A dear little plant with great deeds, that is sweet woodruff, Galium odoratum. With her small flowers and light green, hand shaped leaves, you could easily overlook her. But when you start paying attention, you’ll see her everywhere.
Sweet woodruff is not very well known as a medicinal herb these days, but used to be widely used in the past. Perhaps this decline of use is due to the fact that not much scientific research has been carried out and the emphasis is on well researched plants nowadays. However, this plant has been used for a long time. She definitely deserves a spot in this plant handbook. Her main uses are for disorders related to the urinary tract, digestion and nervous disorders.
Magically, woodruff can be used for many purposes. The best known ones are probably love and procreation-related purposes, and protection, but also attracting wealth. This plant was dedicated to the goddess Freya by the Germanic peoples. That explains why love and fertility belong to its toolbox.
Sweet woodruff stands on thin, running rhizomes with many stolons. Because of the stolons the plant spreads fairly quickly, but it does not proliferate strongly. The stem is square, erect, hairless and unbranched. The sessile leaves are arranged in a rosette around the stem. The number of leaves varies between 6 and 9. They are lanceolate, 0.5 to 1.5 centimetres wide and 2 to 4 cm long with 1 nerve. The leaves are hirsute on the edges. At the top, the stem branches and at the stem apexes the flowers stand in umbilical corymbs. The flowers are small, white, tubular to funnel-shaped, and rich in nectar. It is therefore a good insect plant. After flowering, the plant has schizocarps: spherical fruits about 3 mm in size, which have small hook-shaped brushes which are spread by insects. The flowers smell sweet.
The flowers smell so sweet that they were often used dried in the filling of straw mattresses. It was also used in linen cupboards to make the clothes smell nice. And to repel moths! This usage is still current.
Yellow bedstraw can be used in the same manner.
According to a christian legend, Mary used woodruff to put into Jesus’ crib. Hence the Dutch folkname lievevrouwebedstro, which translates roughly as dear lady’s bedstraw.
The dried leaves can be used as tobacco. Combined with coltsfoot and mint leaves, people used it to get rid of nicotine addiction in the olden days.
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