WOODRUFF, SWEET SCENTED BEDSTRAW, WALDMEISTER

Galium odoratum

The flavour of May is Waldmeister; at least it is, if you, like I, grew up in Germany.  There, and in some other continental European countries, it is a popular flavour for sweets and beverages, including beer.  

Galium odoratum, Sweet Woodruff or sweet scented bedstraw in English, is a small woodland plant native to Scotland.  It may be an indicator of ancient woodlands, and prefers shade and moisture.  It can be found in mixed forests, hedgerows, and shadowy garden corners.  Delicate white flower umbels bloom in May and sit atop a rectangular stem, ringed by tidy, glossy whirls of six to eight leaves. If you happen upon a carpet of woodruff, pick a stem or two and crush it or let it wilt in the warmth of your hand for a while.  As the plant breaks down, it releases a heavenly scent, reminiscent of cinnamon, vanilla, and fragrant hay.  This fragrance is coumarin, widely used in cosmetics and familiar from other spices like tonka bean, sweet grass, meadowsweet, and cassia cinnamon.  As delicious as it smells and tastes, a health warning is in order:  It is an anticoagulant of cumulative toxicity, can be used as a headache remedy, and in concentrated doses as a rat poison.  The blood thinner warfarin is derived from it.  So it is best used in small quantities and on occasion only.

  By steeping the wilted stems in warm or acidic liquids, one can capture its beautiful scent to flavour syrup, ice cream, lemonade, jelly, or alcoholic beverages.  It pairs beautifully with apple, strawberry, and lemon.  A very easy way to enjoy it, is to steep it in vodka for a few hours for a homemade version of Poland’s Bison Grass Vodka, Zubrowka.

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