Herb of the Month | Meadowsweet

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Meadowsweet. Scotland. 2013.

Through grass, through amber’d cornfields, our slow Stream—
Fringed with its flags and reeds and rushes tall,
And Meadowsweet, the chosen of them all
By wandering children, yellow as the cream
Of those great cows—winds on as in a dream
By mill and footbridge, hamlet old and small
(Red roofs, gray tower), and sees the sunset gleam
On mullion’d windows of an ivied Hall.
 
There, once upon a time, the heavy King
Trod out its perfume from the Meadowsweet,
Strown like a woman’s love beneath his feet,
In stately dance or jovial banqueting,
When all was new; and in its wayfaring
Our Streamlet curved, as now, through grass and wheat.
 

 

— William Allingham, Meadowsweet

 

If you’ve ever been near the soft, foamy blossoms, you’ll remember how honey-thick the scent is, how it carries a whisper of almond and vanilla. It was a popular aromatic herb for strewing the floors in Renaissance times and is in fact said to have been the favorite strewing-herb of Queen Elizabeth I. The scent of the blossoms perhaps contributed to its reputation as a mood enhancer (cf. Gerard and Culpeper).

Once, en route to the Glasgow airport, I was sharing a taxi with an herbal colleague. I was in quite some pain from cramps. From my nauseous perch in the backseat, I saw some Meadowsweet growing along the highway and our very kind and obliging taxi man pulled off the side of the road so that I could wade far into the overgrowth and pick some. All I know is that I nibbled a bit and felt better in about a half an hour or so.

While the perennial herb can indeed be found in meadows, the common name Meadowsweet refers to the fact that it was used to sweeten the beverage mead. It is one plant (the other notable example being willow) from which modern aspirin is derived. Meadowsweet was also apparently sacred to Druids and does have a historic role in Celtic culture, having been found in Bronze Age tombs in the UK.

 

Meadowsweet | Filipendula ulmaria

 or Spirea ulmaria

ETYMOLOGY
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Filipendula: from the Latin noun filum, or “thread” and the adjective pendula, or “hanging.” This compound name referring to hanging thread is perhaps in reference to the underground tubers, which hang upon thread-like roots.

ulmaria: from the Latin ulmus, or “elm tree”; perhaps because its leaves look similar to those of Meadowsweet (Grieve).

spiraea: comes from the ancient Greek speiraia, meaning “a coil.” You can see how it got embedded into our modern word aspirin. Spiraea is also a term used by the Roman polymath, Pliny the Elder, to refer to a plant (possibly Meadowsweet), in his description of flowers used for garlands (Naturalis Historia, Chpt. 29).

Note: Spiraea ulmaria is the older Latin botanical name.

Common names include: Bridewort, Sweet Hay, Queen of the Meadow, Dollof, Goat’s Beard, Mead Wort; French: Reine des prés, Barbe de chèvre, Barbe de chêne, Herbe aux abeilles, Vignette, Ulmaire, Belle de prés, Pied de bouc; Latin: Barba caprina, Citania…

 

Meadowsweet is generally held as an excellent and gentle herb for stomach acid issues. Among other applications, it’s a painkiller and tissue repair herb for joint inflammation.

You can read more about Meadowsweet in the Materia Medica.

Remember that you should always do your own research with herbs or consult with your health practitioner(s). While Meadowsweet is considered a generally “safe herb”, individuals allergic to salicylates should not use Meadowsweet (nor children under sixteen for fevers due to threat of Reyes syndrome). In addition, it should be avoided by those using blood-thinning medications. It may also provoke asthma in those with Samter’s triad.

Meadowsweet is often used in the kitchen like Elderflower and may also be made into champagne.

Here is a foray into the external use for rheumatic aches and pains. Look for Meadowsweet in moist areas if using fresh flowers and be sure to forage sustainably and safely.

Meadowsweet Balm

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What You’ll Need
  • A clean jar
  • Enough Meadowsweet flowers and some uppermost leaves (take scissors if harvesting fresh) to fill your jar
  • Oil to cover your plant material (lighter oils like almond or grape seed are lovely, but you can use virgin olive oil, too)
  • Beeswax
  • Double-boiler
  • A wee tin or something in which to store your finished balm
What You’ll Do
  1. Pack your flowers into your clean jar.
  2. Simply add in your oil and gently stir.
  3. Let sit in a warm place for 2-4 weeks, shaking every day.
  4. When the time of maceration is over, strain through a cheesecloth or  fine mesh strainer, squeezing out the liquid as much as possible from the plant material.
  5. You can then convert your oil into a balm (or salve) by heating it gently in the double-boiler and adding beeswax (use more or less depending on how hard you want the balm to be). Just when the beeswax is melted, transfer to your tins or other containers. It will harden rather rapidly. Tip: try adding St. John’s Wort oil or Arnica oil for sore muscles and nerve pain.

Don’t feel like making your own but curious? You can purchase some here.

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I am a doctor of philosophy, not of medicine. While I am a holistic practitioner, this information is not intended to diagnose, cure, treat, or prevent conditions and diseases. It is a compilation of current and historical research combined with personal experience. Use herbs with caution, do your own research, and consult with your own health practitioner(s).

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