Everything You Need to Know About Sweet Woodruff Flowers (Galium odoratum)

Sweet Woodruff (Galium odoratum) is a perennial commonly used as ground cover in shady areas, as it lies flat on the ground or supported by other plants. It bears attractive clusters of white, star-shaped flowers and fragrant lance-shaped leaves. Here we’ll take you through everything you need to know about Sweet Woodruff flower meaning and symbolism, their history and origins, uses and benefits, and how to care for fresh-cut sweet woodruff flowers at home. 


Sweet Woodruff Flower Meaning & Symbolism – The Essentials

Sweet woodruff flowers carry the symbolic meaning of humility. During medieval times, religious leaders would often adorn their churches with the fragrant perennial herb. Medieval soldiers believed the flower could guarantee success on the battlefield, so they tucked it into their helmets before engaging the enemy.  For some Christians, the plant honors Mary, as traditional belief holds that sweet woodruff lined Christ’s manger.


About Sweet Woodruff Flowers

About Sweet Woodruff Flowers

Sweet Woodruff – Family, Genus, and Taxonomy

  • Kingdom: Plantae
  • Phylum: Tracheophyta
  • Class: Magnoliopsida
  • Order: Gentianales
  • Family: Rubiaceae
  • Genus: Galium L.
  • Species: Galium odoratum (L.)

Botanical Characteristics, Colors, Fragrances

Sweet woodruff is a creeping perennial that forms a mat-like ground cover. Its flowers are white, star-shaped blossoms featuring four petals joined together at the base with the flowers appearing in clusters.

The fragrant leaves of the sweet woodruff plant are lance-shaped and dark green and appear in whorls of 6 to 9 leaves. The plant grows 6 to 12 inches tall, and spreads 9 to 18 inches, with leaves measuring up to 2 inches and flowers measuring just over a quarter-inch.

History & Origins of Sweet Woodruff

Healers used sweet woodruff as medicine during the Middle Ages. When applied to bruises and cuts, fresh leaves were said to have a healing effect. Taken internally, the herb was said to remove biliary obstructions of the liver.

Churches of the day would hang bunches of sweet woodruff on St. Barnabas Day and on St. Peter’s Day. Many people stuffed sweet woodruff into beds to make sweet-smelling mattresses.

Popular Sweet Woodruff Flower Types, Species, and Cultivars

There are no G. odoratum cultivars. There are similar species, however, including Heath Bedstraw, Marsh Bedstraw, Common Bedstraw (also known as Cleavers), Lady’s Bedstraw, and Hedge Bedstraw.

Etymological Meaning

Galium comes from gala, the Greek word for milk; this is likely due to the plant’s ability to curdle milk. Odoratus is a Latin adjective that means “perfumed,” “fragrant,” or “sweet-smelling.”

The name of the plant first appears in the 13th century, but as “wuderove”. Later, the name changed to “wood-rove,” probably because the spoke-like arrangement of the woodruff leaves looks similar to the type of wheel known as a French rovelle.

What regions are Sweet Woodruff flowers/plants native to?

Sweet woodruff grows as a native wildflower throughout Britain and Ireland. It also grows throughout Europe, North Africa, and parts of Asia. The plant has become naturalized in certain areas of the United States and Canada.

When are Sweet Woodruff flowers in season?

Sweet woodruff blooms from late spring through mid-summer.


Uses and Benefits of Sweet Woodruff Flowers

Uses and Benefits of Sweet Woodruff Flowers

Sweet woodruff is primarily ornamental in many locations now. While medicinal use has tapered off in many countries, many people around the world still use sweet woodruff to help prevent or treat health problems, such as digestive and some heart problems.

Sweet woodruff may help ease agitation, anxiety, and sleep issues; it may also alleviate pain, loosen chest congestion, and soothe skin diseases.

Culinary Uses of Sweet Woodruff Flowers

With an aroma similar to honey, vanilla, and a touch of hay, sweet woodruff has a bitter flavor. Some use the herb in desserts and sweet drinks, in which sweeteners mask the bitterness of sweet woodruff. Extracts of sweet woodruff add aromatic delight to fragrances and perfumes.

Dried sweet woodruff contains coumarin, which can prevent blood from clotting; excessively high doses can cause internal bleeding.

The small white flowers and aromatic foliage make sweet woodruff irresistible to pollinators. Gardeners are often happy to learn that deer do not find sweet woodruff tasty.


Sweet Woodruff Flower Meaning & Symbolism

Sweet Woodruff Flower Meaning & Symbolism

Sweet woodruff is a symbol of humility. During medieval times, religious leaders would often adorn their churches with the fragrant perennial herb. Medieval soldiers believed the flower could guarantee success on the battlefield, so they tucked it into their helmets before engaging the enemy.


The Cultural Significance of Sweet Woodruff Flowers

The Cultural Significance of Sweet Woodruff Flowers

Sweet Woodruff in the Germanic culture

Making Maiwein, or May Wine, is a tradition in Germanic culture. Fresh Waldmeister, which is the German name for sweet woodruff, is the base for maiwein. Dedicated to springtime, this white wine is traditionally served in May or on the May Day holiday, when the sweet woodruff begins to bloom.

Sweet Woodruff in the Renaissance Era

Near the end of the Dark Ages and into the Renaissance Era, peasants scattered sweet woodruff and other herbs across the floors of their floors. These herbs, known as strewing herbs, freshened up the air and drove away insects.

Sweet Woodruff Flowers in Christianity

In medieval times, Catholic churches hung sweet woodruff to honor Mary and to disguise the odor of the unwashed congregation. Some Christians refer to sweet woodruff as “our lady’s lace” or “our lady’s bedstraw,” as traditional belief holds that sweet woodruff lined Christ’s manger.


Suitable Gifting Occasions for Sweet Woodruff Flowers

Suitable Gifting Occasions for Sweet Woodruff Flowers

Sweet woodruff may not work well in most bouquets and vase arrangements, but any gardener or herb enthusiast would love to receive these special plants as a gift.

How to Care for Fresh Cut Sweet Woodruff Flowers at Home

To improve the cut flowers’ ability to soak up water, cut the stems at an angle. Remove any leaves that might sit below the water line when in the vase. Using warm water, fill the vase two-thirds full. Put the fresh cut sweet woodruff flowers in the water right away. To prolong their beauty and fragrance, change the water once every two days, cleaning the vase thoroughly between water changes.

Wrap-up

Sweet woodruff flowers are a welcome addition to any garden, whether for their aesthetic beauty, enticing fragrance, medicinal use, cultural significance, or herbal use.


Sweet Woodruff Flower FAQ

Sweet woodruff spreads quickly, especially in moist soil. Left unmanaged, sweet woodruff can be quite invasive.

Gardeners use sweet woodruff as ground cover and edging. German wine enthusiasts use it to make May Wine. Others use the perennial herb to treat certain maladies, such as relieving nerve pain, promoting sweating, and loosening congestion.

In high doses, sweet woodruff may be poisonous. Dried sweet woodruff contains coumarin, a compound that can prevent blood from clotting, which means that excessively high doses can cause internal bleeding.

Yes, sweet woodruff is a perennial that returns year after year.

For best results, plant sweet woodruff in a shady area with moist soil that drains well and is rich in organic material. Sweet woodruff grows best in USDA Zones 4-8. Water as needed, and cut plants back to prevent unwanted invasion into other parts of the garden.


Petal Republic’s flower and plant guides:

Looking for a particular stem or in need of some inspiration on the best blooms for a certain occasion? Check out Petal Republic’s expert flower guides to Roses, Asphodel, Valerian, Astrantia, Viburnum, Acanthus, Ranunculus, Lilies, Irises, Borage, Clovers, Freesia, Marjoram, Anemone, Begonia, Orchids, Allium, Carnations, Coreopsis, Gerbera Daisies, Gladiolus, and Peonies.  


Author

I’ve long been fascinated with the world of flowers, plants, and floral design. I come from a family of horticulturists and growers and spent much of my childhood in amongst the fields of flowering blooms and greenhouses filled with tropical plants, cacti, and succulents from all over the world. Today, my passion has led me to further explore the world of horticulture, botany, and floristry and I'm always excited to meet and collaborate with fellow enthusiasts and professionals from across the globe.

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