Whilst walking through the meadows in Oxford, I noticed that I was surrounded by dozens of plants with tiny white flowers. When gently rubbing the flowers between my fingers, I noticed a hint of antiseptic, like Dettol, combined with a sweetness somewhere between caramel and burnt almonds. Although I found this plant on the meadows, its name is in all probability derived from the Anglo-Saxon word ‘medu’, which means ‘mead’. It’s been used to flavour mead, and is still used to give gin an interesting flavour.
How to recognise Meadowsweet
Meadowsweet is a plant that can grow to a height of 1 to 2 meters tall. The stem is part green, part red to purple shaded. The leaves are compound, with a three-lobed leaflet at the tip. They are dark green on top, and whitish grey below. The leaflets are deeply veined and doubly serrated (toothed) along the edges. The leaves are arranged on alternate sides of the stem.
The frothy flowers are delicately small and white to creamy-yellow, and are clustered in flower heads known as cymes. A single flower is 5-10mm in diameter. When gently crushed they give off a smell similar to antiseptic or Dettol, with a hint of sweetness to it.
Meadowsweet blooms from early summer to early autumn, usually around the time that elderflower starts disappearing.
How to use Meadowsweet
Meadowsweet has painkilling properties thanks to compounds similar to what we know nowadays as aspirin. In fact, aspirin gets its name from the old Latin word for Meadowsweet, spirea ulmaria. Meadowsweet contains the chemical salicylic acid, which back in the day was distilled and synthetically altered into the drug we know as aspirin.
“Aspirin gets its name from the old Latin word for Meadowsweet, spirea ulmaria.”
Meadowsweet flowers can be made into a tea, either fresh or dried, cordial and syrup. As mentioned above, they have been historically used to flavour mead.
Magical uses of Meadowsweet
Meadowsweet carries many names, but is sometimes called the druids herb, as it is thought that it was a sacred plant to the Druids. It is associated with love, peace and happiness.
Because of its links with aspirin, asthmatics – and others who must avoid Non-Steroidal Anti Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) – should be aware of the fact that it can induce some asthmatic symptoms. Likewise, if you are sensitive to salicylate (aspirin), you should avoid consuming this plant. Meadowsweet should also be avoided during pregnancy.