Sweet Woodruff , Master of the wood ,baby’s breath
One of my favourite foraging spots in the spring was my destination for the last week or so . This time of year I tend to visit this site to take advantage of the partridge that live in the rocky outcrops of the former quarry.
Due to the great variety of woodland ranging from pioneer birch to ancient oak the foraging is always great and with every visit I always find a new plant/fungi to add to my knowledge base.
On a trip in autumn with some good friends the woodruff sparked the attention of Alan Smylie who told me about an article in the food for free book regarding its uses. I had used the woodruff as one of the plants in my herb tea taking advantage of its natural relaxant but never really used it to its full potential and was quite happy to find it still growing in abundance on this trip.
The plant itself is a perennial which grows in shaded areas and is actually deer tolerant. It flowers between May and June with small fragrant white flowers which are said to smell of vanilla; but in all honesty I smell fresh cut grass personally!
Two main uses pop up all the time with woodruff, firstly the May wine which is basically wine infused with woodruff making it quite fragrant.
Making this is quite simple; you take some twenty or so sprigs of woodruff with flower heads and heat them in a small amount of the wine to a rolling boil for two minutes or so then allow to cool and add to your pre bottled wine. Allow the scent and flavour to seep into the wine and then drink traditionally on the May Day bank holiday .
The second use is as a sweetener / flavour in salads and even tobacco. This is due to a crystalline chemical principle called Coumarin, which is used in perfumes and clothes softener being held in high regard because of it’s ability to “fix in” the other odours and enhances the pleasant smells of secondary ingredient .
Looking into the history of the plant proved quite difficult other than the use of the plant as a insect repellent. Medical uses include the use of tea as a mild sedative and it’s use on cuts and wounds as a healing aid. I also found reference that the tea was used to treat stomach pain .
After digging about a bit more I found references and it seemed the plant has been subject to many name changes and interpretation, one name was Woodderowffe which is reported to have been used as a detoxifier for the blood.
In France it was known as Muge-de-boys and used to treats liver problems although there are few actual proven uses as it’s history is spread under a wide umbrella but without doubt this little herb has well earned its place among our foraged herbs .
The woodruff is a Bonny flower ,her leaves are set like spurs
About her stem , and honey sweat is every flower of hers
Yet sweetest dried and laid aside unkist with linen white.
Or hung in bunches from the roof for winters delight