Sweet Woodruff

Ilona Erwin

Galium odoratum, beautiful groundcover

Another sweet smelling plant, this time for a groundcover. Sweet woodruff makes a beautiful base for trees or shrubs -which is how my mother grew it. I took a start, a bit of rooted section (the best way to multiply this plant), and planted it beneath my roses on the east side of the house.

This plant has everything I like in a plant, fresh green foliage, pretty blooms, fine texture, and pleasing fragrance. Sweet Woodruff

The agreeable smell of Sweet Woodruff is due to a chemical called coumarin, which is used in perfumery, not only because of its own fragrance, but for its fixative properties. There are a few times the scent of new mown hay/vanilla is strongly noticeable, after the frosts of autumn cause the leaves to die down, when lightly trampled, and when the leaves are dried.

This is a plant for somewhat shaded spots, and if your soil is moist and woodsy you might have more than you want! It is not highly invasive, otherwise, just a healthy grower, which is what is wanted in a groundcover.

The Look

sweet woodruff
Sweet Woodruff has fine textured stems and leaves which are situated in whorls resembling a wheel; in the springtime each stem is topped by a tiny bouquet of fresh white star shaped blooms. After bloom the leaves deepen in color covering the ground without crowding lilies, meadowsweet, or other taller flowers in its midst.

It is beautiful with hostas, too.

The Needs

Part sun or shade, average soil, and moisture is best for this undemanding plant. It is a hardy perennial and is very tolerant of atmospheric pollution, growing well in towns. For propagation, it is best to divide established plants in spring or fall, or to take cuttings from mature plants and root them.

Fun Facts

Native to the woods, the “ruff” refers to the whorled placement of the leaves,  from the French word ‘rouelle’.

Sweet Woodruff is used to flavor punches, summer drinks, and Maywine. Its haylike aroma increases as the leaves dry. It is also added to potpourris, sachets, and sometimes used commercially in perfumes.

A red dye is obtained from the root. Soft-tan and grey-green dyes are obtained from the stems and leaves.It was a popular strewing herb during the Middle Ages, and was used in the linen cupboard to protect from moths.

When mixed with animal fodder, it gives cow’s milk a delicious aroma.

Galium odoratum, sweet woodruff, was traditionally a part of the herb garden. It was one of the strewing herbs which were used to sweeten the air as a way to mitigate the nasty smells of Medieval living spaces. Part of the Bedstraw family, the dry leaves were used to stuff mattresses

Make your own May wine:
Dry a handful of sweet woodruff. Squeeze a half lemon over leaves and pour a bottle of Rhine Wine over and let steep for about 3-4 hours in a warm place.. (Some add 4-6 tbls sugar) Chill and serve with a fresh strawberry.

Another fine groundcover for shade is Lamium maculatum, a favorite plant of mine.


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Ilona Erwin, author

Meet the Author

Ilona Erwin

I started working on this website beginning in 1998, when it was part of Ilona's Reflecting Pool. Since then I've branched out into a number of online endeavors and work at writing lots of content for my sites. "Ilona's Garden" remains my primary site and is dedicated to home gardener's success.