Woodruff, Galium odoratum

Woodruff is in the group of plants which includes the bedstraws, cleavers and madder. The main characteristic of these plants is that their leaves are arranged in whorls at intervals along the stem. WoodruffSo you get a ring of between 4 to 12 leaves and then a gap and then another ring and so on up the stem. Other characteristics of this group is that they are often climbing plants. They have fairly weak stems and rely on other plants or things for support. Cleavers will often elevate itself to quite a height by growing through and over a hedge or fence. Also the plants often have a rough texture, because of little hooks which also helps their scrambling habit.

Woodruff does have a rough feel but it does not grow so high, it normally grows in a dense clump and then each stem helps support its neighbours and they grow up together. I has leaves arranged in whorls of about 6. The flowers are white and small as are most of the flowers in this group, Ladies bedstraw is one exception, having yellow flowers and squinancywort has flowers which are vaguely pink but also very small and insignificant. The woodruff flowers are in bloom from Aril through to June, they are of a reasonable size and quite easy to spot.

As you might expect from its scientific name, odoratum, this plant does smell, but not too bad. The smell is sweetish, like new mown hay, and it increases as the plant dries. So it has various uses, the main one being its inclusion in pot pourri. Also the smell from the pot pourri is supposed to deter moths, should you wish to deter them.

The active ingredient is called coumarin, which is found in sweet vernal grass and meadowsweet and other plants. Other more exotic uses are in ice cream in a German beer called Berliner Weisse, Photo By Wusel007 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Woodruff is a perennial plant so it grows in patches and these gradually increase in size as the underground stolons spread outwards. Also it is propagated by seeds and these like others in this family have little hooks on and they will catch on your clothes or on animals with fur coats and get dispersed in that way.

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