Herbal Remedies for Common Ailments: Meadowsweet

Queen of the Meadow

Botanical name: Filipendula ulmaria

One of the loveliest-sights of the British countryside in summer must be Meadowsweet, with its feathery, creamy-white flowers nodding gently over fern-like leaves from June through to August. It prefers wet meadows, and seems particularly content in the West of Scotland. If you are not on foot, venture out of your vehicle and enjoy the delightful honey and almond perfume that the leaves and flowers produce. Long used as an aromatic strewing herb it was one of Queen Elizabeth I's favourite fragrances and would have been spread on her path or in houses she was visiting. The inhabitants of North Uist also preferred Meadowsweet as a scented strewing herb in their homes.

Although its name seems to allude to its habitat and fragrance, it actually refers to its use by the Anglo Saxons as a flavouring for their mildly alcoholic drink, mead. Palaeobotanists have found evidence of its use as a flavouring and medicine dating back to the Bronze Age. The Gaelic name Rios Chuchulainn refers to the use of Meadowsweet baths by the legendary warrior Cuchulainn to cure fevers and hotheadedness.

Meadowsweet is a most useful medicinal herb, and a favourite of mine. It is one of nature's most exquisitely designed remedies, pleasant to take and very effective. The active constituents found in the plant include tannins, mucilage, essential oil and high levels of salicylates. In 1830 these latter chemicals were first isolated and extracted from the plant, but it was another sixty years before the pharmaceutical company Bayer developed acetylsalicylate. This new wonder drug was named Aspirin, a reference to the old botanical name for meadowsweet, Spiraeq ulmaria. It is the salicylates which account for its inflammatory properties, but unlike aspirin Meadowsweet does not cause gastric irritation. This is partly due to the mucilage in the plant which acts as a soothing and healing protector of the gastric lining, but also to the fact that the types of salicylates in the plant are inactive in the stomach, and converted into an active form lower down in the colon, where they will be absorbed.

This explains why Meadowsweet is effective in treating a variety of inflammatory and painful conditions, particularly arthritis and gout, for which its analgesic, diuretic and detoxifying properties are helpful in relieving swollen joints.

For digestive complaints Meadowsweet is one of the best remedies available. It reduces acidity, protects and soothes the mucous membranes and is used to treat peptic ulcers, gastritis, heartburn and acid indigestion. Its gentle astringency and antiseptic nature make it ideal for treating Diarrhoea and intestinal infections in children, and for easing nausea. It is carminative, and helpful for bloating and colicky pains.

The leaves promote respiration and have a long traditional use in treating fevers and feverish conditions such as the onset of measles. An infusion of the flowers is a good skin toner, and will help clear blemishes and eruptions. There is a tradition of steeping the root in wine, and drinking this as a remedy for fevers. Meadowsweet is also relaxing and will relieve headaches and neuralgia.

Pleasant tasting, it is easy to take as a tea and can be taken long-term for a safe and deep-acting effect. Gentle and nourishing, it is an ideal remedy for the most sensitive individuals, children and the elderly. And all this growing in abundance in our fields and lowlands. A truly generous gift from nature!

Connections Magazine.

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By Jenny Lancaster

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