I tried to grow sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum) once, only to have it die out. Maybe the soil got too dry that summer.

Maybe I was lucky and avoided introducing a potentially invasive species that is related to the common spreading weed called bedstraw, and, with its whorled leaves, looks a lot like that plant.

Ohio State says sweet woodruff “can be mildly invasive under optimum conditions, especially where moisture is adequate for summer-long flushes of growth.”

Cornell University says it’s noninvasive but is “aggressive — under optimum conditions spreads rapidly by slender creeping rhizomes and self-seeding, but other plants can come up through the foliage.”

Memories of May wine flavored with sweet woodruff have me growing the plant again. I also love the delicate appearance of the plant and its fragrance, often described as freshly mown hay, as it grows and is dried. Many sources suggest that its fine textured foliage is a great ground cover under azaleas and rhododendrons and among spring-flowering bulbs.

So I’ve kept a division of a friend’s plant in a pot for a couple of years, until now it’s sizable enough that it should succeed in the garden. Plants can also be propagated by seed or by transplanting rooted stems.

Native to temperate Asia and Europe and hardy to Zone 4 (some say Zone 3), this perennial in the Rubiaceae (madder or bedstraw) family is often recommended as a ground cover in a partially shady to full shady spot with moist, organic-rich soil, along the edge of a woodland garden, for instance. It’s deer resistant, an added bonus.

Woodruff grows to about 6 to 12 inches tall and spreads 12 to 20 inches, so plants are usually set about a foot apart in the garden. It tolerates a wide range of pH values, from 4.5 to 8.5, according to Jim Simon et al. (Simon, J.E., A.F. Chadwick and L.E. Craker. 1984. “Herbs: An Indexed Bibliography.” 1971-1980. hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/med-aro/factsheets/woodruff). Cornell University puts the range at 4.3 to 8.3 but adds that the plant prefers a slightly acid soil (gardening.cornell.edu/homegardening/scenea6bc).

In temporarily dry soils, sweet woodruff may wither, but will often recover once the ground is wet again. I read of one gardener who planted it at the base of her downspout.

The odoratum part of G. odoratum refers to the sweet scent of the plant, which is reportedly due to one of its main chemical constituents, coumarin, and which increases as the plant wilts and dries; hence, the use of the plant in sachets and as a fixative in perfumes. Both the flowers, which appear in late spring and early summer, and the foliage are fragrant.

As an edible herb, fresh woodruff leaves, say Simon: “are used as flavoring agents in nonalcoholic and alcoholic beverages. May wine is prepared by adding fresh springs of woodruff to Rhine wine.”

Sweet woodruff has a long list of chemical constituents and a long list of traditional and folk medicinal uses: As an antispasmodic; diaphoretic, to increase sweating; diuretic, to increase urination; and stomachic, to improve appetite and digestion; and to treat jaundice, nervousness, heal wounds and to regulate heart activity, say Simon.

Coumarins in sweet woodruff are indirect anticoagulants, that is, they interfere with an enzyme that recycles vitamin K; so check with a health-care practitioner before using this herb, especially if you’re already on medicines that increase the risk of bleeding.

Simon, et al, say that woodruff “is generally recognized as safe for human consumption in alcoholic beverages,” but various sources warn that high doses can cause headaches and even more severe problems; and they recommend against ingesting the plant if pregnant.

Johannes Seidemann says, in “World Spice Plants” (Springer-Verlag 2005), “In Germany and other European countries the use of this plant to produce essences for sale is prohibited (high coumarine content).”

And in her book “Wicked Plants —The Weed That Killed Lincoln’s Mother & Other Botanical Atrocities,” Amy Stewart says of sweet woodruff: “Ingesting the plant at high doses could bring on dizziness, paralysis, and even coma and death; recipes for homemade May wine recommend picking young leaves in spring before the plant blooms, and using them sparingly. In the United States the plant is not considered a safe food additive except as a flavoring in alcoholic beverages.”

This pretty little delicate-looking plant is rather deceptive!