In former times meadowsweet was often used to flavour beers and wine and was known as the honey-wine herb. It was a popular strewing herb laid upon floors and in cupboards to keep rooms sweetly scented.
Meadowsweet, spiraea ulmaria (or filipendula ulmaria), is often called Queen of the Meadows. It is a lovely herb with masses of creamy white blossom in July and August. It grows in damp meadows and by the side of rivers and streams but is mainly found in ditches along country lanes. The square, reddish stems grow tall and straight with deeply divided serrated leaves which are silvery white on the underside. Both leaves and flowers have a delightful sweet scent but each has a quite different fragrance to the other.
If a sufficiently damp spot can be found for meadowsweet in the garden it will readily become established. It is propagated by root division in the spring or autumn.
Meadowsweet is easily found growing in the wild and can be gathered for drying or for using fresh in the home. Choose plants growing in ditches which are well away from busy roads and arable fields so there will be no danger from pollution from petrol fumes or chemical spraying.
Gather leaves and flowers for drying in July when the flowers are first coming out. Strip them off the stems and dry them separately; they are then stored in the usual way.
Meadowsweet is a form of natural aspirin as it contains salicylic acid, so it is helpful in cases of headache, colds, influenza and rheumatism. For these ailments an infusion of the flowers is used.
* To make an infusion: Pour a cup of hot — not boiling — water on to 2 teaspoons of meadowsweet flowers. Leave to infuse for 10 minutes before straining and sweetening with honey. Drink 1 cup of meadowsweet tea per day and make a fresh infusion each time you take it.
A stronger infusion can be used to bathe cuts, scratches and abrasions. It will be effective in helping them to heal more quickly.
* To make a strong infusion: Use 1½ cups of warm water poured on to 2 handfuls of flowers and leave until cold. Strain into a screwtop bottle and use within a few days.
A poultice of fresh flowers can be used on rheumatic joints to help relieve the pain.
* To make a poultice: Hash sufficient flowers to a pulp, using a little water to get the right consistency. Spread the pulp carefully between 2 pieces of muslin or cheesecloth and heat it between 2 plates over a pan of boiling water. When it is hot, place the poultice as soon as is possible over the affected part until relief is obtained.