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Meadowsweet

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JANUARY 2011: MEADOWSWEET (Filipendula Ulmaria)

Meadowsweet Description and Habitat:: A member of the Rose family, the fragrant Meadowsweet is a perennial herb growing in damp meadows, ditches and bogs, at the edges of ponds, on river banks and in damp open woodland. Common throughout Europe, it is also found in the eastern US and Canada as far west as Ohio. The creeping rootstock sends up a reddish, angular stem, up to 47 inches (120cm) tall, branched near the top and bearing foliage that looks similar to that of the Elm tree and is green on the top and white grey and downy underneath. The masses of small, creamy-white five-petaled flowers, each with over twenty protruding stamens have a very strong, sweet scent and appears from June to August.

Common names: Bridewort, Meadow Queen, Meadow-wort, Mead-wort, Pride of the Meadow, Queen of the Meadow, Lady of the Meadow, Dollof, Meadsweet, Quaker Lady, Courtship and Matrimony.

Meadowsweet is known as Bridewort because it used to be strewn on the ground at Handfastings and Weddings for the Bride to walk on (‘wort’ is an Old English word meaning root or herb). The name ‘Ulmaria’ comes from the Latin “ulmus” (elm) due to the shape of the plant’s leaves. Its Gaelic name (Ius Cuchulainn, and Rios Cuchulainn) associates the plant with the legendary warrior, Cuchulainn, who was treated with Meadowsweet baths to cure uncontrollable rage and fevers. The plant’s name ‘Filidendula’ may come from the Latin “filum” meaning thread, and “pendulus”, meaning drooping – referring to the root tubers which hang together by threads.

A peculiarity of Meadowsweet is that the scent of the leaves is quite different from that of the flowers. The latter possess an almond-like fragrance, and it was one of the fragrant herbs used to strew the floors of chambers in Medieval and Tudor times to provide fragrance and keep out insects. In allusion to this use, Gerard writes: 'The leaves and floures of Meadowsweet farre excelle all other strowing herbs for to decke up houses, to strawe in chambers, halls and banqueting-houses in the summer-time, for the smell thereof makes the heart merrie and joyful and delighteth the senses.'

The 'Courtship and Matrimony' name came about because the heady smell of the flowers represented courtship, whilst the sharper smell of the foliage represented the reality of marriage.

An important food plant for hoverflies, butterflies and bees, it is also the main food plant for caterpillars of the following moths – Brown Spot Pinion, Hebrew Character, Powdered Quaker, Emperor, Lesser Cream Wave and Satyr Pug. Roots produce a black dye and the leaves a blue pigment both of which were widely used by the Celts. The seeds provide food for birds.

Meadowsweet is know to have been used for at least 4,000 years as traces of it have been found in the remains of a Neolithic drink in the Hebrides and a bunch of Meadowsweet was also found in a Neolithic burial near Perth. Held by Druids as one of the most sacred herbs (along with Watermint and Vervain), Northern European pagan cultures seem to have used meadowsweet primarily for medicine, and as a perfume and odor-fighter, rather than for religious ritual. However, the plant does play a small role in the Mabinogion, a collection of Welsh myths and folklore, where meadowsweet was one of the plants, along with broom and flowers of the oak used by the wizards Math and Gwydion to create the woman Blodeuwedd.

It was also one of the fifty ingredients in a drink called 'Save,' mentioned in Chaucer's Knight's Tale, in the fourteenth century when it is referred to as Medwort, or Meadwort, (i.e. the mead or honey-wine herb), and the flowers were often put into wine and beer. It is still incorporated in many herb beers.

Therapeutics and Pharmacology: Many years ago, Meadowsweet was used to treat malaria when the disease was prevalent in marshy areas. It is also a traditional remedy for acidic stomach and the leaves were distilled to strengthen the eyes and prevent itching. The roots were used to make a very effective detergent. In 1838 the Italian Rafaele Piria first produced salicylic acid from the flowerbuds of meadowsweet and from willow bark (Salix alba). In 1899 the drug company Bayer formulated a new drug (acetylsalicylic acid) and called it aspirin, a name which is derived from the old botanical name for meadowsweet (Spiraea ulmaria).

Meadowsweet is an excellent digestive remedy. It protects and soothes the mucous membranes of the digestive tract, reducing excess acidity and alleviating nausea, and can be used in the treatment of heartburn, hyperacidity, gastritis and peptic ulceration. The anti-inflammatory action of the salicylates in Meadowsweet makes it effective against rheumatic pain while the tannins and mucilages appear to limit the adverse effects of the salicylates which can cause gastric bleeding (Aspirin can cause gastric ulceration). The astringent tannins make Meadowsweet a useful remedy in the treatment of diarrhoea in children.

In Germany, Meadowsweet is used as a supportive treatment for common colds as the salicylic acid acts to reduce fever. It is also recommended for water retention and for bladder and kidney ailments. Externally the infusion can serve as a wash for wounds or inflamed eyes.

Caution: Meadowsweet should be avoided by those with a hypersensitivity to salicylates.

Folklore: Fresh Meadowsweet is placed on the altar for love spells, or dried is used in various love mixtures. It is also strewn about the house to keep peace and the scent of Meadowsweet is said to cheer the heart. If gathered on Midsummer, Meadowsweet will give you information regarding thieves: if you have been robbed, place Meadowsweet on water. If it sinks, the thief is a man. If it floats, a woman.

At Lammas garlands of meadowsweet are worn to join with the essence of the Goddess.

Russian folklore tells of Kudryash, the bravest knight in his village, who one day became terrified of his own death and could no longer fight. A band of thieves came to the village but Kudryash was too scared to help. Ashamed, he fled to the river to drown himself. But out of the water came a beautiful maiden 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.

Other folklore claims that where Meadowsweet grows there are no snakes, which can also mean, therefore, that there is no evil.

 

 

Last Updated on Thursday, 20 January 2011 19:36  

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