In the Middle Ages woodruff was valued as a strewing herb, laid over the floor to keep the room smelling sweet. Woodruff was also laid among the linen to keep moths and other insects away.
Woodruff, asperula odorata, is a dainty little herb growing about 2in (30cm) high in shady sheltered spots. It can be found in the wild, growing in damp woods and under hedgerows. Its attractive, bright green leaves grow in whorls around the stems, about six to eight leaves in a group. Woodruff is a perennial herb with a creeping rootstock and grows massed together. The tiny white flowers, which bloom in May and June, grow in great profusion and seen from a distance look like a milky froth. Woodruff has no scent when fresh but when dried or wilted it smells of new mown hay.
In the kitchen, woodruff, used slightly wilted, is added to light wines and apple juice to make delicious and refreshing summer drinks.
Provided a suitable spot can be found for it in the garden, woodruff will grow on for years, gradually spreading over the ground. It looks very attractive under large shrubs. Woodruff can be propagated either by seed or by division of roots in early summer immediately after the plant has flowered. Sow the seed as soon as it has ripened, in good garden soil in a damp shady spot and, when large enough, thin the seedlings to a handspan apart.
Woodruff stems, leaves and flowers are the parts of the herb used in the home. When the flowers are fully out, the whole plant is cut off at the ground and dried and stored in the usual way.
Woodruff tea is a pleasant flavoured drink and is soothing and calming. The tea is effective for mild digestive troubles and will help to relieve a headache or a migraine. Woodruff is a delicate herb and when making the tea, hot rather than boiling water should be used, otherwise its properties will be destroyed.
* To make woodruff tea: Pour 1 cupful of hot water on to 1 teaspoon of dried woodruff Cover and leave to infuse for 30 minutes. The tea can be reheated by standing the cup in a bowl of hot water. Woodruff tea taken hot last thing at night will help those who cannot sleep or who suffer from vertigo or nervous tension. One or two cups a day will help to restore the nerves and purify the blood.
* Fresh crushed leaves laid over the affected part will relieve the pain of a headache.
* Dried and powdered woodruff can be added to other herbs in a potpourri mixture. The dried crushed herb either used on its own or mixed with other herbs such as elderflower, chamomile flowers or bergamot and made into a herb cushion will be found soothing and relaxing.