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The classic May punch is inconceivable without woodruff, but the green jello from childhood or the Berliner Weisse also taste like this herb. While the punch actually contains woodruff (bot. Gallium odoratum), the other "delicacies" are flavored because the herb is considered slightly poisonous. So it's no wonder if the enjoyment of Maibowle gives one or the other a headache.

Is woodruff poisonous?

Fragrant bedstraw, another name for woodruff, contains coumarin glycoside, a secondary plant substance with a pleasantly spicy but also somewhat peculiar smell. By drying and/or withering the woodruff, the coumarin glycoside is converted into coumarin and the typical woodruff scent is clearly perceptible. If you consume large amounts of coumarin, this substance is harmful to your health. Woodruff counts as slightly toxic.

Coumarin glycoside is contained in all parts of the woodruff. The content increases during flowering, so it is best to only use the fragrant bedstraw before flowering, even if it then smells and tastes less intense. Fragrant bedstraw usually blooms in May, sometimes well into June. It prefers to grow in shady deciduous forests.

For whom is the fragrant bedstraw poisonous?

For adults, the consumption of woodruff is usually considered harmless, but the consumption of larger quantities entails dangers. Children and some pets such as cats or dogs should not eat the herb at all, as even small amounts can be dangerous for them. Fragrant bedstraw does not pose any danger to rabbits. It is even recommended to feed the herb regularly, as it promotes blood circulation, calms and aids digestion. It is also said to help with bladder or kidney stones.


  • a headache
  • drowsiness
  • dizziness
  • Vomit

tip: If consumed frequently or in large quantities, the coumarin-containing woodruff can cause liver damage.


Confectionery and lemonades that are mainly eaten or drunk by children must no longer contain any coumarin. Only flavorings are used here. May punch and other alcoholic beverages can contain traces of it, but a coumarin content of five milligrams per liter must not be exceeded.

tip: If you want to prepare fresh May punch yourself, then you should not use more than about three grams of fresh herb per liter of finished punch.

In naturopathy, the fragrant bedstraw can be used as a spring cure, it also has anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic and vasodilating effects. Above all, the fresh leaves are collected before flowering, i.e. from April to May or June. They can be processed into tea, liqueur or punch or used as a flavoring for milk, desserts and spirits. For this, the leaves are usually slightly dried.
risk of confusion

Woodruff is easily confused with other rennet herbs. However, cleavers are much larger. Cleaver is more likely to be found in meadows than in shady forests.

notice: Please note that this article is by no means a substitute for a doctor's visit. There is no guarantee of the correctness of medical statements.
Detailed information on first aid in the event of poisoning and important information on the poison control centers can be found here.

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