As the name implies: Waldmeister is at home in forests. From April, the expert walker can find there green carpets of the fragrant plant. The woodruff owes its wonderful, aromatic scent its botanical name Galium odoratum. Translated into the German language this means: scented lab herb.
Coumarin in woodruff
The aroma is caused by a chemical compound called coumarin. However, the woodruff does not voluntarily spread its scent because the plant contains only one precursor of the fragrance. Only when plant cells are injured by grinding or wilting do enzymes release the aromatic coumarin.
But coumarin does not just bring flavor and fragrance. In the 1980s, it led to liver damage in animal experiments and was considered carcinogenic. Later investigations refuted this assumption. Nevertheless, coumarin should still be used with caution because it causes high doses of headache, dizziness and nausea. For food, therefore, a maximum of 2 milligrams of coumarin per kilogram is set by law.
This does not apply to sweets and alcoholic beverages with a cap of 10 and chewing gum containing 50 milligrams of coumarin per kilogram. The food industry also uses the non-toxic substances coumaric acid and 6-methylcoumarin. Like coumarin, both can be artificially produced and smell like woodruff.
Woodruff is versatile
Particularly well-known is woodruff in the Maibowle, whose origin lies in the year 845. Healing appreciates its circulation-promoting, relaxing and calming properties. In addition, bouquets in the closet distribute voracious moths. The woodruff widely distributed in Europe is easy to find in the forest. He can be recognized by his thin, four-edged stem, which carries delicate leaves without a stem. The flowering period begins in late May or early June. Contrary to popular belief, coumarin content does not increase, but stems and leaves become harder.
The woodruff is easily confused with the woodweed, a non-toxic botanical relative. This grows in the same locations and can be enjoyed as wild vegetables. Because it lacks the precursor of coumarin, it does not exude the unmistakable, aromatic scent when grinding the leaves.
In home-made jello or maibowle, three grams (about ten plants) of fresh woodruff are enough for a strong aroma. This amount does not trigger any unwanted side effects. It is undisputed that there are more health risks in alcohol than in coumarin.
Recipe: Woodruff punch
For anyone who wants to do without percents - but not on the aroma - here is the recipe for a non-alcoholic, refreshing Waldmeisterbowle.
- A bunch of dried or withered woodruff (about ten plants) in one liter of apple juice. The stems must not come into contact with the liquid, so that no bitter substances pass into the punch.
- After half an hour or two, remove the woodruff, add the lemon juice and mineral water to taste and garnish with woodruff leaves or lemon slices.
From the apple juice with woodruff flavor you can also cook a real jello. To do this, stir gelatine, cornstarch or agar into the warm or boiling Waldmeister apple juice (see instructions for use of the gelling agent) and leave the food to cool. Since the homemade jelly lacks the food coloring, it is of course not as green as the one from the supermarket.