to dry, crushed, and sewn into bags to keep clothing fresh and free from insects. It was used as an air freshener and placed in linen closets and used as a stuffing for mattresses and pillows. Known for its sleep inducing properties, woodruff pillows were a welcome addition in any home.
As a medicinal herb, Sweet Woodruff was used to treat numerous ailments and in wound healing. Woodruff should be harvested before or just after it begins to flower. In making homeopathic remedies, only the top portion of the plant should be used, leaves are used for healing wounds.
You can make a tea from sweet woodruff by steeping a tablespoon of fresh leaves in a cup of boiling water. This tea is said to help soothe upset stomachs, but it’s a refreshing drink whether you have an upset stomach or not.
Sweet woodruff contains a natural sedative, but also coumarin which give the plant its pleasant scent. It is important to not over consume sweet woodruff because it can result in headaches. Coumarins have anti-coagulant properties, preventing blood clotting. Because of this, anyone using medication for thinning the blood or circulatory problems should not use this plant.
Sweet Woodruff is well known in German culture, it has been harvested for years as an addition to both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. The most popular use being a flavouring for Germany’s famous May wines. Maiwein or also known as Maibowle, the dried sprigs of the herb are soaked in white wine for hours to days in some cases giving the wine a heady vanilla, honey herbal note.
The herb is also a popular addition to spiked punch, jellies, sorbets, creams, and salads, and for those tea drinkers among you, sweet woodruff is said to make a great cup of tea.
Sweet Woodruff plants are natural insect repellents and gardeners often grow them around ornamentals like roses and peonies as a vanguard against all manner of pests.
The plants are not attractive to deer and makes a great deer repellent.
A red dye can be obtained from its roots.
Galium odoratum is native to Europe, North Africa and Western Asia.
The etymological root of the binomial name Galium is derived from the Greek gala meaning ’milk’ alluding to the leaves of Galium verum once having been used for the curdling of milk.
The species name odoratum is from the Latin meaning ‘fragrant’, referring to the fragrance of the flowers.
Galium odoratum was formerly known and is synonymous with Asperula odorata
It is commonly known as Sweet Woodruff, Our Lady's Lace, Hay Plant, Mugwet and Sweet Grass.
Sweet refers to name refers to the refreshing hay-like scent of its leaves and flowers. While Woodruff comes from Old English meaning ‘wood that unravels’, probably in reference to the creeping rootstock of the plant.
Christian tradition refers to Sweet Woodruff as 'Our Lady’s Lace' or 'Our Lady’s Bedstraw,' since by traditional belief it was among the plants scenting and cushioning the Christ Child’s manger.
Germans give Sweet Woodruff the name waldmeister, meaning 'Master of the Forest.'
- Additional Information
Packet Size 200mg Average Seed Count 35 Seeds Common Name Formerly known as Asperula odorata
Native to Europe
Family Rosaceae Genus Galium Species odoratum Hardiness Hardy Perennial Flowers Small white, vanilla-scented flowers Natural Flower Time April to May Height 20cm. (8in) Spread 60cm (36in) Position Shade to semi-shade Soil Moisture retentive soil. Time to Sow Sow seeds as soon as possible.