New uses for a very old and very pretty wildflower

Meadowsweet’s delicious scent is perfuming the country air from ditches and wild meadows now.

If you are lamenting the fact that your homemade cordial stocks are running low and kicking yourself for not making the most of elderflower season, there is light at the end of the torment.

As always, mother nature is bountiful, and lucky for us flower-foraging enthusiasts, another wild edible flower called meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria) is ripe for the picking.

Meadowsweet is often described as one of the most summery of our wild flora. It certainly blooms over a long season and is in flower from June right through to September.

If you are unsure of your ability to identify this unfussy perennial plant, let your sight and nose guide you.

Its frothy tufts of delicate, graceful, creamy-white flowers have a distinctive fragrance and its fernlike foliage is green on top and silvery underneath, growing from 60cm to 120cm on a red angular stalk.

It generally grows profusely in damp meadows, ditches and bogs, at the edges of ponds, roadsides, on riverbanks and in damp open woodland making it widespread across Ireland.

Cultivated forms of this wildflower are also popular in gardens with Filipendula purpurea ‘Elegans’ being one of the most attractive with its clouds of pink-purple flowers.

Like its native relative, it loves consistently moist soil making it a good choice for a damp or boggy area in the garden.

The Irish name for meadowsweet is ‘airgead luachra’ which means ‘rush silver’, yet another indicator of its preference for moist conditions.

Meadowsweet has a fairly impressive resume in terms of its traditional uses. Its name is thought to be derived from ‘mead sweet’ as it was once used to flavour mead, an ancient alcoholic drink made from honey.

It was also strewn on floors to give rooms a pleasant aroma, something like a medieval air freshener, a commodity that would have been indispensable in those times. 

These days, the sweet smelling flowers are used in exactly the same way as elderflower and transform into tasty wines, cordials, sorbets, jams, desserts and sauces.

The flowers and young leaves make a delicious and medicinal tea used either fresh or dried, (said to be good for depression), and fresh flowers can also be dipped in batter and deep-fried to make fabulous fritters.

Meadowsweet comes into bloom as the last elderflowers disappear, thus giving a fabulous seasonal extension to wild flowery creations.

The health benefits of this mighty plant are many and it is said to ease conditions such as heartburn, ulcers, upset stomach and diarrhoea.

In fact, it is the herb that aspirin was created from as it contains high levels of salicylic acid, the active ingredient of aspirin which is used for its anti–inflammatory properties.

However, aspirin can be very harsh on the stomach and the kidneys, whereas meadowsweet is soothing and healing to both these organs. The plant is often used to treat reflux and gastric ulcers, but if you are allergic to aspirin, avoid using meadowsweet.

Meadowsweet cordial is an easy-to- make delicious herbal remedy. There are many recipes available and I gleaned this one from Vivienne Campbell ( www.theherbalhub.com ), a great herbalist, teacher, cook and friend. 

For this cordial all you need is about a dozen flowering heads of fresh meadowsweet, 4 tbsp lemon juice, water and about 400g sugar.

* Wash the meadowsweet and discard the stems. Put whole flower-heads in a pan and add just enough water to barely cover the flowers.

* Bring to the boil, then turn down and simmer gently for 10 mins.

* Strain the liquid through a sieve into a measuring jug (discard the meadowsweet flowers, put then in the compost). Measure the volume of liquid that you now have. Pour this liquid into a clean pan and add the lemon juice.

* The quantity of sugar depends on the volume of meadowsweet liquid that you have. For each 750ml of liquid add 400g of sugar.

* Gently heat the pan, stirring all the time to dissolve the sugar. Once the sugar has melted, boil the mixture for five mins (do not allow it to burn, it could turn into toffee) If there is any residue on the surface of the mixture then skim this off. Allow to cool before bottling.

The cordial usually keeps for several months if stored in the fridge and isdelicious diluted with water as a refreshing drink.

Use sparkling water if you fancy a little bit of fizz — it is also good poured over ice-cream.

NOTE: Meadowsweet cordial is not suitable for anyone who is allergic to aspirin.


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