The fragrant Meadowsweet is one of the best known wild flowers, it was previously called Spiraeae ulmaria, and the term aspirin comes from this name. The name ulmaria means elmlike, but 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 generic name, Filipendula, comes from filum, meaning "thread" and pendulus, meaning "hanging." This name possibly came due to the root tubers that hang on fibrous roots. Meadowsweet grows in damp meadows. It is native throughout most of Europe and Western Asia. It has been introduced and naturalized in North America. The stems are 3–7 ft tall, erect and furrowed, reddish to sometimes purple. The leaves are dark green on the upper side and whitish and downy underneath, divided, interruptedly pinnate, having a few large serrated leaflets and small intermediate ones.
Filipendula is a food plant for hoverflies, bees and the caterpillars of numerous moths. Its seeds provide food for birds. The whole herb possesses a pleasant taste and flavour, the green parts having an almond scent, leading to the use of the plant as a strewing herb. It was also used to flavour wine, beer and many vinegars. The flowers can be added to stewed fruit and jams, giving them a subtle almond flavor. Dried, the flowers make lovely pot pourri.
|Orange rust fungus gall |
on Meadowsweet leaf
Cautions: Filipendula contains the chemicals used to make aspirin. One in five people with asthma also have Samter's triad, in which aspirin induces asthma symptoms. Asthma sufferers should be aware that meadowsweet, with its similar biochemistry, could theoretically also induce symptoms of asthma. This plant should be avoided by those with a hypersensitivity to salicylates. If the tincture is to be used to treat gastric ulceration or excess acidity, the alcohol content, which might otherwise irritate the gut, can be reduced by adding it to boiling water.
Russian folktale tells of Kudryash, the bravest knight in his village, who one day became terrified of his own death and could no longer fight. When a band of thieves attacked the village, Kudryash ran away. Ashamed, he prepaired to drown himself in the river. But a beautiful maiden emerged from the water to stop him and gave him a garland of Meadowsweet flowers. She said he would be unharmed if he wore it in battle. He returned to the village, wore the garland and defeated the thieves.
Meadowsweet is known by many other names, and in Chaucer's The Knight's Tale it is known as Meadwort and was one of the ingredients in a drink called "save." It was also known as Bridewort, because it was strewn in churches for festivals and weddings, and often made into bridal garlands. In Europe, it took its name "queen of the meadow" for the way it can dominate a low-lying, damp meadow. 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), it was Queen Elizabeth I's favorite strewing herb. Gerard believed it outranked all other strewing herbs because its aromatic leaves didn’t cause headaches, unlike many other strongly scented leaves.
Seed is best sown in the autumn in a cold frame. The seed can also be sown in a cold frame in spring, germinating best at a temperature of 10-13C. When they are large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and plant them out in the summer if they have grown enough. If not, keep them in a cold frame for the winter and plant them out in late spring. Division should be done in autumn or winter. Larger clumps can be replanted directly into their permanent positions, though it is best to pot up smaller clumps and grow them on in a cold frame until they are rooting well, then plant them out in the spring.
Purple Sage Medicinal Herbs: http://www.purplesage.org.uk/
A Modern Herbal: http://botanical.com/
Encyclopedia of Life: http://www.eol.org/
The Herb Companion: http://www.herbcompanion.com/
Natural Medicinal Herbs: http://www.naturalmedicinalherbs.net/
Ecological Flora of the British Isles: http://www.ecoflora.co.uk/index.php