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Sunday, May 15, 2011
MEADOWSWEET PLANT OF WELSH LEGENDS: MEDICINAL BENEFITS AND USES OF MEADOWSWEET HERB
Meadowsweet has been used for centuries in the UK and is mentioned in the Welsh Mabinogion. Remains of the flowers have been found in burial mounds or cairns of cremated human remains dating from the Bronze Age in Fan Foel, Carmarthenshire in West Wales and in beakers from Fife in Scotland, so the flowers may have been in mead the honey-based drink that meadowsweet was often put into to give it an almond flavour. They may also have been planted on graves for their fragrance. In the Mabinogion, Math and Gwydion made a woman out of oak blossom, broom and meadowsweet and called her Blodeuwedd (Flower Face). The Druids held meadowsweet in high regards as it was one of their three most sacred herbs along with vervain and water-mint.
It is a member of the rose family and native to Europe, where it prefers to grow in moist places. It has red-purple stems and fern-like leaves with cream-white flowers blooming between June and the beginning of September. The whole plant is best harvested in July when in flower, and dried for future use either in cooking or for medicinal purposes. The dried flowers can be put into pot pourri or used to make a tisane. The leaves smell good too and the whole upper parts of the plant were strewn on floors in Mediaeval times to give rooms a pleasant smell. Gerard writing in his Herball in the 16th century says “the smell thereof maketh the heart merrie and joyful and delighteth the senses.” In this way it seems to be rather like borage, which was also put in drinks and was also one of the ingredients of the drink “Save” along with meadowsweet and 48 others mentioned by Geoffrey Chaucer in his 14th century “Canterbury Tales” in “The Knight’s Tale”. It is believed that Queen Elizabeth I had meadowsweet strewn in her chambers, and country people used to put the flowers in cupboards and wardrobes to make them smell good. Meadowsweet has been an additive to wine and beers for centuries in Europe and it’s worth trying white or red wine with a meadowsweet leaf in it.
The plant was called Bridewort because it was strewn in churches for weddings and in bridal chambers. Other names for it are Queen or Lady of the Meadows, because it is a beautiful, fragrant plant which can grow up to 4 feet tall so is easily seen above other meadow plants. It used to be called Spiraea ulmaria, ulmaria meaning elm-like and it has been suggested that this is either because the upper side of its leaves look a little like those of the elm tree, as they are wrinkled, or because the plant has similar properties to Slippery Elm Bark, i.e. salicylic acid. This is the basis for aspirin and it is thought that Bayer who began selling aspirin in 1899 made the name from the botanical name of the meadowsweet. The Italian, Rafaele Piria had first extracted this acid from the meadowsweet and willow bark (Salix alba) earlier in the 19th century. The tisane made from the flowers will cure headaches, it is said. Its newer Latin name, Filipendula means hanging from a thread.
The English herbalists John Gerard (16th century) and Nicholas Culpeper (17th century) believed that the distilled water from the flowers was good to relieve the eyes from burning and itching sensations and that it clears the sight.
Throughout the centuries the herb has been employed as a remedy for numerous ailments, and is used in Germany for colds- it contains vitamin C and flu. With lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) it is good for stomach problems. It contains tannins, flavonoids including the flavonoid glycosides rutin, hyperin and spiracoside, found in the flowers, and phenolic glycosides which include spiraein, monotropin and gaultherin. It has been used to treat diarrhoea and contains tannins, to purify the blood, to help promote sweat in fevers, as an infusion of the fresh flowering tops is a diaphoretic. (Take a handful of flowers and pour a cup of boiling water over them and steep for 15 minutes then strain and drink.) You can also boil an ounce of the fresh chopped root in white wine to reduce the symptoms of fever. You can make a tisane with 1 ounce of the dried herb to 1 pint of boiling water and steep for 15 minutes before straining. This can also be used externally for skin problems. This is supposedly good for peptic ulcers, acid indigestion, joint problems, respiratory problems such as wheezing and coughs, and for diarrhoea. However, if you are allergic to aspirin, or salicylate or sulphate or are pregnant or breast-feeding then you should not take meadowsweet. A decoction of the roots is preferred for respiratory problems and diarrhoea, use boiling water instead of the white wine in the remedy above. In mice it has been found that extracts of meadowsweet can decrease cervix and vaginal cancers and act as a sedative. Meadowsweet has a narcotic effect on animals in the lab it would seem. The recommended daily dose for meadowsweet is 2½ - 3½ gr. of the dried flower and 4-5 gr of the whole herb. The tisane of flowers only is a mild diuretic.
It has recognized anti-inflammatory properties and has been used for aches and arthritis. In the Middle Ages women used to collect rainwater and mix it with the meadowsweet flowers to use as a skin cleanser and toner. You can use the fresh leaves in sorbets and fruit salads and in other desserts as sweeteners. The flowers can be added to jams and compotes for a subtle almond flavour.
The following medicinal preparations were used by the Welsh Physicians of Myddfai:-
To dispel stones form the internal organs-
If the disease be gravel, make a medicine of the following herbs, mascerated in strong clear wheat ale, viz. water pimpernel, tutsan, meadow sweet, St. John's wort, ground ivy, agrimony, milfoil, birch, common burnet, columbine, motherwort, laurel, gromwel, betony, borage, dandelion, little field madder, amphibious persicaria, liverwort.
To restrain an active haemorrhage: take meadowsweet, digest in cold water, and drink thereof, and this will stop it by the help of God.
For lung diseases:-
Let (the patient) take, for three successive days, of the following herbs; hemlock, agrimony, herb Robert, and asarabacca, then let him undergo a three day's course of aperients. When the disease is thus removed from the bronchial tubes, an emetic should be given him (daily) to the end of nine days. Afterwards let a medicine be prepared, by digesting the following herbs in wheat ale or red wine: madder, sharp dock, anise, agrimony, daisy, round birthwort, meadow sweet, yellow goat's beard, heath, water avens, woodruff, crake berry, the corn cockle, caraway, and such other herbs as will seem good to the physician.