This hardy perennial is native to Europe and Asia and has naturalized throughout North America. The herb was once called “meadwort,” in reference to its use as a flavoring for the honey wine called mead. A member of the rose family, meadowsweet has attractive feathery foliage and creamy white, almond-scented flowers that are the source of the plant’s other common name, queen of the meadow.
Common Names: Meadowsweet, Queen of the Meadow
Description: Creeping stems, 3 to 5 feet tall, with 6-inch clusters of creamy white flowers; forms broad clumps of deep green, pinnately divided leaves
Hardiness: To Zone 3
Flowering: Late spring to summer
Parts Used: Flowers, leaves, and roots
Range/Habitat: Native to Europe and Asia; naturalized throughout North America
Meadowsweet was revered as a sacred herb by ancient Celtic Druid priests as early as 600 BCE and was mentioned in English herbal guide books dating to the 16th century. A tea made from the herb’s flowers and leaves was used to treat feverish colds and to alleviate pain in muscles and joints.
Aspirin, one of the world’s most common and important drugs, was developed from the meadowsweet plant. In 1597, John Gerard recommended this plant, boiled in wine, be consumed to treat bladder pain. In 1839, the compound salicylic acid was identified from its flower buds and became widely used to treat pain—but one side effect was an upset stomach.
In 1899, the company Bayer AG began to sell a synthetic form of this compound known as acetylsalicylic acid, which was more potent but had fewer side effects. The name chosen for the new compound was aspirin—a combination of “a” for acetyl and “spirin” for spiraea, the former name of the meadowsweet plant. Meadowsweet also acts as a carminative and antacid, soothing the digestive tract, reducing acidity, and relieving nausea. It has been used to treat gastritis and peptic ulcers. Because it has a gentle astringent effect, it is useful for treating diarrhea in children.
Caution: People with a sensitivity to aspirin (salicylates) should avoid using meadowsweet.
Meadowsweet flowers are made into an essential oil with a wintergreen scent and are used in potpourris. When added to cooked fruits and jams, the flowers impart a flavor reminiscent of almonds. The plant’s roots yield a black dye.
How to grow it
Meadowsweet thrives in rich, moist soil in sun or partial shade. If the foliage becomes tattered, cut the plants to the ground and fresh leaves will emerge. Clumps spread rapidly and require frequent division; lift and divide them in fall.