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Sweet Woodruff

December 9, 2016 Back to Picks >

Most herbs we grow are native to the Mediterranean area and need full sun. But for those deep shade areas in your garden, where not much survives, try growing sweet woodruff.

Sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum) is a woodland perennial that prefers low light areas with rich soil and a slightly acid pH. It grows about six inches high and is suited for use as a shade ground cover, perhaps under a large tree where little else grows. The inch long thin leaves of this herb grow in whorls of six to eight leaves. The white flowers appear at the tops in April, just in time for May festivities.

In Germany the flowers of sweet woodruff are a key ingredient in Maibowle, a beverage traditional served on the first of May. The leaves and flowers of sweet woodruff are steeped in white wine, which imparts the herb�s vanilla-like flavor. Then the wine is combined with a little lemon juice and sugar and diluted with water or club soda.

Sweet woodruff propagates from a slender creeping rhizome. If it finds a place where it�s happy, it can take over the area. In some parts of its northern European habitat it can be the dominant understory plant. This is why it is known as Waldmeister or �master-of-the woods� in German.

Fortunately � or unfortunately, depending on your view � Texas gardeners are not likely to experience runaway sweet woodruff. I suspect that our legendary heat combined with alkaline soil helps to keep this herb in check. But if you mulch it well, keep it in the shade, and sing German drinking songs, you just might be able to harvest enough for your own Maibowle.