Medicinal plants

Woodruff - effect, use and cultivation

Woodruff - effect, use and cultivation

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Fragrant bedstraw - healing power from the forest

Woodruff (Galium odoratum) - also known as fragrant bedstraw - we know it from the Maibowle and from the food of the gods. It grows in deciduous forests of our latitude. The bedstraw is little known as a medicinal plant. Here you can find out what healing effects woodruff has, what it can be used for in the kitchen and what to look out for when growing it in your own garden.

Woodruff - the most important facts

  • Woodruff cleanses the blood, has an antiseptic effect, drives urine, sweat and bile juices, has an anesthetic effect and has been used to heal wounds.
  • It contains a large amount of coumarin, so no real woodruff is used in children's dishes.
  • The plant is famous for its fine smell. This is reflected in the Latin name Gallium odoratum - the fragrant bedstraw. It is therefore also found in perfumes.
  • Its leaves are in bowls. Popular desserts and desserts.
  • This bedstraw is common in deciduous forests, is undemanding and prefers calcareous clay soil. It can easily be grown in the garden.

Origin and distribution

The bedstraw is native. It often grows in beech forests in northern and central Europe, in the east to western Asia at an altitude of up to 1400 meters. Woodruff grows all the way to Turkey, the Altai and Kazakhstan, also in northwest Africa, in China and Korea. In America it spread as a neophyte.

Woodruff - biology

Woodruff grows herbaceous up to 50 cm high and perennial. It forms a long and thin rhizome, which is used firstly for propagation and secondly for survival.

It can be easily recognized by its leaves. These are lanceolate, up to 5 cm tall, and up to 8 of them collect in one leaf knot. In the middle they show a white color from the tip to the knot of the leaf. The leaf blade is narrower and tapered, the leaf margin is rough, the leaf surfaces mostly bare. The ovary is covered with hook bristles.


The genus Labkräuter, to which the medicinal and spice plant belongs, includes approximately 650 species. More distant relatives are coffee and china bark. The close relatives of burdock bedstraw, meadow bedstraw and real bedstraw were also known as medicinal herbs.

An early bloomer

Woodruff blooms from April to June. A nickname "the may flower" stems from the fact that the plant is a classic spring flower. The flowers are white and in the shape of stars, the petals fourfold. They send out the woodruff scent that comes from the substance coumarin. This fragrance is stronger with dried flowers than with fresh ones.

The flowers are fourfold and have only a rudimentary calyx, the petals are funnel-shaped with spatula-shaped crown lobes.

The fruits

The plant forms split fruits, which each break down into two solitary partial fruits. These are up to 3 mm long, almost spherical and covered by up to 1.2 mm hook bristles. With these burdocks, the partial fruits attach to animal fur, bird feathers and clothing and spread them further.


The bedstraw can reproduce in different ways. First, through cross-pollination, usually via flies. Secondly, through self-pollination of the female genital organs by the male stamens, thirdly through the spread of the burdock. Fourth, it multiplies massively through the formation of runners. The name Waldmeister also comes from the fact that the plants lie like a blanket over the forest floor.

Traditional use

The bedstraw has been used as a wort since ancient times, for maypole, Berlin whites, ice cream or woodruff syrup. Because of its fragrance, people hung bags of woodruff in the house, which were also supposed to fight moths.

The dried herb of the not yet flowering plant serves as a remedy. This promotes blood flow, inhibits inflammation and relieves cramps.

Is woodruff poisonous?

The plant is classified as hardly toxic. It contains up to 0.28% coumarin glycosides. Drying releases coumarin, which can cause drowsiness such as headaches and damage the liver if consumed for a long time.

It is therefore advisable for a punch to use no more than 3 grams of fresh herbs per 1 liter of liquid. Because of the coumarin, lemonades have not been allowed to contain real woodruff since 1974, and flavorings may only contain up to two milligrams of coumarin per kilo. With alcoholic drinks up to five milligrams are allowed.

Healing effects of woodruff

We use the medicinal herb for menstrual pain, cramps and urinary problems. It offers prophylaxis against bladder and urethral stones as well as congestion of the liver. Historically, it was known as a remedy for jaundice (questionable) and for blood purification (useful).

In the 16th century it was supposed to keep chastity, which was, however, a dream of uptight Christians. A powder from the flowers served against burns. Not a bad idea, because the plant inhibits inflammation; Coumarin, tannins and flavonoids promote skin regeneration.

A foot bath with flowers and leaves should cheer up tired legs. This was also medically justified, because the bedstraw opens the pores and thus increases the blood circulation.

Overall, woodruff works against inflammation as well as bacteria, has an antioxidant and sometimes antiviral effect - against herpes simplex.

Application areas

Taken internally, Waldmeister helps against inner restlessness, problems with falling asleep and discomfort during the period, as well as against the symptoms known as "spring tiredness".

Envelopes or cooled tea applied to the outside of the skin or baths with woodruff extracts help against skin injuries, boils and ulcers.

Woodruff tea: recipe

For a healing tea with woodruff we pour a teaspoon of dried woodruff leaves per cup with hot water, let everything steep for 7 minutes and sweeten with honey. We drink the mixture twice a day for about a week.

How long do we take woodruff for healing?

We should not consume fragrant bedstraw in the long term and not longer than one week at a time. Otherwise, headaches and liver problems can result from overdosing. Pregnant women should keep their hands off woodruff.

Woodruff in the kitchen

It serves as a flavoring for sweets and drinks in the kitchen. The taste is unique and is even copied artificially. Pure woodruff can best be described as bittersweet and fresh.

Woodruff can be easily processed into syrup, which then gives white wine and sparkling wine a special note (woodruff bowl) and goes well with fruit juices. An iced tea made from elderflowers, fresh mint and woodruff leaves is the queen of summer refreshment. Gundelrebe also harmonizes with bedstraw, as well as meadowsweet, strawberries and raspberries.

The syrup and the leaves taste excellent in alcoholic and non-alcoholic cocktails, for example in caipirinha plus bedstraw. Creams, tarts, biscuits and fillings in countless variations can be enhanced to create an eye-opening experience with Waldmeister from home cooking. This is where woodruff syrup comes in handy.

Plant woodruff

The plant grows naturally on moist soil with lots of nutrients and lime. This corresponds to most garden floors. Here it feels most comfortable under large deciduous trees or towards the north / east. The "May flower" is a perfect plant for a shadow and swamp bed like for a forest garden and harmonizes with dead wood, mushrooms and ferns.

They sow between October and February, because woodruff is a cold germ. It only germinates after a long period of frost. The seeds need between three weeks and 3 months to germinate. You should keep a distance of 20 cm between the seeds so that the plants can develop.

In the first year you don't have to fertilize, later you use compost. Fragrant bedstraw always needs moisture, but does not like waterlogging. The edge of the bank of a garden pond, swamp bed or places that are exposed to rain is ideal. The plant should never dry out, this can destroy the root system and kill the bedstraw.

Harvest woodruff

As beautiful as the flowers look, if you want to use the woodruff in the kitchen, you should harvest the leaves before flowering. Then the taste is more intense. In addition, the active ingredient coumarin is not yet so strongly enriched in the plant before flowering. Too high a dose of coumarin can cause dizziness, headache, nausea and vomiting. The flowering period can start between the end of April and June, depending on the location. The best time to harvest is just before flowering. The stems and leaves should be cut off just above the ground and cleaned with water. Before use, the herbs should be dried for a day or two so that they can develop their typical aroma.


The master of the forest is indigenous and not a "wimp" that goes down with the slightest frost. "Like in the forest" we make him a bed of leaves, small wood or dry stems in winter. This also pleases the insects. We will put potted plants in the stairwell until March.

Buy woodruff

If you buy woodruff to break it down or pluck the leaves right away, watch out for the earth. Is it damp? Are the leaves abundant? A plant well supplied with nutrients is characterized by a lush growth of the leaves. On the other hand, if the distances between the leaf nodes are large, this indicates a lack of care.

You can buy seeds from all major seed manufacturers. Pay attention to the price: woodruff is not rare, and the seeds are difficult to obtain. 10 grams of seeds should not cost more than two euros. Everything else is outrageous. Woodruff tea in bags can also be bought in tea shops.

What other names does the bedstraw have?

Woodruff is known as Maikraut, Herzensfreund, Waldmeier or Mäserich, also as link herb in Silesia, tongue or neck herb in Alsace, Herfreudeli in Bern, Leberkraut, Mäsch or Herzfreud in Mecklenburg, as Mariengras in East Prussia, as Sternleberkraut in Switzerland. These names show that people used woodruff to combat suffering from the liver, heart and limbs.

Why is the plant called woodruff? The first interpretation relates to the widespread distribution of the bedstraw, which populates beech forests nationwide. The French pure des bois, queen of the forest, also allows this assessment. In Latin, the plant was called matrisylva, the forest mother.

The term Waldmeier could also have led to the woodruff and is derived from the word Miere, which is also in chickweed.
(Dr. Utz Anhalt)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.

Dr. phil. Utz Anhalt, Barbara Schindewolf-Lensch


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