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I’m in New York this week, which was perhaps serendipitous since it’s May Day, and with it, came a lesson in sweet woodruff from Grandma Pellegrini.

Sweet woodruff, is also known as Master of the Woods. It is a perennial, with small white flowers that bloom in May and June and star-like leaves in circles of six or eight.

On May 1st, the Germans use Sweet Woodruff to make May wine, which they drink both as a spring tonic and to salute the new season.

It has other uses as well — The haylike odor of dried sweet woodruff intensifies and persists for years, which is why it is sometimes used as a fixative for perfumes. It was also once used as a scenting herb for homes and churches and for stuffing mattresses. The dried leaves were even once used to give linen closets a sweet aroma, as well as to keep moths away.

To make May wine, Grandma Pellegrini and I picked 7 stems from a plant we purchased at an herb farm. She’s got big plans for her herb garden this year.

We tied it with some raffia string at the stem.

Then we stuffed it into the opening of the bottle.

And we waited for 15 – 20 minutes. You want to use leaves that are without blossoms and if they are a bit dry that is even better since they will be more potent. You can also use this to sweeten milk or apple juice.

Then you pull it out by the string. You don’t want to leave it in too long, because too much sweet woodruff can be toxic.

Pour it in some glasses.

Float a little in there for some garnish.

And voila! Happy May Day from Grandma P. & me!

“Sweet Woodruff Wine”

Prep Time2 minutes
Cook Time15 minutes
Total Time17 minutes
Servings: 1 bottle


  • 1 bottle white wine
  • 7 stems sweet woodruff


  • Tie the stems of the woodruff with a string and stuff it into the opening of the wine bottle, leaving the string outside the bottle.
  • Let it soak for 15-20 minutes. Remove the bunch and serve the wine!


Ingredients such as brandy, sparkling wine or carbonated water, and sugar can also be added to flavor the drink and create a punch. Strawberries are also often floated in the drink since they are in season.


  • dishinanddishes
    Posted June 16, 2010 at 10:41 pm

    I love this! I am German, and this story is precious! Thanks for sharing!

  • Raptorruner
    Posted July 22, 2012 at 2:18 pm

    Hahahaha, woodruff toxic? I should be dead then.

    I put a healthy handful (none of this seven stems stuff) of woodruff in quart jar wine and just let it sit … at least 20 minutes, in the fridge. Often it sits for weeks in a quart jar (of wine) in the fridge. And I love the way it changes the taste of the wine. I love it so much that I will get buzzed up on it faster, coz I like the way it tastes a lot more. White wine, red wine, pink wine, it improves everything I’ve tried it with.

    Also, I use the same woodruff time after time after time and they just keep kicking out that coumarin flavor!

    If there is anyone who should die of woodruff poisoning, it oughrta be me.

  • maureen
    Posted May 3, 2013 at 11:39 am

    This is the perfect version of May Wine for me to take to my daughter’s 30th b’day party tomorrow. Such a classy nod to spring. I remember tasting it years ago and decided it would be a fun yet “grown up” contribution to the pot luck. There is a vast range of combinations and machinations as there are websites instructing how to make and serve it. This perfectly simple and time-tested version,the story of how it came to be passes down in this making, tasting, sharing,caring event makes this a worthy thread to add to my own family-weaving, b’dy, spring rituals. Thank you Georgia for Sharing your Gr.P’s precious gift. I would like to post the fabulous photo on my fridge….I have just a few inspirational pics that express how I would like to move through the r(B)best of my life. I am 58yrs old would like to age with grace. That pic – toasting life, Spring, family with fruits of her garden and time well-spent. Laptop is the kicker for me….hits a personal note as I am being dragged, and not so graciously into cyber land. She makes it ALL look possible! Maybe I will move from posting inspirational images/pics on the fridge to posting them on my Facebook page! Thanks so much, mj

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