As always, mother nature is bountiful and lucky for us, another sublime wild flower called meadowsweet, (Filipendula ulmaria), is ripe for the picking and brewing. Meadowsweet is often described as one of the most summery of all our wild flora, and if you are unsure of your ability to identify this magical perennial plant, let your sight and nose be the ultimate guide.
Its frothy tufts of delicate, graceful, creamy-white flowers with their distinctive fragrance are in blossom from June to almost September, and its fernlike foliage, green on top and silvery underneath, grows from 2 – 4 feet (3 /4m — 1.2m) on a red angular stalk. It generally grows in damp meadows, in ditches and bogs and at the edges of ponds, roadsides, on riverbanks and in damp open woodland.
Meadowsweet has a fairly impressive resumé in terms of its traditional uses. Its name is derived from ‘mead sweet’ as it was once used to flavour mead, an ancient drink. It was also strewn on floors to give rooms a pleasant aroma, something like a ‘medieval air freshener’.
The sweet-smelling flowers can be used in exactly the same way as elderflowers, transforming into sublimely tasty wines, cordials, sorbets, jams, deserts, sauces, dipped in batter and deep fried to make fritters and fresh or dried, they make a delicious and medicinal tea.
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 both the stomach and the kidneys, whereas meadowsweet is both soothing and healing to both these organs. In fact, meadowsweet is often used to treat reflux and gastric ulcers, which may have originally been caused by regular use of aspirin. If you are allergic to aspirin, however, avoid using meadowsweet.
Ingredients: About a dozen flowering heads of fresh meadowsweet, 4 tbsp lemon juice, Water Sugar (approx 400g/1 lb: see ‘Method’ for details).
Method: Wash the meadowsweet and discard the stems. Put the 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 that you now add to this mix depends on the volume of meadowsweet liquid that you have. For each 750ml or 1½ pints of liquid add 400g or 1lb of sugar.Gently heat the pan, stirring all the time to dissolve the sugar. Once the sugar has melted, boil the mixture for 5 minutes (do not allow it to burn). 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, (but it probably won’t because it’s so nice you’ll want to drink it all right away).To Use: This is delicious diluted with water as a refreshing drink on a warm summer’s day. Use sparkling or soda water if you fancy a little bit of sparkle. It is also yummy poured over ice cream.
NOTE: Meadowsweet cordial is not suitable for anyone who is allergic to aspirin.
* Vivienne Campbell teaches Herbal Remedy and Natural Cosmetic-Making courses across Ireland. Her courses will feature in the new book about Irish crafts and skills Hands On by Sylvia Thompson.
If you want to know about the latest courses that Vivienne will be teaching, check out her informative website www.theherbalhub.com and sign up to her email list to receive updates on courses, talks and herb walks.