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

same order.

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

[609] 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.

[610] 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.