|Galium odoratum in flower|
A herbaceous plant, it grows to 30–50 cm (12-20 ins.) long, often lying flat on the ground or supported by other plants. Its vernacular names include woodruff, sweet woodruff, and wild baby's breath; master of the woods would be a literal translation of the German Waldmeister. It is sometimes confused with Galium triflorum and Galium verum.
It owes its sweet smell to the odiferous agent coumarin, and is sometimes used as a flavoring agent due to its content of this chemical.
The leaves are simple, lanceolate, glabrous, 2–5 cm long, and borne in whorls of 6-9. The small (4–7 mm diameter) flowers are produced in cymes, each white with four petals joined together at the base. The fruits are 2–4 mm diameter, produced singly, and each is covered in tiny hooked bristles which help disperse them by sticking temporarily to clothing and animal fur.
This plant prefers partial to full shade in moist, rich soils. In dry summers it needs frequent irrigation. Propagation is by crown division, separation of the rooted stems, or digging up of the barely submerged perimeter stolons. It is ideal as a groundcover or border accent in woody, acidic gardens where other shade plants fail to thrive. Deer avoid eating it (Northeast US).
As the epithet odoratum suggests, the plant is strongly scented, the sweet scent being derived from coumarin. This scent increases on wilting and then persists on drying, and the dried plant is used in pot-pourri and as a moth deterrent. It is also used, mainly in Germany, to flavour May wine (called "Maibowle" in German), syrup for beer (Berliner Weisse), brandy, sausages, jelly, jam, a soft drink (Tarhun, which is Georgian), ice cream, and a herbal tea with gentle sedative properties. In Germany it is also used to flavour sherbet powder. Mixed with German "Korn schnapps" or vodka, it is a popular party drink among young people. Also very popular at parties is Waldmeister flavoured jelly made from vodka.
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