Sigh… I give up.
I’ve searched high and low at all the garden centers all around this area in hopes of finding Sweet Woodruff, and nobody seems to have it. They did have some for sale at the Newburgh Country Store’s Herb Sale, but they sold out before I was able to snatch up a couple for my own patio garden.
Just what is Sweet Woodruff, you ask?
Sweet Woodruff (Gallium Odoratum) is a low growing, ground-covering perennial herb, a member of the family Rubiaceae, native to Europe, North Africa, and western Asia. Although perhaps not so well-known in America, it does thrive here and can be grown in gardens, etc. It is a good plant to grow around the base of trees and bushes, as it actually prefers shade. It is a rather attractive plant, with leaves that create a star shape, and small white flowers.
This plant has a strong sweet scent, which increases when it is picked and dried… thus it can be used for potpourri and herbal sachets, and as a moth deterrent. The scent reminds me of new-mown hay, and is derived from the chemical coumarin, which is also found in tonka beans and mullein. Woodruff has been used as a flavoring for various foods and flavorings (particularly in Europe); however, because coumarin is a known toxin, its use has been severely limited in modern years. In small doses it is relatively safe, but the scent and flavoring of Sweet Woodruff has been replaced in industrial production by artificial aromas, flavorings, and colorings.
So why was I seeking this herb?
Sweet Woodruff has traditionally been used to flavor May Wine, known in Germany (where it originated) as Maiwein or Maibowle. It is also known as Waldmeisterbowle, after the herb – which is known as Waldmeister in Germany. Just as Wassail is traditionally served during the winter, Maiwein is served during the spring – particularly on May Day, which occurs on May 1st.
In the Pagan calendar, May Day is also known as Beltane.
Over the years, I have made and served May Wine as part of my Beltane celebrations, and have grown Sweet Woodruff specifically for this purpose. I was hoping to find a few small bedding plants which I transplant around my patio so I could continue the tradition this year.
Alas, no such luck. Maybe I should consider ordering a few plants on-line for next year.
As for my May Wine, I guess I’ll have to substitute a bottle of mead instead.
There are many variations of May Wine, but here is the recipe for the version I make:
OCEAN’S BELTANE MAY WINE
a couple of sprigs of sweet woodruff
bottle of white wine (traditionally German, but use what you like)
bottle of champagne or sparkling wine
(I like to use pink champagne or asti spumante)
juice of 2-3 lemons
two lemons cut in slices
juice of 2-3 oranges
two oranges cut in slices
handful of strawberries, cut in slices
handful of whole strawberries to float in the wine
Open up the bottle of white wine, insert the sprigs of woodruff, recork the wine and let it sit in the refrigerator overnight, so that the herb steeps and flavors the wine.
The next day, in a large punchbowl, combine the woodruff-flavored white wine with the champagne or sparkling wine. Add the juice from the lemons and oranges.
Add your slices of oranges and lemons, and your sliced strawberries to the punchbowl.
Float the whole strawberries in the May Wine, and add some fresh sprigs of woodruff for a little garnish, perhaps along with some edible spring flowers, such as violets, etc.
Serve in punch cups or wine glasses, with a sprig of the woodruff in the glass, along with a slice of citrus and a strawberry.
Sending you all Beltane Blessings…