Galium odoratum

Other Names: Master of the Wood, Woodwrad, Woodruff

The name Sweet Woodruff appears in the thirteenth century as ‘Wuderove,’ and later as ‘Wood-rove’ – the rove being derived, it is said, from the French rovelle, a wheel, in allusion to the spoke-like arrangement of the leaves in whorls. In old French works it appears as Muge-de-boys, musk of the woods.

The agreeable odor of Sweet Woodruff is due to a crystalline chemical principle called Coumarin, which is used in perfumery, not only on account of its own fragrance, but for its property of fixing other odors.

The powdered leaves are mixed with fancy snuffs, because of their enduring fragrance, and also put into potpourri.

Sweet Woodruff as an Herb for Medicinal Uses

sweet woodruffThe medicinal parts are the dried or fresh aerial parts collected during or shortly before the flowering season. Sweet Woodruff is aromatic when dried; the taste is bitter and tangy.

Sweet Woodruff is good for the liver, cuts, wounds, diuretic, antispasmodic, blood purifier and tonic, cleanses kidney and bladder obstructions, also used to flavor German May wine, and for scenting perfume.

The dried herb may be kept among linen, like lavender, to preserve it from insects. In the Middle Ages it used to be hung and strewed in churches, and on St. Barnabas Day and on St. Peter’s, bunches of box, Woodruff, lavender and roses found a place there. It was also used for stuffing beds.

Folk medicine: Sweet Woodruff is used as a treatment for nervous agitation, sleeplessness, nervous menstrual disorders, congested liver, jaundice, hemorrhoids, circulation disorders and venous conditions.

There is no proven safe or effective dose of sweet woodruff. Nonetheless, a tea of sweet woodruff made by pouring 3 cups of boiled water over herb (1 ounce of dry herb or 1-1/2 ounce of fresh herb) and letting the tea steep for 10 minutes has been used.

Notable Note: The herb is obsolete as a drug in many countries, and since 1981 is not allowed to be used in the manufacture of aroma or flavoring in German-speaking countries.

Culinary Uses of Sweet Woodruff

In Germany, one of the favorite hockcups is still made by steeping the fresh sprigs in Rhine wine. This forms a specially delightful drink, known as Maibowle, and drunk on the first of May.

Also used as a beverage for wedding nights.


Traditionally served on Mayday, woodruff and lemon help salvage what would otherwise be a less than perfect white wine. Steep a good handful of Woodruff and a sliced lemon in 2 liters of cheap white wine for at least 24 hours. Strain and serve with some sliced strawberries and a few fresh sprigs of woodruff floating in the punch-bowl. Best served chilled.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers sweet woodruff safe when taken in alcoholic beverages.


There is no proven safe or effective dose of sweet woodruff in children, and use is not recommended.

Caution is advised in patients with bleeding disorders or taking drugs that may increase the risk of bleeding.

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