JP McMahon: The wonders of woodruff

Regarded as a weed by some, this plant makes a lovely tea or pairs well with asparagus

Woodruff tea is an ancient Irish herbal infusion for many maladies

Woodruff tea is an ancient Irish herbal infusion for many maladies

 

Sweet woodruff is popping up in gardens and woodlands all over the country. Finally, spring has arrived. With the recent weather, the seasons are an awful mess. Cold in spring, hot in autumn, the plants really don’t know when to germinate and grow. This is not only a problem for us, but also in countries further afield, such as Australia.

As you read this, I’m cooking outside Adelaide on Kangaroo Island. It’s autumn here but it’s still dry. There’s been no rain for months. While Australia does have very dry summers, the wet season is important for rejuvenating plant life. Dan Hunter, of Brae Restaurant outside Melbourne (it’s 44 in the San Pellegrino top 50 restaurants), says he doesn’t know how farmers keep going with no rain (January has the lowest rainfall in 10 years). While we don’t seem to have this problem in Ireland, we do have other weather issues. I’ve seen sweet woodruff in February most years but it's late this year. Normally, it’s beginning to flower as we get close to May.

I love to combine it with another wonderful May ingredient, Irish asparagus. Drummond House (producers of asparagus) tell me that despite the weather, it’s coming soon. I can’t wait to use it in Aniar. Maybe with a woodruff tea emulsion and some toasted pumpkin seeds.

Woodruff tea is an ancient Irish herbal infusion for many maladies, but I prefer to drink it for its sweet almond and marzipan flavour. Woodruff grows well in your back garden, so it’s not necessary to go wandering into the woods in search of it. I planted one a couple of years ago and now its in full flight around the garden (some still see it as a weed).

Pick and dry the leaves and infuse into boiling water, as you would make tea. For 100ml woodruff tea, I blend in 200g of butter. Season with a little sea salt. Peel and grill or blanch your asparagus. Toast your pumpkin seeds (or any seeds or nuts for that matter) and then serve the lot together. Woodruff is also a great addition to desserts or lemonades. Always use it dried, as the flavour is more intense.

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