Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria)

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Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria)

Common Names

Meadsweet, Dolloff, Queen of the Meadow, Bridewort, Lady of the Meadow, Pride of the Meadow, Meadow-wort, Meadow Queen, Meadsweet, Ulmaria, Xiu Xian Ju

About This Plant

Meadowsweet, also known as Queen of the Meadow, Bridewort, and Meadow-wort, is a tall, Rosacea family perennial shrub with brilliantly white flowers that tends to dominate the meadows it calls home. It grows up to six feet tall but remains narrow in stature when mature.  It grows in spreading clumps and is hardy in USDA zones 3-8. Meadowsweet occurs naturally in wet areas such as marshes, sedge meadows, along the edges of streams, shores, swamps, and peatlands, and along forest edges where it is moist. It is a great choice for naturalizing moist, open spots. It attracts pollinators. Many insects and fungi can cause disease in Meadowsweet. Its leaves are commonly galled by bright orange rust fungus. 

 

Meadowsweet blooms from June to September fragrant, airy, white clusters of flowers at the terminal ends of its branches. It will bloom for the first time in its third year of growth. The delicate, graceful aromantic essential-oil-rich flowers have are strong, sweet, almond-like fragrance. This fragrance is quite different from the scent of the leaves of the plant.  The clustered flowers never open all at once.  

 

Meadowsweet has a reddish, sometimes purple stem. Its leaves are dark-green on the upper side. They are whitish and downy underneath.  The leaves are much divided into feathery leaflets that give a fern-like appearance. Its foliage contrasts nicely and softens the look of plainer-leaved plants. The leaves have a scent like wintergreen. The entire herb possesses a pleasant taste and flavor and aromatic character. It was a popular strewing herb in the past.  Strewing herbs were spread across floors, especially well-trodden floors, to give rooms a pleasant aroma.  The plant has been used to flavor wine, beer, and vinegars.  Gerard wrote about Meadowsweet in his Herbal in the 16th century, saying, “the smell thereof maketh the heart merrie and joyful and delighteth the senses.”

 

Meadowsweet’s Latin species name, ulmaria, means “elm-like”.  This may have to do because the upper side of its leaves are wrinkled and look a little like those of the Elm tree, or because Meadowsweet has similar properties to Slippery Elm Bark (namely salicylic acid). The genus name, Filipendula, comes from “filum” meaning thread and “pendulus” meaning hanging and has to do with the root structure of the plants.  Meadowsweet was known as Meadwort and is spoken of in Chaucer’s, The Knight’s Tale. It was one of the ingredients in a drink called “save”. The name Meadowsweet may even be a corruption of the older name, Meadwort.  It was also known as Bridewort as it was a favorite to be made into bridal garlands and to be used as a strewing herb in churches for festivals and weddings. In Europe, it was known as “Queen of the Meadow” for the way it can dominate a low-lying, damp meadow. 

 

Meadowsweet has been found with the cremated remains of people in a Bronze Age cairn. It was maybe used in a honey-based mead or flavored ale or was placed on the grave as a scented flower. In Welsh mythology, Gwydion and Math created a woman out of Oak blossom, Broom, and Meadowsweet and named her Blodeuwedd, meaning “Flower Face”. In folklore, it is claimed that where Meadowsweet grows, there will be no snakes or evil nearby. 

Sowing

Meadowsweet can be propagated from seeds, cuttings, or root divisions.  Seeds must be planted on wet sites and germination may be somewhat unreliable. It tends to establish well from plant cuttings if planted in moist soil. Every three to four years the plant’s tough root bundles can be divided into three or four clumps and replanted.  You can also keep an eye out for self-sown seedlings which can be transplanted into desired locations while young. 

Transplanting

Meadowsweet should be spaced about two feet apart. Be sure to keep transplanted seedlings moist.

Cultivation

Meadowsweet can tolerate full sun to partial shade. Partial shade may be helpful for keeping the soil moist. Moist soil is important for growing Meadowsweet and it will grow in clay or moss. Adding compost or mulch is a good idea to retain soil moisture.  The leaves can be pruned if they appear tattered. Deadheading flowers will not result in the production of new flowers though. In an ideal environment, Meadowsweet will spread extensively and may become invasive. It looks great when planted in mass. 

 

The whole plant is best harvested in June through August while the plant is in bloom.  It can be dried for future use either in cooking or for medicinal purposes.

Seed Harvest

The flowers will produce small shell-like nut fruits which usually contain two seeds that can be harvested in October.

Plant Uses

  • Potpurri
  • Medicinal 
  • Some limited culinary applications
  • A black dye can be obtained from the roots by using a copper mordant

Culinary Uses

Meadowsweet is not a common ingredient in the kitchen but it can be used in a number of ways. It can be used to flavor wine, beers, or mead,  or used to make herbal vinegar.  The flowers can be added to stewed fruit and jams to give them a subtle almond flavor.  The leaves can be used in salads or soups.  The fresh leaves can also be used to flavor sorbets and fruit salads.

Medicinal Uses

Meadowsweet is well-liked by herbalists for its flexible medical applications and its pain-relieving salicylates, which makes it similar to aspirin, but safer. Salicylates are the anti-inflammatory compounds used to make aspirin.  Whereas aspirin has a number of undesired side-effects, such as stomach irritation and bleeding, Meadowsweet contains tannins that interact with the salicylates to actually protect the stomach and intestines.  It can soothe intestinal upset and actually protect the digestive system, reducing excess acidity and alleviating nausea. This makes it a much safer alternative to aspirin. 

 

In addition to relieving aches and pains, Meadowsweet is used to soothe an upset tummy, ulcers, and diarrhea.  A tea, when taken hot, is a relaxing diaphoretic. It is useful for fevers and signs of heat. Since it tastes good, is a good choice for children when addressing these issues. 

A tea made from flowers or leaves has been used in traditional Austrian herbal medicine for the treatment of rheumatism, gout, and infections.  Meadowsweet is said to provide comfort for those affected by the flu. 

 

Meadowsweet is a cooling, aromatic, and astringent herb.  The whole plant contains medicinal compounds and the parts most commonly used are fresh leaves, dried leaves, flowers, and roots.  It is typically consumed as an infusion, decoction, juice, powder, or tincture. 

 

Meadowsweet is generally thought to be safe if taken in appropriate doses, but in some people, it can cause nausea, skin rashes, and even lung tightness.  It may worsen asthma. If a person is allergic to aspirin, they should avoid Meadowsweet.  It can cause kidney problems if used in large amounts for extended periods of time. 

Origin

Meadowsweet is native to most of Europe and Western Asia. It has been introduced and naturalized in North America. 

 

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