- Name also: Sweet Woodruff
- Family: Bedstraw Family – Rubiaceae
- Growing form: Perennial herb. With many runners, often forms stands.
- Height: 15–30 cm (4–20 in.). Stem erect, usually almost unbranched, 4-edged, glossy, nodes hairy.
- Flower: Corolla shallowly funnel-shaped, white, 4–6 mm (0.16–0.24 in.) broad, fused, 4-lobed. Calyx lacking. Stamens 4. Pistil of 2 basally fused carpels, styles 2. Inflorescence a cyme.
- Leaves: Regular (actinomorphic), 6–8 whorled leaves; stalkless. Blade lanceolate–broadly elliptic, with blunt or sharp tips, tip with clear bristle, upper side almost glabrous, underside and edges slightly hairy, with entire margins.
- Fruit: Almost round, 2–3 mm (0.08–0.12 in.) broad, hook-haired schizocarp.
- Habitat: Rocky broad-leaved forests, stream valleys, springs.
- Flowering time: May–June.
- Endangerment: Near threatened.
The Bedstraw family usually brings to mind sunny meadows and stands of upright bedstraw and lady’s bedstraw growing on banks, but in fact its members grow in very diverse habitats. For instance, woodruff thrives in semi-shade at most and avoids open places. The species flowers in May–June, before tree leaves are fully grown and its habitat gets completely cut off from any sunshine.
Woodruff is the type species of central European beech forests, and its Finnish stands represent the northernmost limit of its habitat. Its most northerly habitats in Finland are springs, where the micro-climate protects them from the harsh winter. Woodruff also thrives in rich, dry broad-leaved forests on the coast and the south-western archipelago.
Fresh woodruff has only a weak fragrance, but when it is dried it exudes a strong smell of coumarin. Woodruff has been used in every place imaginable, from the linen cupboard to flavouring drinks, e.g. in central Europe where Maitrank and Maiwein are woodruff-flavoured wines. Even in wine this herb should be enjoyed in moderation because the coumarin it contains can cause a terrible hangover. Before the advent of nicotine substitutes, smoking a combination of woodruff, coltsfoot and mint was popular amongst those trying to quit. Woodruff is also a popular garden plant under bushes and trees.
Woodruff can be distinguished from fragrant bedstraw, which is slightly more common, by the latter’s limp growing form and its small, usually three-flowered terminal axillary inflorescence. Fragrant bedstraw’s flowers are smaller (2–3 mm) and its flowering time is later, July–August.