Concerning the Sweet Woodruff (Asperula odorata), it is a
favourite little plant growing commonly in our woods and gardens,
with a pleasant smell which, like the good deeds of the worthiest
persons, delights by its fragrance most after death. This herb is of
the Rubiaceous order, and gets its botanical name from the Latin
asper, rough, in allusion to the rough leaves possessed by its
It may be readily recognised by its small white flowers set on a
slender stalk, with narrow leaves growing round it in successive
whorls, just as in the Cleaver (Goosegrass), which belongs to the
The name Woodruffe has been whimsically spelt Woodderowffe,
Double U, double O, double D, E
R, O, double U, double F, E.
Its terminal syllable, ruff, is derived from rofe, a wheel,--with
the diminutive rouelle, a little wheel or rowel, like that of an
ancient spur,--which the verticillate leaves of this herb closely
resemble. They serve to remind us also of good Queen Bess, and of
the high, starched, old-fashioned ruff which she is shown to wear
 in her portraits. Therefore, the plant is known as Woodrowel.
When freshly gathered, it has but little odour, but when dried it
exhales a delightful and lasting aroma, like the scent of meadow
grass, or of peach blossoms.
A fragrant and exhilarating tea may be made from the leaves and
blossoms of the sweet Woodruffe, and this is found to be of service
in correcting sluggishness of the liver. When it is desired, says
Mr. Johns, to preserve the leaves merely for their scent, the stem
should be cut through just below and above a joint, and the leaves
pressed in such a way as not to destroy their star-like arrangement.
Gerard tells us: The flowers are of a very sweet smell, as is the rest
of the herb, which, being made up into garlands or bundles, and
hanged up in houses, in the heat of summer, doth very well attemper
the air, cool and make fresh the place, to the delight and comfort of
such as are therein.
The agreeable odour of this sweet Woodruffe is due to a chemical
principle named coumarin, which powerfully affects the brain;
and the plant further contains citric, malic, and rubichloric acids,
together with some tannic acid.
Another species of the same genus is the Squinancy Woodruff
(Asperula cynanchica), so called from the Greek cynanche,
which means quinsy, because an excellent gargle may be made from
this herb for the troublesome throat affection here specified, and for
any severe sore throat. Quinsy is called cynanche, from the Greek
words, kuon, a dog, and ancho, to strangle, because the
distressed patient is compelled by the swollen state of his highly
inflamed throat, to gasp with his mouth open like a choking dog.
 This plant is found growing in dry pastures, especially on a
chalky or limestone soil, but it is not common; it has very narrow
leaves, and tufts of lilac flowers.
Reverting to the Sweet Woodruff, the dried herb may be kept
amongst linen, like lavender, to preserve it from insects.
She--Fresh Woodruff soaks
To brew cool drink, and keep away the moth.
--A. Austin, Poet Laureate.
It was formerly employed for strewing churches, littering chambers,
and stuffing beds. Withering declares that its strongly aromatic
flowers make an infusion which far exceeds even the choice teas of
China. The powdered leaves are mixed with fancy snuffs, because
of their enduring fragrance.