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Sweet Woodruff: May Wine

Find out what made May Day the best festival of the year during the Middle Ages.

sweet woodruff flowers

Photo: Carplips (flickr)

In spring the dainty, green leaves are topped with little flowers that look like snow flakes.

The ground cover plant, Sweet Woodruff, is a traditional ingredient in May wine.  To make it, steep a bunch of sweet woodruff in a gallon of Rhine wine.

During the Middle Ages garlands of flowers using sweet woodruff were woven, bonfires were lit and dancing and drinking wine made May Day the best festival of the year.  A straw effigy of winter was thrown onto the bonfires.

Growing Woodruff

Even if you are not interested in making May wine you may still want to grow sweet woodruff “Galium odoratum” in your garden.  “Odoratum” means “scented” and the leaves of the woodruff plant exude a scent like freshly mown hay, when they are crushed.

The plant likes woodland conditions and thrives in rich, damp, slightly acid soil with dappled shade, though it does adapt to sunnier and drier conditions.

It is difficult to start from seed so buying a plant is the way to go.  It is a good spreader.  In spring the dainty, green leaves are topped with little flowers that look like snow flakes.

It is not a showy flower, so it has been used as a symbol of humility.  The ancients used it as a strewing herb as the essential oil is released as the leaves wilt.  Nowadays it is used in Potpourri and as an air freshener.

Moya Andrews

, originally from Queensland, Australia, served as Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Faculties at Indiana University until 2004. In the same year, Moya began hosting Focus on Flowers for WFIU. In addition, Moya does interviews for Profiles, is a member of the Bloomington Hospital Board, and authored Perennials Short and Tall from Indiana University Press.

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