Herb: Sweet Woodruff


Latin name: Galium odoratum


Synonyms: Asperula odorata


Family: Rubiaceae (Madder Family)



Medicinal use of Sweet Woodruff:

Sweet woodruff was widely used in herbal medicine during the Middle Ages, gaining a reputation as an external application to wounds and cuts and also taken internally in the treatment of digestive and liver problems. In current day herbalism it is valued mainly for its tonic, diuretic and anti-inflammatory affect. The leaves are antispasmodic, cardiac, diaphoretic, diuretic, sedative. An infusion is used in the treatment of insomnia and nervous tension, varicose veins, biliary obstruction, hepatitis and jaundice. The plant is harvested just before or as it comes into flower and can be dried for later use. One report says that it should be used with caution whilst another says that it is entirely safe. Excessive doses can produce dizziness and symptoms of poisoning. The dried plant contains coumarins and these act to prevent the clotting of blood - though in excessive doses it can cause internal bleeding. The plant is grown commercially as a source of coumarin, used to make an anticoagulant drug. Do not use this remedy if you are taking conventional medicine for circulatory problems or if you are pregnant. A number of species in this genus contain asperuloside, a substance that produces coumarin and gives the scent of new-mown hay as the plant dries. Asperuloside can be converted into prostaglandins (hormone-like compounds that stimulate the uterus and affect blood vessels), making the genus of great interest to the pharmaceutical industry. A homeopathic remedy made from the plant is used in the treatment of inflammation of the uterus.

Description of the plant:



Plant:
Perennial


Height:
15 cm
(6 inches)

Flovering:
May to
July


Scent:
Scented
Perennial

Habitat of the herb:

Woodland and shady areas on damp calcareous and base rich soils. Often found in beech woods.

Edible parts of Sweet Woodruff:

Leaves - raw or cooked. The leaves are coumarin-scented (like freshly mown hay), they are used as a flavouring in cooling drinks and are also added to fruit salads etc. The leaves are soaked in white wine to make "Maitrank", an aromatic tonic drink that is made in Alsace. A fragrant and delicious tea is made from the green-dried leaves and flowers. Slightly wilted leaves are used, the tea has a fresh, grassy flavour. The sweet-scented flowers are eaten or used as a garnish.

Other uses of the herb:

A red dye is obtained from the root. Soft-tan and grey-green dyes are obtained from the stems and leaves. A good ground-cover plant for growing on woodland edges or in the cool shade of shrubs. It spreads rapidly at the roots. It is an ideal carpeting plant for bulbs to grow through. Although the fresh plant has very little aroma, as it dries it becomes very aromatic with the scent of newly-mown grass and then retains this aroma for years. It is used in the linen cupboard to protect from moths etc. It was also formerly used as a strewing herb and is an ingredient of pot-pourri. It was also hung up in bunches in the home in order to keep the rooms cool and fragrant during the summertime.

Propagation of Sweet Woodruff:

Seed - best sown in situ as soon as it is ripe in late summer. The seed can also be sown in spring though it may be very slow to germinate. A period of cold stratification helps reduce the germination time. Lots of leafmold in the soil and the shade of trees also improves germination rates. Division in spring. The plant can also be successfully divided throughout the growing season if the divisions are kept moist until they are established. Very easy, larger clumps can be replanted direct into their permanent positions, though it is best to pot up smaller clumps and grow them on in a cold frame until they are rooting well. Plant them out in the spring. Cuttings of soft wood, after flowering, in a frame.

Cultivation of the herb:

Woodland and shady areas on damp calcareous and base rich soils. Often found in beech woods.

Known hazards of Galium odoratum:

None known

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.