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Galium odoratum, the sweetscented bedstraw, is a flowering perennial plant in the family Rubiaceae, native to much of Europe from Spain and Ireland to Russia, as well as Western Siberia, Turkey, Iran, the Caucasus, China and Japan. It is also sparingly naturalized in scattered locations in the United States and Canada. It is widely cultivated for its flowers and its sweet-smelling foliage.
A herbaceous plant, it grows to 30–50 cm (12–20 in) 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 chemical content.
The leaves are simple, lanceolate, glabrous, 2–5 cm (0.79–1.97 in) 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 watering. 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 potpourri and as a moth deterrent. It is also used, mainly in Germany, to flavour May wine (called "Maibowle" or "Maitrank" in German), sweet juice punch, syrup for beer (Berliner Weisse), brandy, jelly, jam, a soft drink (Tarhun, which is Georgian), ice cream, and herbal tea. Also very popular are Waldmeister flavoured jellies, with and without alcohol. In Germany it is also used to flavour sherbet powder, which features prominently in Günter Grass' novel The Tin Drum.
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