Galium odoratum

From The Plant Encyclopedia

Sweet Woodruff

Upload an image
Galium odoratum in flower - Sweet Woodruff

Loading slideshow...

Galium odoratum

Kingdom Plantae
Order Gentianales
Family Rubiaceae
Genus Galium
Varieties in this species
Add a variety

Please enter the plant name in this format: 'Latin name - Common Name'

Aden Earth Zone

5 - 20


  • Cultivation: Easy-To-Grow
  • Light: Dappled, Part-Shade, Shade
  • Soil: Rich, Mid-Fertility
  • pH: 7
  • Moisture: Wet, Medium


  • Form: Groundcover, Herbaceous
  • Habit: Evergreen
  • Flower: Medium
  • Fruit/Seed: Small
  • Foliage: Leaves
  • Uses: Edible, Medicinal, Ornamental


Galium odoratum is a Perennial plant in the family Rubiaceae, native to Europe, North Africa and Western Asia.
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.


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). 


File:Illustration Galium odorata0.jpg
Illustration Galium odorata0.jpg
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 "Maiwein" or "Maibowle" in German), syrup for Beer (Berliner Weisse), Brandy, Sausages, jelly, Jam, a soft drink (Tarhun), Ice cream, and a Herbal tea with gentle Sedative properties. In Germany it is also used to flavour Sherbet (powder). Mixed with German "corn Schnapps" (alternative: vodka), it is a popular party drink among young people. It is called "Korn Brause" or "Korn ahoi". Also very popular at parties is Waldmeister flavoured jelly made from vodka.
High doses can cause headaches, due to the toxicity of Coumarin. Very high doses of coumarin can cause vertigo, Somnolence or even central paralysis and Apnoea while in a Coma. Since 1981, Galium odoratum may no longer be used as an ingredient of industrially produced drinks and food stuffs in Germany; it has been replaced by artificial aromas and colorings.