A very pretty delicate plant that makes an excellent ground cover for shady areas. In shade it produces rich dark leaves and bright white flowers in late spring to early summer. Once established it needs almost no care and is an excellent choice to mix with spring flowering bulbs which can come up through this plant. Very cold hardy to zone 3 (some say 2) but does not do well in hot areas. Will not grow under pine trees. Foliage has a lovely scent of new mown hay which increases when the plant is dried. Germination can be erratic and slow in Sweet woodruff, this is not a seed for beginners.
Plant produces slender square stems that hold whorls of small dark green leaves that are lance shaped (lanceolate) and have tiny rough edges (ciliate). Successive whorls of 6-8 leaves grow around the stalk like tiny stars. Stems usually grow to about 6"-8" but can be as tall as 12". The flowers are produced at the ends of the stems in late spring to early summer (May and June in zone 6). The flowers are white, tube shaped with four petals and arranged in small groups known as loose cymes. They have an aroma of sweet hay which increases as they dry out. The seeds when ripe look like rough balls which are thickly covered with flexible, hooked bristles, white below, but black-tipped, and these catch on to the fur and feathers of any animal or bird that pushes through the undergrowth, and thus the seed is dispersed. The plant has a creeping root stock that allows the plant to spread. It is hardy to zone 3.
Location and care
This little perennial needs shade. It makes an excellent ground cover in for shady locations and will often spread rapidly once established. It does great beneath deciduous trees where there is a little light penetration but not too much. Under these conditions the leaves are a deep glossy green. Cannot tolerate full sun at any time. The more sunshine it gets the leaves turn paler green, then yellow and will crisp in full strong sunshine. Will not grow under pine trees or any other coniferous tree.
It likes a good rich soil which is most commonly found under trees due to the leaf mulch. If not add organic material to the soil before planting, then don't rake leaves from its location. Will tolerate soils in a pH range of 4.3 to 8.3. Soil should be well drained as Sweet Woodruff cannot tolerate wet or waterlogged soils even for a short period.
Extremely cold hardy will tolerate temperatures down to 13 F (-25°c). but does not do well in hot climates. Not recommended to zones below 7.5.
Tolerates poor air conditions well so is excellent for city gardens or those close to road provided there is a lot of shade.
The creeping root systems spread out close to the top of the soil so do not hoe, rake or use other soil destroying tools around the plants as it will cut the roots. Alternatively if trying to control the plant using a rake or edging tool to cut roots will keep them from spreading.
Will need some weeding until established as plants grow thinly at first and other plants can easily grow through them. Little other care is needed once plants are established.
Germination can be erratic and slow in Sweet woodruff, this is not a seed for beginners. Seeds can be sown directly on the ground in mid to late fall for early spring germination or they can be started indoors in late winter for spring planting.
Seeds do better with a period of cold before sowing. All our seeds have been stratified. Sow in good starter mix with a lot of organic material and place in a shady area. Do not place under grow lights. This is a shade plant and it does not like a lot of light even when germinating. Keep soil moist until the seeds germinate. This can be anywhere from ten days to three months depending on conditions. For this reason we suggest you use plug trays where each seed can have its own space and removing a germinated seedling does not disturb those that have not yet germinated. If seeds have not germinated by time of last frost date place trays can be placed outside in a shady area provided they are kept moist.
Transplant larger seedling to individual pots and again keep in shady area. Plant out when they are about 4-6" and look sturdy enough. Transplant out to well prepared shady area and water in well. Space plants about 12" apart. Water daily (if no rain) until established. Once established plants should not really need much in the way of additional water unless soil is extremely well draining (such as sand) or there is a drought.
While the aroma of majority of the herbs disappears when they dry out, the sweet hay scent of sweet woodruff actually becomes stronger when the plant is dried and it also lasts for several years. This is attributed to the plants production of coumarin.
The leaves are edible raw or cooked. They have the scent of new mown hay (know as coumarin scented). The plant can be used to make cool summer drinks or added to fruit salads. The leaves also make a pleasant tea that is drunk as a tonic. The flowers can be used as a garnish.
Sweet woodruff has been used since the middle ages for many ailments particularly for digestive and liver problems. Today it is still used as a tonic and is very popular in Germany where it is used to flavor a spring wine used as such a tonic. An infusion of the leaves is used to treat insomnia and nervous tension, varicose veins, biliary obstruction, varicose veins, insomnia, hepatitis and jaundice. Sweet woodruff contains a substance known as coumarin which act to prevent the clotting of blood and the herb is actually grown and used to make such an anticoagulant drug. Therefore it should not be used if you are already taking an anticoagulant, are on medication for circulatory disorders or are pregnant.
Several different dyes are obtained from this plant. A red one from the roots and grey-green and soft-tan from the leaves and stems. The scent that sweet woodruff produces increases when the plant dries making it very aromatic. It has long been used to perfume homes, placed in cupboards and closets to produce a pleasant scent and repel insects. In the middle ages it was used as a strewing herb on floors and in churches. Today it is used more in potpourris, sachets, garlands, wreaths and herb pillows
Master of the Woods, Sweet Woodruff, Waldmeister, Woodruff, Woodward