Fragrant meadowsweet is a beautiful white flowering herb with fern-like foliage. A form of meadowsweet grows in our Virginia Mountains, but I don’t see it in the Shenandoah Valley, nor have I grown it in my garden(s). Common in the British Isles, it’s called the Queen of the Meadow, Meadow-Wort, Bridewort, and Meadsweet… The plant blooms from early summer to fall and is native to Europe and western Asia, but has been widely naturalized elsewhere from the earliest times. Meadowsweet was found in Bronze Age (4,000 year-old) burial sites in the Orkneys, Scotland, and Wales, both in plant form and honey mead detected in vessels. The herb was sacred in the far distant past and fresh flowers were left on graves and in mead as tributes for the departed.
(Meadowsweet flowering along beck near Conistone, North Yorkshire. Image from Wikipedia)
Meadowsweet pollen was found in a stone cairn alongside the cremated remains of a young girl above Lake Llyn-y-Fan Fach that lies below the Peak of Black Mountain in Wales. Pottery and flint tools were also discovered with her. Probably no connection, but an ancient legend says a mysterious beautiful lady came out of the waters of Llyn-y-Fan Fach and taught the first of the Physicians about the healing power of plants. They are called The Physicians of Myddfai, and make their first appearance in the Middle Ages. The last of their line died out in the 1800’s, when the story of The Lady of the Lake was first recorded. According to the Lady of the Lake and the Physicians of Myddfai, it’s possible that the Carmarthenshire village of Myddfai may be the birthplace of modern medicine. The legend says this dynasty of herbalists lived and worked there in the 11th and 12th centuries, and some say with magical powers. For more, check out the link above.
In Chaucer’s The Knight’s Tale, meadowsweet is known as Meadwort and was one of fifty ingredients in a drink called ‘Save’–must have been an amazing cure-all. The name Bridewort comes from its use as a strewing herb in churches at weddings and often as a bridal garland. Queen Elizabeth 1 favored meadowsweet as her choicest strewing herb in the sixteenth century, but its use far predates the queen.
The entire plant has a pleasing aroma and taste which led to its use in flavoring wines, beers, vinegars, and the ancient honey mead (herbal honey-wine). The dried flowers are added to potpourri. Fresh flowers lend a subtle almond flavor to stewed fruit and jam.
According to A Modern Herbal, meadowsweet (Spiraea Ulmaria) is collected in July, when in full flower. Infuse 1 ounce of the dried herb in a pint of water, sweeten with honey, and administer in wineglassful doses for invalids or for regular use.
Medicinally, meadowsweet (aka Filipendula ulmaria) has a long use in pain relief and is a source of salicylic acid, the basis of aspirin, but in a form that causes less stomach upset than other plant sources. Meadowsweet, Spiraea ulmaria, was made into Bayer aspirin in 1887. Historically, it has also been used for soothing an acidic stomach and calming diarrhea. Simply put, ‘it’s a cooling, aromatic and astringent herb that relieves pain’.(http://www.herbalremediesadvice.org/meadowsweet-herb.html). ***Not to be imbibed by anyone allergic to or intolerant of aspirin. (Image from Wikipedia)
Meadowsweet, water-mint (also known as marsh mint, grows near water, its strong scent not as pleasingly fragrant as other mints), and vervain were the three herbs held most sacred by the Druids. They also had sacred trees which I have touched on in other posts. For those interested in Druids, a useful site on Meadowsweet and Druid Plant Lore is: http://www.druidry.org/druid-way/teaching-and-practice/druid-plant-lore
A beautiful post on meadowsweet: https://whisperingearth.co.uk/2012/07/06/meadowsweet-queen-of-the-meadow-queen-of-the-ditch/
For more on herbs, you might be interested in my book, Plants for a Medieval Herb Garden in the British Isles, available in kindle and print at Amazon.
An illustrated collection of plants that could have been grown in a Medieval Herb or Physic Garden in the British Isles. The major focus of this work is England and Scotland, but also touches on Ireland and Wales. Information is given as to the historic medicinal uses of these plants and the rich lore surrounding them. Journey back to the days when herbs figured into every facet of life, offering relief from the ills of this realm and protection from evil in all its guises.