Sweetly scented meadowsweet was famous as a strewing herb and as a flavouring for mead.
It later gained recognition as one of the plants that contain salicylic acid, from which is derived aspirin and has been used for many of the same complaints for which aspirin is used today.
The tall stems are furrowed and sometimes purplish, and the leaves are dark green on the upper side and downy whitish underneath. The fern-like foliage with tufty, creamy-white clusters of flowers bears tiny, dry capsules as seeds.
Habitat and distribution
Found in damp meadows, drainage ditches and alongside lakes and rivers. Britain and Ireland, temperate parts of Europe and Asia. Introduced to North America.
Parts used for food
Leaves, flowers, roots; all parts of the plant have been used.
May to September.
Food uses of meadowsweet
Meadowsweet was famous as a honey-wine herb. Meadwort, or Medwort, was one of fifty ingredients in a drink called ‘Save’ mentioned by English author Geoffrey Chaucer in a Knight’s Tale. English physician and herbalist Nicholas Culpeper also recommended a leaf of meadowsweet in a cup of claret wine to give it a “fine relish”.
Today, meadowsweet is also one of thirty herbs and spices added to the popular Norfolk punch cordial drink, originally made by the monks of Norfolk, England.
All parts of the plant can be added to soups, sauces or stewed fruit for an aromatic flavour.
The bitter roots have been used as a tea substitute along with the leaves and flowers.
Meadowsweet is considered a good example of the old adage ‘let food be your medicine’ thanks to its reputation for soothing overactive stomachs and treating coughs and colds.
Herbal medicine uses of meadowsweet
Meadowsweet’s most famous claim to medicinal success is as a forerunner of aspirin.
Meadowsweet has been considered the go-to herb for indigestion, flatulence, gastric ulcers, gastric reflux, liver disorders, cystitis, diarrhoea in children, rheumatism, cellulitis, bladder stones, and oedema.
Meadowsweet was also used to scour milk churns.
Despite its acclaimed success, Foster and Duke warn that all salicylic-containing plants should be used with caution given that salicylic medicines can thin the blood and cause internal bleeding.
- Foraging safety guidelines
- Edible and medicinal wild plants of Britain and Ireland
- Foraging through the year
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Foster, S. & Duke, J. A. (2014) Peterson field guide to medicinal plants and herbs of eastern and central North America. Peterson field guides. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Grieve, M. M. (1998) A modern herbal. London: Tiger Books International.
Grigson, G. (1996) The Englishman’s flora. Oxford: Helicon.
Hatfield, G. (2008) Hatfield’s herbal: the secret history of British plants. London: Penguin.
Irving, M. (2009) The forager handbook: a guide to the edible plants of Britain. London: Ebury.
Karalliedde, L. et al. (2008) Traditional herbal medicines: a guide to their safer use. London: Hammersmith.
Wyse Jackson, P. (2013) Ireland’s generous nature: the past and present uses of wild plants in Ireland. St. Louis: Missouri Botanical Garden Press.