The small, creamy-white, fragrant flowers are arranged in a terminal corymb. The flowers have reflexed hairy sepals and numerous long stamens.
A perennial herb with a short, pink rhizome and a tough, erect, branched and leafy stem. The stem leaves are alternate, odd-pinnate, doubly serrate, dark green above and usually white-felted below; the stipules are broadly cordate and conspicuous.
The fruit, a one-seeded follicle, is spirally twisted. The scent of the leaves is quite different from that of the flowers.
Meadowsweet has been used as a medicinal plant since ancient times and it remains popular as a herbal remedy to this day. It was in the flowerheads that salicylic acid was first discovered in 1839. It was from this substance that aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid) was later synthesized.
The common name, Meadowsweet, is said to be derived from the Anglo-Saxon word medu (= mead) because the plant was once used to flavour the drink made from fermented honey.
- The flowers, and sometimes the young leaves and rhizomes, are used medicinally. All parts contain the glycosides gaultherin and spiraein, traces of an alkaloid (helio-tropine), tannins, a yellow pigment, vanillin and free salicylic acid, produced by the splitting of gaultherin and citric acid. These substances give the plant antipyretic, weak antispasmodic, astringent and antirheumatic properties.
- The flowers are used in an infusion to treat influenza, and to alleviate headache and rheumatic and arthritic pain.
- Meadowsweet is gentler on the stomach than aspirin and it is one of the most effective herbal remedies for gastritis and peptic ulcers.
- Both the leaves and flowers are also strongly diuretic and are used to treat certain bladder and kidney disorders.
- The fresh root is used in homeopathic preparations.
Meadowsweet is common in damp woods and meadows, in fens and by riversides throughout Europe, including the British Isles.
Flowering time: June to September