In my tiny wildish garden, nestling at the foot of a tall tree, is sweet woodruff. Her glossy leaves and small white blossoms may be hidden by a profusion of taller plants, but it is her scent that perfumes the air. Fresh, her fragrance (like rain, earth, fresh air and green grass all condensed into one) is the very essence of spring. But dried, her leaves and blossoms truly become magical, releasing a heady sweet scent of fresh hay, flowers, cream, vanilla and almonds.
Linked with spring time outdoor rites and fertility festivals such as May Day or Walpurgis Night, she was (and still is) the starring ingredient in May Wine or Maibowle, traditionally drunk on May Day. This association with fertility and abundance is no doubt the reason why Sweet Woodruff is said to bestow, prosperity, wealth and “make the heart merry”. And according to the author of Night of the Witches: Folklore, Traditions & Recipes for Celebrating Walpurgis Night “If you want to know what Walpurgisnacht smells like, dry some sweet woodruff and stick your nose in it.”
Long used as strewing herb in homes and churches (to ward off evil) in sachets, to stuff mattresses and pillows, in potpourri and perfumes, sweet woodruff was also used to infuse milk, cream, sauces, glazes for tarts and cakes. Which is why when it comes to spell casting, I chose a creamy Magic Cake as my food vessel – as it is most appropriately named!
Magic Cake is Pinterest’s most popular recipe – ever – which gives it a unique abundance magic of its own! Oh so simple to whip up, it’s made by combining mounds of fluffy whipped egg whites into the batter which “magically” bakes into a what looks like a fancy layered cream cake with a light “cakey” top and a rich custardy bottom. For my prosperity cake I chose a spelt and whole-wheat flour combo and organic golden cane sugar. (Wealthy AND healthy right?) You can also go non-gluten and there are plenty of recipes online.
I infused dried sweet woodruff leaves in the cream for three days (a magical number) bringing forth her flavours and powers to grant plentitude. And for good measure I added couple of teaspoons of powdered dried leaves to the cake batter. It turned out pretty wonderful, moist with a slight Marzipan(ish) flavour, only creamier and greener.
Sweet Woodruff is a common ground cover garden plant, and while it is native to Europe it has naturalized in many of our forests. Leaves and flowers should be harvested just before and during blooming, but they must dried or at least wilted before using to capture their flavour/aroma. The stems are bitter, so make sure you just use leaves and blossoms.
When steeped in milk — overnight or for several days — Sweet Woodruff makes vanilla scented drink to help ease anxiety and bring on sleep. As a tea sweet woodruff is thought to possess tonic properties (especially for the liver) as well as digestive supportive, anti-inflammatory, anti-arthritic and diuretic actions.
Sweet woodruff contains coumarin, a natural plant substance used as anticoagulant, so it is not for people on blood thinning medications. When dried the coumarin is present in extremely small amounts – so it is perfectly safe for most people to consume. It is also found in yeast, many herbs, spices, and green vegetables, including chamomile, and cinnamon. But be warned, for those prone to migraines, coumarin has been implicated in the onset of attacks.
For this recipe you’ll need to harvest three large handfuls of leaves (they wilt down next to nothing). You can either hang these bunches to dry or remove the leaves and flowers immediately (they will dry much faster) and place them in a warm, dark area. I like to do both as the bunches can also function as “prosperity” charms when hung throughout the house. Plus they infuse the air with delicious fresh scent!
I’m going to be baking this cake again for May Day Eve (April 29th) also known as Floralia by the Romans, Walpurgisnacht by the Teutons and Beltane by the Celts. This is a high time for magic as it falls exactly six months from All Hallow’s Eve, or Samhain, and thus was also a night when the veil between the worlds thinned. As a result ghosts, fairies, shapeshifter and witches were at their most powerful, which is why it is also known as Hexennacht, from the Dutch (Heksennacht) meaning Witches’ Night.
Germanic legends and folklore tell that on Walpurgis Night witches would fly through the night to gather on a high mountain in Germany known as the Brocken, where according to the Church, they indulged in orgiastic rites with the devil himself! Most likely these witches were just indulging in a little old fertility magic like their counterparts in the British Isles who after a day of revelry, Maypole Dancing, drinking May Wine (with Sweet Woodruff!) would head into the farm fields at nightfall for a little copulatory fertility magic.
Which brings me back quite naturally to this sinfully luscious Sweet Woodruff Cake. Infused with woodland enchantment, this delicious food magic channels all the fertile energy of this cross quarter time (halfway between spring and summer) into abundant growth and prosperity.
And on May Day Eve, I invite you to join me. By baking this magical Sweet Woodruff cake we can combine our magical powers together and cast a powerful blessing to enrich us, one and all and make our hearts merry. And here’s a little prosperity spell to say over your cake, while you’re making it, while it’s baking or just before you serve it. Abracadabra!
Money, money come to me
In abundance three times three
May I be enriched in the best of ways
Harming none on its way
This I accept, so mote it be
Bring me money three times three!
Sweet Woodruff Prosperity Cake
- 1 cup & 2 tsp. of DRIED Sweet Woodruff leaves and flowers (no stems!)
- 4 large egg yolks
- 4 large egg whites, at room temperature
- 3/4 cup organic cane sugar (or whatever sugar you like)
- 2 tablespoons cold water
- 8 tablespoons melted butter
- 3/4 cup of wholewheat, or spelt, or all purpose flour
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 tsp. lemon zest
- 2 cups light cream
- Powdered icing sugar for dusting
- Three days before making your cake: Take your dried sweet woodruff and place in your cream. Stir well. Cover and allow to sit in a warm place for 24hrs. Then transfer to fridge. After two days, strain the plant material from the cream.
- Line a 8 X 8 inch square pan with sheets of parchment paper. Leave a generous amount sticking out from the sides. These will be your “handles” when you take the cake out of the pan.
- Heat Oven to 325°F.
- In a large bowl, beat the egg yolks, sugar and water together until creamy and the sugar is dissolved. 5 to 6 minutes.
- Drizzle in the melted butter into the egg yolk mixture and mix well.
- Add in the flour, lemon zest, salt and two tsp. of dried woodruff (crumbled into a powder) then blend until fully combined. Add the milk or cream and and mix them in gently.
- Whisk the egg whites on high speed until the egg whites hold stiff peaks.
- Add the egg whites to the yolk mixture and flour mixture. Stir VERY gently with a large spoon just a dozen or so times, leaving large clumps of egg whites in the batter. Do not overmix!
- Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and bake until the edges are set, the top is a warm brown, and the center is still a wee bit wobbly. 50 to 55 minutes.
- Leave the cake in the pan at room temperature until completely cooled. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours before serving. Best left overnight.
- Dust with icing sugar and serve!