This section is from the book "British Wild Flowers - In Their Natural Haunts Vol2-4", by A. R. Horwood. Also available from Amazon: A British Wild Flowers In Their Natural Haunts.
This charming flower spreads its sweet odour of new-mown hay over the countries of the North Temperate Zone, in Europe, North Africa, Siberia, and Western Asia. It is not known earlier than the present day so far. In Great Britain Woodruff occurs generally, but not in Hunts, Mid Lancs, Isle of Man, Stirling. Mid Perth, N. Perth, the Hebrides, or the Orkneys. In Scotland it is found at a height of 1200 ft.
Photo. Flatters & Garnett - Woodruff (asperula Odorata, L.)
Woodruff is entirely a woodland species, luxuriating in the shade under thickly-clustered trees or peeping from between them in the open pathways or rides. With it we may find Sweet Violet, Wood Sorrel, Strawberry, Honeysuckle, Primrose, Wood Loosestrife, Lungwort, Wood Forget-me-not, and many other plants of the woods.
Like other Rubiaceae, this choice flower has its leaves (these are sensitive to light, green in the shade, turning yellow in the strong light in the open) arranged in verticels or whorls, the upper whorls containing 6-9, the lower 2-6 leaves, which are lance-shaped, abrupt, with a point, with rough margins, the prickles directed forward. The rough character is indicated in the first Latin name, the scent in the second. The stems are more or less simple, square, erect, furrowed, and smooth.
The flowers are fairly large and sweet-scented, in terminal corymbs, devoid of leaves, depressed, and conspicuous. The fruits are borne on flower-stalks, are small, roughly hairy, with hooked hairs which catch in the wool of animals and are spine-like in character.
Woodruff is usually not more than 1 foot high. The flowers begin to scent the woods in May continuing right up to June. It is a perennial herbaceous plant propagated by division.
The flowers resemble those of A. cynanchica (Squinancy Wort), in the floral arrangement and the length of the tube. Woodruff is visited by the hive bee, as well as by beetles, flies, and moths. Being conspicuous and sweet-smelling its sylvan habitat is thus counteracted by other advantages.
The fruits are roughly hairy, and dispersed by animals, or fall around the parent plant.
This is a woodland plant, and a humus-loving plant growing in humus soil, of which there is a thick covering in the form of mould in most woods.
The plant is infested by Peronospora calotheca, Pseudopeziza re-panda, Puccinia galii.
The moths Speckled Footman (Eurydice cribrum), Flame (Cidaria rubidata) feed upon it.
Asperula, Dodonaeus, is from the Latin asper, rough, and the second name (Latin) refers to its smell. The latter part of the name Woodruff is supposed to represent a root meaning fragrant. The plant is called Sweet Grass, Scented or Sweet Hair-hoof, Hay Plant, Mug-wet, Petty Mugwet, Rock-wood, Star Grass, Woodrip, Woodrowe, Woodruff. The name Star Grass is applied on account of the whorled leaves.
It was used for decorating churches on St. Barnabas's Day. It was said to have formed the Virgin's bed. The name was written and spelt as a couplet woodde rowffe.
Woodruff was used in Chaucer's day, but had no real curative properties. It was also employed to flavour wine and as a perfume for clothes. It was used for the liver and bile, epilepsy and palsy. It is very acidic.
Essential Specific Characters: 143. Asperula odorata, L. - Stem erect, upper leaves 6-9, in whorl, lower whorls of 2-6 leaves, lanceolate, margins ciliate, flowers white, in terminal panicle, stalked, fruit with rough bristles.