I need him. I want him. I must have him! Will he be out today? It’s been months since our last rendezvous. My heart yearns for our next encounter. Be patient, I tell myself. Timing is everything. Oh and when I find him, I know exactly what I’m going to do. I’ve rehearsed this moment over and over in my mind…
His name is Waldmeister and he’s the “Master of the Forest.”
He’s not the musky forest ranger you might be thinking, although that would be fun for a night. I replay a few different woodland scenarios in my mind, most of which include a picnic basket and a little red cape…the Germans call this kind of fantasy a “mind movie.” A unique translation, but that’s why I love German.
And there’s my neighbor Franz…the (Holzsäger) saw-milling outcast in the small farm village I live. He’s very forest-like, but he’s definitely not a Meister; his world revolves around sawing tree trunks into planks. I’m quite sure there’s a world of moss, twigs and lichens growing under his green overalls.
Franz is an old bachelor farmer whose source of income is selling off parcels of the family farm piece by piece, pissing off his extended family and neighbors. Everyone wants their slice of the Bodensee pie. Land is very valuable here—and productive—with most of it planted in orderly fruit orchards. I know how this game goes; it’s a classic tale of greed and human frailty. Ah, but well, some things never change and history repeats.
I like Franz anyway, even if his house is the only one in town that’s falling down around him—a nightclub for feral cats. In Germany this is not okay. You’d be better off in the States, I want to tell him but it’s too late for that. Most of the houses in Vermont look worse and their residents have ivy-league PhDs. However, this is Germany and I am expected to sweep the road in front of my house, polish the white Baroque gate with a toothbrush, and perform other immaculate duties. Es ist wie es ist. When in Rome.
Franz smells eternally of wood-chips and oil, he has this crazed Dustbowl farmer look with bright blue eyes. He plays dumb, but I know better. He looks at me like a man hungry for Spannferkel (roasted piglet) fresh off the spit. His hands are intimidating—disproportionately larger than any other feature, a bear’s paw that grabbed my ass on one occasion. It was right before a big hail storm blew in over the alps across Lake Constance, wind and rain whipping at my front door. I was fumbling for the key and realized I’d forgotten it inside. I raced to Franz to use his dial phone and call my landlord. It’s my fault he made a pass; I was wearing a pink spandex bike outfit, tighter than the bark on a sycamore tree, twittering like a damsel. I wasn’t offended in the slightest, but I did turn down the offer to help him saw wood planks the next day.
Getting back to the story of the true Waldmeister….digressions are allowed. It’s a foppish Blogstory after all.
The Waldmeister I’m looking for is a shy devil, a very unassuming fellow who prefers the peace and quiet of the forest floor. English speakers know him as Sweet Woodruff. What a name! If I had a son, I would name him Woodruff. Why not? It’s cute and it sounds noble in a canine way. Hey, don’t laugh at my son’s name!
Sweet woodruff was an important medieval herb used to stuff mattresses, stashed in linen closets to ward off moths, to fragrance perfumes and oils, representing humility in church rituals and medicinally as a spring tonic called May Wine. For herbalists who wildcraft in Europe, this is a bucket-list recipe. I’m eager to serve it at my first garden party this year. It’s refreshing, sparkly and light…happiness in a glass. We need more of this to rise above the encroaching tide of bilge water seeping in everywhere.
I didn’t grow up with this plant in New England as it never naturalized well there. He prefers the Eurasian continent. Woodruff is sensitive and discerning, admirable traits in both man and plant.
Delicate white flowers are the culprit for the swooning scent, becoming more potent as they wilt and dry out. For making May Wine, it’s best to let them dry a day before adding to two bottles of white wine. Let steep overnight with some mashed strawberries. The next day, strain. Add one bottle of sparkling white or rosé wine, add ice and garnish with fresh mint. Clink glasses and drink. Good for heart and liver, this elixir was “discovered” by a Benedictine monk at Prüm Abbey during the 9th century in a far-flung region called the Eifel, near the Luxembourg/France border. (I only know this because I bike there)
I admit that I’m trigger-happy, a Frühschießer too eager to get what I want, right away. So American, I chastise myself. Instant gratification is the baby formula I grew up on, so it’s taken years abroad to learn that hard work and patience do bring greater rewards. Thank you, Europe.
I don’t find Waldmeister on this outing, but I do find dandelions (Löwenzahn), chickweed (Vogelmiere), ramps (Bärlauch), and nettle (Brennessel). The wild greens go into the collection sack, soon to become a delicious Spring-tonic soup and a pesto sauce. It’s still a bit early for woodruff. I’ll check again in a couple weeks.
One last thing…there are two other elite blossoms that compete with Waldmeister for best spring fragrance here. One is the Linden tree, whose blossoms smell like the breath of Arc-Angels, a soprano scent of citrus-lilac. The blossoms make a calming bedtime tea. The other is Elderflower. These honey-colored blossoms are reminiscent of butterfly tears and a newborn bee’s butt. Boil these blossoms into a syrup and you have Europe’s most beloved cocktail and juice mixer.
Oh green lushness, thank you for offering your chlorophyll blood, true matrix of life. Some might think life in the country is boring.