Saturday, September 29, 2012

Master of the Forest

This post is an encore from a series on herbs that first appeared this summer.

Years ago I planted some sweet woodruff  in one of the flower beds
that we had laid out under some black cherry trees.
The sweet woodruff didn't grow as well there as I had hoped;
however, I was able to preserve some of it through drying. 

In the years after we sold that house, 
I kept the dried sweet woodruff inside a glass box,
probably because I had always intended to use it in a recipe I had for May wine.
And I thought it would be fun to honor my German ancestry 
by celebrating May Day with mai wein.
But the dried sweet woodruff remained overlooked for some years.
When I did finally happen upon the box,
the woodruff smelled as sweet as the day I dried it.
Maybe that is one reason why sweet woodruff, asperula odorata,
is called waldmeister or "master of the forest" in German.

sweet woodruff:

But sweet woodruff is not just a German plant, of course.
It has been celebrated in England for centuries as well.
In Flowers and their Histories, Alice M. Coats says that Queen Elizabeth
would bestow a sprig of sweet woodruff on those she favored.
Coats also quotes the herbalist Gerard, who describes sweet woodruff
"'being made up into garlands or bundles, 
and hanged up in houses in the heate of sommer,
in order to "attemper the aire, coole, and make fresh the place...' "

Earlier this summer, 
I planted some sweet woodruff  in a cool, shady, and moist spot.
Thus far it sits, still green, 
but hardly the lush and invasive groundcover I've read it to be.
Perhaps next year it will find its way
and I'll finally make that May wine.
Or I'll tie it into garlands and freshen up the place.

No comments: