Last month’s plant, Sweet Woodruff, is known for its sweet smell. The same is true for this month’s plant, Meadowsweet Filipendula ulmaria

Look out for the creamy white clusters of flowers in damp meadows and along wet woodland rides and roadsides. They are usually in full flower at the end of June and have a wonderful sweet almond like heady scent.

During winter it is found as a bushy low growing plant with several leaf stems radiating from a central rosette.  The leaflets are dark above and paler below, finely toothed, oval and arranged in opposing pairs along the leaf stem with a trifoliate terminal leaflet. The leaf stems can often take on a distinct red colouration. When flowering, the plant can grow up to 2m tall with clusters of sweet smelling creamy-white flowers.

It was one of the plants revered by the Druids and has in the past been associated with death, the strong scent supposedly inducing a deep sleep.

Like Sweet Woodruff it was used a “strewing herb”, placed on the floor of houses to give off a pleasant smell. It was also used as a strewing herb at weddings giving rise to another name; that of Bridewort.

It was the first plant from which Salicin, a precursor to Aspirin was extracted and the roots and flowers can be used medicinally as a pain killer, to alleviate the symtoms of colds and ‘flu and to treat arthritis and rheumatism. The name aspirin is actually derived from the old latin name for the plant; Spiraea ulmaria however unlike aspirin which can cause stomach ulcers, Meadowsweet infusions seem not to have this effect indeed a tea from the flowers are also used in herbal medicine for treating heart burn, peptic ulcers, gastritis and acid stomach.

It has also been used as a cosmetic with the flowers infused in rainwater for use a skin conditioner.

The name Meadowsweet is derived from one of its other names Meadsweet which references to its use as a flavouring. In medieval and Elizabethan times the flowers were infused in mead which was then supposedly as good as Greek wines. It has also been used to flavour beer and soups.

The leaves of the plant and the roots contain wintergreen oil and both have also been used as flavourings.  The root has such high amounts it smells strongly like the pink antiseptic cream Germolene.  Wintergreen oil is what is used to flavour root beer.

To use the plant these days make syrups or cordials from the flowers and use these to flavour custards, sorbets and jellies.

The leaves can be added to salads or used to flavour vinegars and salad dressings the can also be incorporated into savoury dishes.

The differing smell of the leaves to the flowers; one being quite carbolic and the other like marzipan gives rise to yet more names for the plant “courtship and matrimony” or “wives and girlfriend”. It had also been called bittersweet, meadwort, Queen-of –the Meadow.

Meadowsweet doesn’t tolerate mowing or grazing and so will not grow on mowed rides or livestock pastures and care should be taken not to strip all the leaves from any one plant. In addition the seeds of Meadowsweet require cold temperatures to germinate and with global warming its future could be uncertain so harvest with care not removing too many flowers in one area.

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