Synonyms and Common names: Bridewort, meadow queen, meadow-wort, the pride of the meadow, queen of the meadow, lady of the meadow, dollof, and meadsweet.
Description and Habitat: Meadowsweet is a perennial herb, growing in damp meadows, ditches and bogs, at the edges of ponds, on river banks and in damp open woodland. It is common throughout Europe, it is also be found in the eastern US and Canada as far west as Ohio.
The creeping rootstock sends up a reddish, angular stem, which can be up to 5 inches tall. It is branched near the top, and bears alternate long-petioled leaves composed of two to five pairs of ovate, serrate leaflets.
The small, creamy-white five-petaled flowers, with over twenty protruding stamens. Flowering time is from June to August.
Parts used: Aerial parts.
Collection and preparation: The fully opened flowers and leaves are picked at the time of flowering. They should be dried gently at a temperature now exceeding 40 degC.
Actions: Anti-rheumatic, anti-inflammatory, stomachic, anti-emetic, astringent, and aromatic.
Constituents: Essential oil with salicylic acid compounds called spiracine and gaultherin. Salicylic acid, tannin, and citric acid.
Indications and Therapeutics: Meadowsweet is one of the best digestive remedies available, and as such will be indicated in most conditions if they are approached holistically. It acts to protect and soothe the mucous membranes of the digestive tract, reducing excess acidity and easing nausea.
It is used in the treatment of heartburn, hyperacidity, gastric and peptic ulceration.
Its gentle astringency is useful in treating diahrrea in children.
The presence of aspirin-like chemicals explains \meadowsweet’s action in reducing fever and relieving the pain of rheumatism in muscles and joints.
Meadowsweet is used as a supportive treatment for common colds, the salicylic acid acts to reduce fever. It is also recommended for water retention and for bladder and kidney ailments. Externally the infusion can serve as a wash for wounds or inflamed eyes.
Contraindications: Meadowsweet should be avoided by anyone with hypersensitivity to salicylates. If the tincture is to be used to treat gastric ulceration or excess acidity, the alcohol content, which might otherwise irritate the gut, can be reduced by adding it to boiling water.
Preparation and dosage:
Infusion: Take 1-2 teaspoonful of dried herb and add a cupful of boiling water. Leave to infuse for 10 to 15 minutes, and drink 3 times daily.
Additional comments and Folklore: Meadowsweet was one of the three herbs held most sacred to the Druids (Vervain and Water-mint being the other two). It was one of the fifty ingredients in a drink called 'Save' in Chaucer's 'Knight's Tale', where it was called Medwort or Meadwort.
It was also a popular Elizabethan strewing herb.
The Latin name Ulmaria is given in allusion to the resemblance of its leaves to those of the elm, or Ulmus.
Meadowsweet is a source of salicylic acid, which is the source of Aspirin, and the story of how this happened is interesting.
The active ingredient in aspirin, acetylsalicylic acid, is a synthetic derivative of a compound, salicin, which occurs naturally in plants, notably the Willow Tree and Meadowsweet herb. Extracts of willow were traditionally used in folk medicine, and as early as 400 BC the Greek physician Hippocrates recommended a brew made from willow bark and leaves to treat labour pains.
Later in 1763 an English clergyman, Reverend Edward Stone carried out the first proper scientific study of the herbal medicine when he described the benefits he observed after giving ground up willow bark to 50 parishioners suffering from rheumatic fever
Scientists, now aware of the pain-relieving properties of willow bark, struggled to strip it down to the exact ingredient responsible for its powers, but finally did so in the 1820s. They narrowed their search to salicin, an early form of the family of drugs named salicylates, of which aspirin is now a member.
Severe stomach upset from the salicylic acid extracted willow bark posed a problem for scientists. They attempted to remedy this side effect by combining the acid with sodium to neutralize the acid, but it failed to reduce the bellyaching.
A French chemist, Charles Frederic Gerhardt put an end to the dilemma in 1853, by adding acetyl chloride to the sodium salicylate mixture. He published the results of his findings but didn’t pursue his creation past this point, even though it upset the stomach less than the currently available compound.
Mr Gerhardt saw no future in the time-consuming preparation of his recipe, which he felt did not improve much upon the original medicine. His decision left people grabbing their guts and stomaching the old standby, sodium salicylate.
Salvation came in 1897, in the person of an eager, young Felix Hoffman, who sought, and found, a drug to help relieve the painful symptoms of his father's arthritis. This driven chemist, an employee of the Bayer Company, found and dusted off Gerhardt's old publication, mixed a batch of the recipe, and discovered that it actually worked.
Hoffman used his connection with his employer to pitch his idea, and Bayer reluctantly agreed to produce the medicine, and they named Aspirin. They invented the name Aspirin by combining the initials A from acetyl chloride, the SPIR from the plant they extracted the salicylic acid from, Spirae ulmaria, or (Meadowsweet), and the IN because it was the common ending for medications at that time. Bayer launched Aspirin in powder form and as a tablet in 1915. Aspirin was an instant success.
As with most over the counter medicines, there are side effects of this wonder drug which to this day still survive. Some patients suffer some form of indigestion, and about one in 500 may get an allergic reaction, usually itching. Aspirin is taken by patients with heart problems because it thins the blood so the risk of blood clotting is lessened.
Did you know that if you suffer from high blood pressure and you take aspirin you run the risk of bleeding of the lining of the stomach?
Herbs are the source of many of today's over the counter and prescriptions from the doctor, but chemists usually pull apart the constituents of the herb and use the ones they want, leaving the rest to be discarded.
When using the herb in its entirety, its constituents work together to provide the medication with little or no consequences other than to make the patient better! Interesting?