Sweet Woodruff: A Sweet-Scented Dessert And Beverage Herb

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Sweet woodruff was being used as an air freshener back in the 1500s according to historical records. Other names for it include sweet-scented bedstraw, quinsywort and woodrow. The herb is native to Europe, parts of Asia and Northern Africa; sweet woodruff has also become naturalized in some parts of North America.

In the Medieval era, the herb was said to provide soldiers with protection during battle and had medicinal value as a mild anesthetic. During this same time-period, sweet woodruff was being made into wreaths for churches and used as a moth repellent to protect linens. The bedstraw name comes from the fact that some people used it to fill mattresses because of its sweet smell. The English botanist Nicholas Culpepper viewed sweet woodruff as a suitable filling for ladies’ mattresses. The quinsywort name indicates that it was used to treat quinsy, which is an archaic name for tonsillitis. 

Historically, sweet woodruff has played a major role in the traditional German celebration of spring. A part of its association with the season is the fact that it tends to bloom during May and June. 

The genus name comes from gala, the Greek word for milk. Sweet woodruff was once believed to curdle milk. Today, sweet woodruff is cultivated as a source of the drug coumarin. Coumarin is a blood-thinner. 

Sweet woodruff flavor profile

Sweet woodruff’s strengths come from its aroma rather than its flavor. Its aroma can be likened to that of honey and vanilla. You may also detect a scent of hay but the vanilla note will be the strongest of all. Sweet woodruff has a bitter flavor, which is why it is used in desserts and sweet drinks. Sweeteners help to distract from the bitterness. 

Health benefits of sweet woodruff

The benefits that you get from sweet woodruff come from the fact that it contains multiple compounds known to be valuable for health. These compounds include:

  • Anticoagulants: Sweet woodruff contains a number of compounds including coumarin that keep blood from clotting, which makes it valuable in herbal medicine.
  • Anthraquinones: Compounds called anthraquinones in sweet woodruff provide a variety of benefits with regard to the health of your digestive tract and urinary tracts.
  • Antioxidants: Sweet woodruff is an excellent source of the flavonoids that help to fight oxidation. 

You can use sweet woodruff to treat or prevent health issues like:

  • Inflammation: Sweet woodruff contains a compound called asperuloside that helps to reduce inflammation.
  • Poor circulation: The blood-thinning effects of this herb make it valuable for improving blood circulation and similar issues.
  • Anxiety: Sweet woodruff helps to calm the nerves. It works both as a mild sedative and as a treatment for insomnia. 
  • Arthritis: Because it is a treatment for inflammation, sweet woodruff is effective in relieving symptoms of arthritis. 
  • Constipation: The anthraquinones in sweet woodruff work as powerful laxatives, which make the herb valuable for fighting constipation. 

Common uses

The culinary applications for sweet woodruff include as a flavoring for sorbets, ice creams and fruit salads. You will also see it as an ingredient in various liquors such as traditional German May wine also called maibowle or bowles. It is one of the main ingredients in German sherbet powder. Scandinavians use it to flavor cordials. In England, sweet woodruff is used as a flavoring for Cheshire cheese. In addition to all that, it makes a fragrant and flavorful tea. 


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