Ok. I didn’t get this posted in time for May Day. So sue me. But since sweet woodruff (aka Galium odoratum) is plentiful all summer long, there’s no reason why you can’t enjoy this infusion any time of year. May wine is made by steeping sweet woodruff in white wine. Drying the herb before infusing it concentrates the flavor of the woodruff and accentuates its lovely, hay-like scent, full of sweetness and vanilla.
Once used as a mattress stuffing (because of its naturally sweet fragrance), this plant is sometimes called lady’s bedstraw. Often grown as a dainty ground cover in shady places, sweet woodruff has escaped cultivation and can often be found growing in moist, slightly acidic soils, especially at abandoned homestead sites. It can be gathered all season long, and while the flowers are also safe to use, they’re not as flavorful as the leaves. Harvest sweet woodruff by snipping off the top few leaves, leaving the base of the plant in place to continue growing.
You may read that sweet woodruff is toxic because it contains coumarin. Please don’t be overly alarmed. Many other things you eat safely contain small amounts of coumarin. “Like what?” you ask. Like strawberries, cherries, cassia cinnamon, artificial vanilla, lavender, and licorice plant (Glycyrrhiza glabra). It’s all about the dosage. You wouldn’t chow down on multiple sticks of cassia bark or Tablespoons of cassia powder, but the amounts usually used in cooking are perfectly safe. As is the amount of sweet woodruff used in this recipe.
In Germany May wine is served to celebrate May Day. May wine punch includes champagne and strawberries, which is tasty, but I prefer a simple infusion to better appreciate the flavor of the herb.
What You’ll Need to Make May Wine
10–12 stems sweet woodruff, 3 – 4 inches long
1 (750 ml) bottle light white wine
What You’ll Do to Make May Wine
To dry the the sweet woodruff stems, place them between two layers of paper towels. Heat them at full power in a microwave for 30 seconds, then check the leaves and continue to heat them in 15-second increments until they’re entirely dry. If you don’t have a microwave, dry your sweet woodruff in a dehydrator at 95°F, or bake them in the oven at the lowest possible temperature until the leaves and stems are dry.
Pour off about four ounces of the wine to prevent spillage. Stuff the dried sweet woodruff down into the bottle, fully submerging it. Re-cork the bottle and let sit overnight. After 24 hours, refrigerate the bottle to chill the wine. When it’s nicely chilled, strain out the herbs and serve the wine.