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Sweet Woodruff

( Originally Published 1933 )

Waldmeister, Sweet White Star (from the French), Thé Suisse,

Belle-Etoile, Hépatique Etoile, Etoile Blanche, Blanche Croix

Rubiaceae Perennial

The little plant flowers in May. Its stems, with their whorls of leaves, form an attractive ground cover for shady places. Sweet woodruff is native to Europe and the Orient, and has naturalized itself in the North American woods. The clumps measure fifteen inches across and the plants are about eight inches high.

Root. The roots grow from shallow reddish underground creeping rootstocks.

Stems. The stems are grooved, angular and smooth, arising from the rootstocks.

Leaf. The leaves are oval-lanceolate, yellow-green, slender, and in starry whorls of six to eight, growing longer as they ascend the stem. The margins are entire, and have tiny hairs along them, and underneath on the central rib. When the fingers rub against the hairs, the leaves feel rough. When crushed, and especially when dried, the leaves smell of sweet young hay and a little of vanilla.

Flower. The flowers measure one-eighth of an inch across, are scentless, starry, tiny, and white. They grow in a loose umbel. The four white petals are joined into a tube and then open out. The anthers form dark tips to the four stamens and placed in the angles between the little petals look like the tiniest of punctuation marks. The calyx is green, rounded, and furry like a tiny button.

Seed. The seed is almost spherical, dark brown, covered with bristly golden-brown hairs, and looks like a wee ball of chenille.


Parkinson speaks of the Germans using it "very familiarly in wine" and says, "It is held good versus the plague." Mrs. Bardswell says in olden times woodruff and lavender were woven into garlands to decorate churches, and that, when bruised, sweet woodruff was laid against cuts and wounds.


Correvon in "Fleur des Champs" says the peasants put it in their closets to perfume their garments and linen.

Food. In Germany the sweet woodruff is picked to flavor a white wine cup drunk on May Day.

To bring out the hay scent of the leaves they should be crushed or dried. One could flavor other drinks with sweet woodruff as well as the wine.


Asperula odorata likes half shade, and I have noticed that it grows in damp soil in the woods, but in my own garden it does very well in a fairly dry soil. As a ground cover in the shade under taller plants, such as lilies, or Meconopsis, it is charming. The scent is strongest when the stems first grow up in the spring. The dried plants are more fragrant than the fresh ones and remain sweet for a long while.

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