Our native Meadowsweet is a familiar sight in damp woods and meadows, on the banks of streams or wet ditches throughout Europe, including the British Isles.
It has fernlike foliage and tufts of graceful, fragrant creamy-white flowers, which are in blossom from June to almost September.
The plant forms clumps of upright growth. Handsome, deeply veined leaflets are held on arching stems, with fine-toothed leaflets. They are dark green on top and whitish and downy underneath. The flowers are small, clustered close together and have a strong, sweet smell.
This easy-to-grow plant that's ideal for boggy areas of the garden or beside water.
As a herb the whole plant possesses a pleasant taste and flavour, the green parts partaking of the aromatic character of the flowers. It has been used as a medicinal plant since ancient times and it remains popular as an herbal remedy. It makes a delicious and healthy tea.
Meadow Sweet is used widely in pot-pourri as both the leaves and flowers have a sweet, fragrant scent.
Sow seeds spring in March to May.
Place seeds on the surface of seed compost and cover with a sprinkling of compost or vermiculite. Place in a propagator or seal container inside a polythene bag and keep at 20-25°C (68-77°F) until after germination which takes up to 21 days. Keep compost on the dry side at all times. Do not exclude light.
Transplant seedlings when large enough to handle into trays or pots. Grow on in cooler conditions for a few days before planting out after all risk of frost, 30cm (12in) apart. Apply a mulch of compost for added winter protection. Do not let plants dry out as they may become susceptible to powdery mildew. To control their tendency to seed everywhere, remove the faded flowers before they set seed.
Meadowsweet Tea Benefits have been long recognised in the realm of traditional folk medicine as being effective in the treatment of coughs and colds. Its vaunted health benefits have leapt into the sphere of modern medicine and proof is that the German government officially recognises meadowsweet tea as a mode of treatment for cough and cold.
The flowers are gathered during the flowering period from and should be dried gently.
The flowers can be added to stewed fruit and jams, giving them a subtle almond flavour.
Dried, the flowers are used in pot pourri.
It is a frequently used spice in Scandinavian varieties of mead.
A natural black dye can be obtained from the roots by using a copper mordant.
Filipendula ulmaria is a perennial herb in the family Rosaceae. It is native throughout most of Europe and Western Asia where it commonly grows in damp meadows.
The old botanical name for meadowsweet is Spiraea ulmaria, from where Bayer derived the name aspirin.
The new botanical name Filipendula comes from filum, meaning "thread" and pendulus, meaning "hanging." This is said to describe the root tubers that hang characteristically on the genus, on fibrous roots.
The name ulmaria means "elmlike", an odd epithet as it does not resemble the elm (Ulmus) in any way. However, like slippery elm bark, the plant contains salicylic acid, which has long been used as a painkiller, and this may be the source of the name.
The common name, Meadowsweet, is said to be derived from the Anglo-Saxon word medu, meaning 'mead', because the plant was once used to flavour the drink made from fermented honey. Other common names include: Bridewort, meadow queen, meadow-wort, dollof, meadsweet, pride of the meadow, queen of the meadow, lady of the meadow.
Meadowsweet was one of the three herbs held most sacred to the Druids (Vervain and Water-mint being the other two). It is one of the fifty ingredients in a drink called 'Save,' mentioned in Chaucer's Knight's Tale, in the fourteenth century, being called Medwort, or Meadwort.
Meadowsweet was known as Bridewort, because it was strewn in churches for festivals and weddings, and often made into bridal garlands. In the 16th century, when it was customary to strew floors with rushes and herbs, both to give warmth underfoot and to overcome smells and infections.
John Gerard describes it thus:
'The leavs and floures farr excell all other strong herbs, for to deck up houses, to straw in chambers, halls, and banqueting houses in summer time, for the smell thereof makes the heart merrie, delighteth the senses...
And it was said, too, that
'Queene Elizabeth of famous memory, did more desire it than any other herb to strew her chambers withall.'
In 1838 the Italian Rafaele Piria first produced salicylic acid from the flowerbuds of meadowsweet and from willow bark (Salix alba). In 1897, Felix Hoffmann, who was looking for something to help his father's rheumatism, created a synthetically altered version of salicin, derived from the species, which caused less digestive upset than pure salicylic acid. While the benefits of this compound as a pain-relieving drug had been known for thousands of years, this was the first palatable and acceptable form to be found.
The new drug, formally acetylsalicylic acid, was named aspirin by Hoffman's employer Bayer AG after the old botanical name for meadowsweet, Spiraea ulmaria. This gave rise to the class of drugs known as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
- Additional Information
Family Rosaceae Genus Filipendula Species ulmaria Cultivar Wildflower of Britain and Ireland Synonym Spiraea ulmaria Common Name Wildflower of Britain and Ireland Other Language Names IR. Airgead luachra Hardiness Hardy Perennial Flowers Blue/Glaucous in Summer Height to 1 metre (36in) Spread 50cm (20in) Position Full Sun to part shade Notes Herb