Meadowsweet belongs to the rose family (Rosaceae). It is a tall and clump-forming perennial that is reddish brown in colour with deeply veined leaves and creamy white, almond scented soft flowers. It is native to Europe and North/Central Asia. It grows in damp meadows, ditches and bogs, at the edges of ponds, on riverbanks and in moist open woodland. The fresh or dried flowering tops and leaves are used medicinally. This plant has a strong and pleasant scent due to its essential oils and it is also astringent because of a significant amount of tannins.
Meadowsweet’s romantic, whimsical history
Meadowsweet’s European history dates back to the Iron Age, when it was one of the three herbs held most sacred to the Druids, along with vervain and water-mint. Meadowsweet was called 'bridewort', because it was strewn along a bride's path at hand-fasting ceremonies. It is said that the plant symbolised courtship and matrimony because of the changing scent of the flower before and after bruising. In the Middle Ages it was called Meadwort because it was often added to beers and wines or soups for its interesting almond flavour. In Welsh Mythology, according to the Mabinogion; Gwydion and Math created a woman out of oak blossom, broom and meadowsweet and named her Blodeuwedd (“flower face”). It was once believed that meadowsweet, if gathered at midsummer, would reveal the identity (or at least the gender) of a thief. Simply place a sprig of it in some water, and if it sinks, the culprit was a man, while if it floats, it was a woman.
Meadowsweet was Queen Elizabeth I’s favourite strewing herb to mask unpleasant odours. The 16th Century herbalist Gerard believed it outranked all other strewing herbs because it’s aromatic leaves “delighteth the senses” as well as curing fever and diarrhoea. The herb found favour as a cosmetic and was used as an astringent and skin conditioner.
The early colonists used meadowsweet as an anti-inflammatory to reduce the symptoms of arthritis and rheumatism and also to treat stomach upsets, feverish colds, diarrhoea and heartburn. In 1838 the Italian Rafaela Piria first produced salicylic acid from meadowsweet and willow bark (Salix alba). Meadowsweet was the key ingredient from which aspirin was then synthesized by Bayer Pharmaceuticals to form a new drug (acetylsalicylic acid) called aspirin, a name that is derived from the old botanical name for meadowsweet (Spiraea).
Indeed the herb has a powerful pain relieving (analgesic) effect and is of great value in the treatment of all those aforementioned afflictions. It brings down fevers and when taken hot as a tea is a relaxing diaphoretic that promotes circulation and opens the pores to let the heat out of the body. It is especially indicated when the person has a higher fever or feels hot but isn’t sweating. Add some yarrow to this tea to reduce fever by bringing on sweating; it is also safe to cool feverish children.
The anti-inflammatory action of the salicylates in meadowsweet makes it benign and effective against rheumatic and arthritic pain, unlike aspirin that can cause gastric ulceration among other side effects. The tannins and mucilage appear to buffer the adverse effects of isolated salicylates, which can cause gastric bleeding. Meadowsweet tea, encapsulating the broad spectrum of un-isolated plant actives, can reduce cramps and alleviate pain associated with tension headaches and is thus a boon for premenstrual tension.
Hard to beat digestive aid
Cooling, aromatic and astringent meadowsweet relieves pain and is a reliable digestive aid that is hard to beat. It protects and soothes the mucous membranes of the digestive tract, reducing excess acidity and alleviating nausea and it can be used in the treatment of heartburn or acid reflux, gastritis and peptic ulceration. Meadowsweet also assuages the sense of bloat in the gut and the discomforts of flatulence. Meadowsweet herb removes stagnation (like when you eat too big a meal and it stays in your system too long) and effectively relieves discomfort in the stomach.
It is so that many rose family plants are used for diarrhoea and accordingly, meadowsweet with its astringent tannins is no exception. A European study found meadowsweet to clear one of the bacteria responsible for infectious diarrhoea (Shigella dysenteriae). It is considered a safe and effective anti-diarrhoea treatment for children. As an excellent digestive remedy meadowsweet can be combined with chamomile, peppermint, marshmallow or liquorice for chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract.
Meadowsweet’s Myriad Body Benefits
These same actives in meadowsweet make it an excellent diuretic to promote urinary health, as well as working to clear the tracts. This herb is active against Escherichia coli, the bacteria that causes urinary tract infections. It is also recommended for water retention and for bladder and kidney ailments and this fluid-clearing quality also helps with gout. Studies showed that the extract of meadowsweet exhibits hepato-protective (liver support) and antioxidant activity during experimental toxic hepatitis and that it improved liver function.
Research is revealing that meadowsweet has anti-coagulant (blood thinning) properties that could provide cardiovascular protection. A strained and cooled infusion of meadowsweet herb is said to calm itching and inflammation of the eyes and to treat conjunctivitis. Alternatively, this infusion added to a bath can be beneficial for helping alleviate sores and burns as the herb has been shown to possess bactericidal properties.
Properties: stomachic, mild urinary antiseptic, anti-rheumatic, astringent, antacid, anti-inflammatory, diuretic, diaphoretic (promotes sweating) anti-emetic, tonic, aromatic.
Indications: peptic ulcer (prophylaxis and treatment), atonic dyspepsia with heartburn and hyperacidity, gastritis, peptic ulceration, acute catarrhal cystitis.
Meadowsweet’s bonus uses
Precautions: Not to be used by people or animals with kidney problems, bleeding disorders, sensitivities to salicylates, NSAIDs or anticoagulants. This includes asthmatics.