Meadowsweet – Filpendula ulmaria

A plant well worth becoming familiar with and easy to do given its preference for damp to wet habitat and strong germaline-like smell of the broken stalks and roots.

A member of the rose family (Rosaceae) if you look closely at the arrangements of flowers known as an umbel in this case you will see each tiny flower has 5 petals as with all species in this family.

Meadowsweet – Filpendula ulmaria
Meadowsweet – Filpendula ulmaria.

The leaf stalks of the plant are a great help in its identification as they show opposite pairs of leaves along its length with a three lobed leaf at its end. The stalk tends to have a red colour which stands out well against the rest of the plant.

As with willow species, meadowsweet contains salicylic acid which acts in a similar way to aspirin when ingested and has long been used as a herbal remedy for pain relief prior to the mass synthetic production of Aspirin as an analgesic drug.

A simple and pleasant tasting tea can be made from the flowers and used to treat headaches or sore throats. As with all wild plant uses it must be stressed that moderation is important. There are some reported reactions of this plant causing rashes, nausea and it has been suggested that if taken in very large quantities it could be harmful.

Meadowsweet habitat
Meadowsweet habitat.

If you intend to use meadowsweet as your food or medicine (some Greek philosopher argued these are one and the same) then positive identification is your starting point. Next you should try only a very small amount of the plant and wait for a day to see if you notice any ill effects. Make sure during this time you do not try other plants that are new to you and could complicate the picture.

It is a great plant for use in countryside wine recipes and even its name meadowsweet is a link to its historic use of flavouring mead, an alcoholic drink made from honey. Once the plant has finished flowering the dead stalks are abundant and serve as an easily gathered kindling resource. I have even used these stalks in insulating bedding and as a waterproof thatch in shelters.

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