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Sweet Woodruff - Galium odoratum

Sweet Woodruff - Galium odoratum

Main features

  • Grows in woodland

  • Glossy dark green leaves in widely whorls of 6 - 9 along long stem

  • Narrow oval leaves 2.5-4cm long

  • Strong smell of hay and vanilla when dried

  • Flowers in early summer

  • Flowers are white tubes with four petal-like lobes

  • Fruit are small green spheres with tiny hooks

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Sweet Woodruff - Galium odoratum

Edible plant - intermediate

Other common names Woodruff, Sweetscented Bedstraw, Willd Baby's Breath, Master of the Woods


Scientific name meaning Galium is derived from the Greek Gal, meaning Milk, as the bedstrwas were used to curdle milk for cheese. Odoratum is from the Latin Odoratus, meaning sweet smelling

Season Spring to early Winter

Habitat - where will I find it? Woodland

Description - what does it look like? Leaves grow in widely-spaced whorls of 6 - 9 along the stem. They are 2.5cm to 4cm long, dark green, glossy and shaped like thin ovals. The flowers appear in early summer and are small white tubes with four petal-like lobes in umbel-like clusters.

The fruit are small green spheres covered in tiny hook bristles.

Strong hay and vanilla like fragrance when dried

Possible lookalikes Other Bedstraws, including Cleavers (Galium aparine). To eliminate these, stick to specimens found in woodland with at least seven leaves per whorl, with leaves that are at least 3cm long, and are not covered in sticky bristles

Use as a food Sweet Woodruff should be dried for a day or two in order to intensify flavour - See Hazards. The leaves should then be removed from the stems. 

The dried leaves can be used to make syrups and jellies, or to infuse creams, alcohols, and vinegars.

If infusing cream or milk, be aware that it will cause it to curdle after a little while. Therefore, it can also be used in cheese making.

A tea can also be made from the dried leaves, while the fresh flowers are sweet tasting and can be used for garnishes

Use in herbal medicine Has been used as a diuretic, antispasmodic and sedative. The coumarin it contains is extracted commercially for use in anticoagulants. It also contains Asperuloside, which can be converted into uterus and blood stimulating prostaglandins.

If you are suffering from any ailment or need medical advice, please see your General Practitioner

Other uses  Was used as a strewing herb to freshen the air in houses. The strong smell of the drying Sweet Woodruff would mask foul odours

Hazards Should be dried quickly and stored in an airtight container to prevent coumarin being converted to dicoumarol, which is toxic.

Because of its anticoagulant properties, people with blood thinning disorders or taking blood thinning medication should not consume to excess. Also, pregnant women or those trying to get pregnant should also not eat to excess 

Importance to other species An important source of nectar for woodland pollinators. Provides a matt of ground cover for insects

Always stay safe when foraging. You need to be 100% sure of your identification, 100% sure that your foraged item is edible, and 100% sure that you are not allergic to it (it is good practice to always try a small amount of any new food you are consuming). If in doubt, leave it out!

Sweet Woodruff - Galium odoratum - leaves
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