Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Woodruff/ Skovmærke

woodruff, Lisbjerg

Asperula odorata
(Galium odoratum)

The woodruff with the fragile stalks and with 6-8 leaves in each ring has in May-June a tassel of white flowers in the top. The fruits are coated with hook-curved brushes, which help disperse them by sticking temporarily to clothing and animal fur. The plant is common in humus forest floor. The dried plant is very fragrant. It is ideal as a groundcover or border accent in woody, acidic gardens where other shade plants fail to thrive. Deer avoid eating it.

Woodruff is native to Europe, North Africa and Western Asia. Its names include woodruff, sweet woodruff, wild baby's breath and master of the woods. It is sometimes confused with Galium triflorum and Galium verum.

(The common Danish name is skovmærke eller bukkar). 

The plant owes its sweet smell to the odiferous agent coumarin and is sometimes used as a flavouring agent due to its contents of this chemical .This scent increases on wilting and then persists on drying, and the dried plant is used in pot-pourri and as a moth deterrent. It is also used to flavour May-wine (called "Maibowle" in German), syrup for beer, brandy, sausages, jelly, jam, ice cream and herbal tea. High doses can cause headaches, due to the toxicity of coumarin.

Lisbjerg skov in May
Old Traditions:

1700-1800s:  When the woodruff  was in flower, the schoolteacher went out in the forest with the children to pluck woodruff and bind pretty garlands which were hung in the school room, spreading a wonderful scent all through summer.

Young girls went to the forest on Whit Monday to make bride garlands from woodruff and other flowers - and a girl crowned the guy whom she chose as her whitsun-bridegroom.

Around the 1870s the garlands were an important sales product on the markets and the city squares, where many "garland-women" were selling from big baskets, filled with garlands. Poor women and children went to the forest to pluck woodruff and were sitting all night binding garlands, and at dawn they went to the nearest town to sell them. The custom was widespread up till 1954.

1900s: From a big farm at Zealand all women went out each spring to pluck woodruff. The lady of the house made a garland of a thin hazel branch,wound with moss, and bouquets were bound upon the hazel-ring. Each year they made two or three such garlands, and the lady's husband had one which he used as a barometer.

 Common Use:
Lisbjerg skov in May
The most common tradition was to place the green garlands upon the wall or above the stove in a sewing thread from the ceiling - or in the lamp above the table, upon a mirror etc. until next spring. The green garlands were often considered to bring luck to the house. People gave a garland to a good friend to bring him or her luck - or a tiny bouquet dried woodruff was put into letters or in a book as a memory.
A fine dried bouquet decorated a vase in winter, or was bound with a golden band to decorate a photo of a dear friend or a deceased.

It was a common use to put bouquets of woodruff among clothes and furs in closets and drawers. The strong scent was meant to drive moths away and bring a fine perfume to the clothes and their owners. The girls put woodruff among their clean linen. The dried plant was also used for smoking away bad smell in the room.

Woodruff mixed with other dried leaves makes a good tea. In times with a lack of tobacco dried woodruff was used like tobacco.

The dried woodruff garland was used as a barometer. If the smell grew very strong in summer it meant that rain was on its way. It was dangerous to the health to have a woodruff garland in the bedroom.
The woodruff had to be plucked on Maundy Thursday, then it would give a beautiful scent all year. At least it had to be plucked before 1. May, since the witches were pissing on them after Walpurgisnight -  and then the woodruff would lose its fine scent.

People put woodruff in wine to make it tasty. It was put on snaps for a liqueur, and an essence from the plant was part of an angostura. The fresh shots put on snaps gave it the scent from the plant and a chartreusegreen colour. A handfull woodruff was put in a bottle of dry white wine with 100 g dissolved sugar; after the quarter of an hour the plants were strained - and it was said that this May-drink tasted heavenly.

Lisbjerg Skov in May

Folk Medicine
 Harpestreng ab. 1300: strengthens the stomach and the liver; the juice cleanses the body for scab and blisters.
Henrik Smid 1546: put in a wine extract in May refreshes the heart and the bad liver. Women bathed their childrens' rash with tea from the plant. Tired feet were relieved by footbath in a decoction.
1700s: The herb was listed in the Pharmacopoeia in 1772. The juice was described as stomach tonic.

It was known as an old "house remedy" to cook dried woodruff together with unsalted butter into an ointment to be used upon stroke- and flesh wounds, old wounds, scab, frost, the cow's sore udder, chapped tits and festered fingers.

1800s:  a garland of woodruff placed by the woman in childbirth eased the birth. A hot footbath in a decoction of the plant drew the blood from the head. It was also used against toothache.
Woodruff was an ingrediense in a piece of advice for dog bites.
When the cows were grazing in the forest they had a decoction of the dried woodruff garland, which protected them against blood piss from eating certain plants in the forest.
Green or dried woodruff was given to dogs against rabies.

Source: V.J. Brøndegaard, "folk og flora", Dansk Etnobotanik, bd. 4, Rosenkilde og Bagger 1979.

photo May 2008 in Lisbjerg skov Aarhus : grethe bachmann

Monday, February 25, 2013

5 Good Things for Your Health

Watercress protects against cancer

Research from University of Ulster in North Ireland shows that watercress can minimize the risc of cancer. The test involved that 60 persons between 19 and 55 years ( including 30 smokers) eat 85g fresh watercress each day for 8 weeks. It showed that watercress both reduces the DNA damage (which can lead to cancer) and increases the the ability of the infected cells to avoid further damage from the free radicals

Watercress contains more than 15 essential vitamins and minerals and has through centuries been used as a super food. It contains more iron than spinach, more C-vitamin than oranges and more calcium than milk.

Watercress is fine in salads, and for soups, herb butter or as assecories for meat.

A handfull of nuts between meals.

30 gram nuts - it's a little handfull -  that's good for you each day. Choose the nuts you like best. Nuts contain proteins, fibers, vitamins, minerals and not least the healthy fats. The healthy substances in the nuts can lower the cholesterol, boost the digestion, strengthen your immune systeme and lower your blood pressure.  The nuts saturate, give new energy and are easy to bring with you. They are best in their natural version, not salted or fried. A handfull of nuts is a good snack between meals.

Elderberry against a winter-cold

You can buy yourself an extra shot of health by making some elderberry soup or juice. The research shows that the elderberry juice can reduce fever, fatigue, headache and relieve sore throats. A glass of elderberry juice or a cup of soup is a real vitamin bomb with a high content of C-vitamins and flavonoids, which promote the inclusion of the vitamins.

 Milk is good for your teeth.

Enjoy your café latte! When you are drinking it you also strenghten your chance to keep your own teeth. The high content of calcium in dairy products protects against the development of caries and gingivitis. A cheese sandwich does not give the same since the calcium has to be added together with the more liquid dairy products.  


Saffron controls your desire for sugar.

We have often a tendency to put the saffron in the back of the spice cabinet, where it is collecting dust, but this is a shame. New tests show that saffron brings more than colour and taste to the food. The pretty and precious spice also helps to stabilize the blood sugar, preventing you from desiring candy and cakes. So it's good sense to use the pretty saffron more often - it brings a delicate taste to rice dishes, poultry, grilled shrimps, homebaked bread etc.

Sources: Your Health, Magasin Søndag "Nyt om din Sundhed" 2012/2013.

photo: gb

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Looking for the Wolf..........

It was a dark, gloomy day in February, just after Valentine's Day. If you were up in a jetplane you would not be able to see the earth down there under a thick wet cloud, covering most of the country. What to do? It was tour-day and it was certainly not photo-weather.
There had been much talk lately about the wolf coming back to Denmark after 200 years. A wolf in North Jutland, another one near Ringkøbing and a  third wolf, seen in Mid Jutland. I was enthusiastic about getting a photo of this fine animal. The place where it was seen was not far away. So we went out looking for the wolf. There was not much traffic in the territory, no other wolf-watchers!!  I looked across the fields and ahead of the roads while we were driving until my eyes hurt. The only living creature was a little black cat, hunting in a snowy field. A little tiger..........  



The first Wolf.
In September 2012 a group of birdwatchers were looking for the white-tailed eagle in a nature reserve in Thy, when they suddenly observed a big dog - or was it a wolf? -  in a desolate place in the reserve. Kim Frost from Nykøbing (Mors) took a series of photos which seemed convincing. He was sure it was a wolf. Others were of the opinion that it might as well be a big German shepherd, but everyone awaited eagerly more information about the alleged wolf. And the sensation really happened. The famous animal was found dead in the Hanstholm reserve in November, and the examination and DNA-test proved that it was a wolf  - and that it came from the German wolf population. This was really a Danish sensation. The wolf had come back to Denmark after 199 years! The last wild Danish wolf was shot in 1813.

photo of wolf in Thy

The second Wolf. 

In December 2012 was seen a new wolf in West Jutland by a group of hunters and a police patrol, but they could do nothing but observe the situation, since the wolf is protected. The new observation was just one among many. Several local people reported to have seen a wolf and a lady took a photo from her kitchen window.

photo of second wolf 


How the Wolf comes to Denmark. 
A zoologist, Mogens Trolle, describes why we now begin to see wolves in the Danish nature. The nature of the young wolves make them spread. When they grow up they leave their parents fo find an area where they can make their own territory. Some wolves walk a very long way, up to 1.500 kilometer - and young wolves come to Denmark to find a good place to settle, which is not occupied beforehand. The wolves have spread  west in Germany and live closer and closer to Denmark. During only two generations the wolves have adapted the socalled cultural landscape and replaced their food of red deer with roe deer. The German wolves can easily live in the Danish farm landscape with its multitude of roe deer..
Mogens Trolle does not expect that we shall see pack of wolves in the Danish landscape in the nearest future. Firstly the lone wolf will arrive, but if a male and female meet in Denmark or join close to the border, they will go north together, and then we can get our first wolf couple in Denmark. When they get wolf cubs, it is actually a pack, but a pack of wolves will not walk up here from Germany - the wolves will gradually arrive as individuals, and there is an increasing chance that they then form a family, says Mogens Trolle.


The third Wolf.
Last week  ab. 10 february a lady saw a wolf running across the road in front of her car in a forest near Bryrup in Mid Jutland. She was not in doubt that it was a wolf.

So it was this third wolf we were looking for on this bleak Saturday, driving through the land where the lone wolf was seen, through the dark forests and passing still snow-covered fields. At a place at Torup Lake we saw some tracks which might be wolf tracks but they were not good enough as a proof. Actually the tracks were in a path which goes into a piece of land we know from the summer period, and where almost no one comes in a snowy, frosty winter like this. But the track was not a solid proof.

We did not see the lone wolf. Maybe he saw us.

I would really be happy if I could get a fine photo of a wild wolf, living in nature. The only photo I have is this miserable one from a park at Djursland.   

photo Mid Jutland 16 February 2013: grethe bachmann
photo wolf: 8 March 2008 Djursland.

Sources: Mogens Trolle, wikipedia, Naturstyrelsen, Midtjyllands Avis, local people.

Addition (photo of the third wolf):

 The third wolf  
photo from robotcamera: 

In the days after it showed that the wolf (or maybe there is more than one wolf at Harrild hede) - is too fond of sheep, and there is a problem now which has to be solved. A sheepfarmer has lost 19 sheep - and there is no compensation-rules in Denmark in a situation like this. It has not yet been proved if it is the wolf or dogs gone amok. But it is probably the wolf.

Sunday, February 10, 2013