Woodruff, a plant native to areas of the Middle East and most of Europe, thrives in the shade of deciduous forests and carefully cultivated gardens. This small, shade-loving plant grows 4 to 8 inches tall, and is a member of the Madder family.
When used in gardens, it will spread and fill in beautifully, although left unchecked it may quickly take over. This herb can be considered invasive; therefore herbalists should take care to keep an eye on the boundaries designated for its cultivation.
Closely related to henna, the plant has a slightly bitter taste and no aroma. In contrast, when wilted or crushed, woodruff releases a sweet, pleasant odor reminiscent of fresh hay.
During the Middle Ages, the herb was hung out to dry, crushed, and sewn into bags to keep clothing fresh. It was also used as a stuffing for mattresses and pillows. Known for its sleep-inducing properties, woodruff pillows were a welcome addition in any home.
According to surviving Medieval texts, it was also a popular diuretic, in addition to its use in stimulating the liver.
Administration of the herb was done in a variety of ways:
- Dried leaves were steeped and consumed as tea.
- Tonics were made to drink throughout the day.
- A powdered version was mixed with fruit or honey.
- Compresses were made and applied to the forehead (Note: do not allow the pulp to touch the skin).
- Freshly crushed woodruff was a popular ingredient in potpourri and sachets.
For some unknown reason, moths avoid the herb’s aroma, which leaves me asking: why use those nasty mothballs? Go the natural route instead!
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 sometimes used for healing wounds.
The coumarin glucosides contained in the plant ferment as they dry, producing coumarin and dicumarol, its medicinally active ingredients.
These ingredients both act as anticoagulants and help to counteract excessive clotting of the blood. Anyone with circulatory problems or who is using medication for thinning the blood should not use this plant under any conditions, as it may cause internal bleeding when taken in large doses.
Used both internally and topically, this herb has been taken for symptoms of intestinal discomfort, abdominal cramps, headaches, migraines, and varicose veins. It is also believed to have properties beneficial for strengthening the heart, and has been used as a treatment for kidney stones, bladder stones, and liver disease.
On a lighter note, it is also harvested for many reasons that have nothing to do with medicine. In Germany, woodruff has been harvested for years as an addition to both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, the most popular use being a flavoring for the region’s famous May wines.
Bitter in taste, this plant is not used for cooking. But in Germany, the freshly cut shoots are traditionally steeped in white wine and enjoyed on May Day (May 1st). May wine is an acquired taste.
The herb is also a popular German addition to bowles (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 Tea
- Steep one teaspoon of dried or fresh leaves in one cup of boiling water.
- Sweeten to taste (honey, raw sugar and stevia all make good additions).
A Note of Caution
The health information in this article is not intended to assess, diagnose, prescribe, or promise cure. Consult with your health care professional before considering any natural supplement or remedy for your health and wellness.