Meadowsweet Herb, A Natural Painkiller

The name, meadowsweet reflects the herb’s fragrance.  Unlike the offensive aromas of many healing herbs, this unique combination of honey, vanilla, and bitter almond smells appetizing. While, ancient Germanic tribes used the herb to help flavor their honey wine, today we know Meadowsweet offers much more as a medicinal plant. 

Like so many of the medicinal herbs profiled on this site, meadowsweet has a rich history and tradition.  Early Romans reported its use as a sacred herb. And, our namesake, Hildegard of Bingen cultivated meadowsweet in her medieval garden to address several common ailments of her time.

meadowsweet herb

Meadowsweet herb

Meadowsweet remains of great importance in modern traditional German medicine and naturopathy. The plant contains salicylic acid compounds, which modern medicine chemically synthesizes to form acetylsalicylic acid (the modern form of Aspirin). 

Salicylic acid possesses analgesic, anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial effects. The benefits of meadowsweet go beyond salicylic acid to include a healthy dose of tannins. For example, a diverse group of ellagitannins, found in certain plants serve to protect mucous membranes, and contribute antioxidant effects.

Meadowsweet Herb – A Rose Plant

The meadowsweet plant belongs to the Rosaceae family and originates in large parts of Europe. Now having spread throughout the northern hemisphere, the herb thrives in humid, nutrient-rich habitats. Meadowsweet usually appears along ditches and streams, and on wet, untended meadows. The perennial plant grows up to 1.5 meters high. 

What is meadowsweet

Flowering meadowsweet

Pink or cream white flowers appear to grow out of angular stems, which branch out from a creeping rootstock.  The fuzzy leaves grow more densely in the lower part of the plant, and sparsely at the top. Once fully in bloom, the panicles of the cream-white flowers appear dense. The botanical name for meadowsweet is Filipendula ulmaria or real meadowsweet.

Flowering time of the meadowsweet plant

During the flowering period, from June to August, meadowsweet exudes an intense, honey-almond scent, which intensifies in the evening. The sweet scent of the flowers and abundant supply of pollen attracts lots of insects. Where many meadowsweet plants grow, they wrap their surroundings in a fragrance full of relaxation and joie de vivre. 

In ancient times, meadowsweet served a secondary use as a scatter flower. Scattered meadowsweet adorned the floors of homes and meeting places, leaving sweet scents for gatherings and celebrations. This summer scent delights the senses, and was thought to prolong life.

Medicinal plant parts 

Medicinal use of meadowsweet includes the flowers, leaves, and occasionally roots. While prone to rapid degradation, ensure leaves remain juicy green (viriditas), and without any white spots. White spots generally indicate mold or other plant degradation. Mold arises commonly, as this plant often grows in wetlands.

Meadowsweet benefits

Meadowsweet often grows in wetland

The health benefits of meadowsweet herb

Like many other remedies found in klosterheilkunde, modern science has validated the efficacy of meadowsweet as a medicinal plant.  Meadowsweet contains effective essential oils, including salicylaldehyde and salicylic acid. 

Meadowsweet also contains flavonoids and tannins known for their health-promoting properties.

Pain relieving properties of meadowsweet

The pain relieving properties of meadowsweet operate much like another favorite of Hildegard medicine, the medicinal plant, willow bark, which we profile as among Hildegard’s natural headache remedies. 

meadowsweet herb

Meadowsweet herb

Like willow wood, meadowsweet possesses aspirin-like qualities insofar as the active agents, salicylaldehyde and methyl salicylate create a chemical reaction in the body to produce salicylic acid. Salicylic acid operates like acetylsalicylic acid, the active ingredient contained in Aspirin. Meadowsweet also has the effect (like, willow wood) to reduce fever. 

Topical use of Meadowsweet

Meadowsweet works both topically and when ingested. Topically, this healing plant serves to counteract acne and skin impurities. Topical use of meadowsweet typically involves a broth made from the fresh leaves of the plant. One can also make creams or ointments with meadowsweet. 

filipendula meadowsweet for skin

Meadowsweet (and Calendula) for skin

Meadowsweet works great as an additive for baths or steam baths.  A bath enhanced by meadowsweet serves as a pleasant remedy for dry skin.

Meadowsweet remedies and health applications 

Traditional German medicine regards the herb as an antirheumatic, anti-inflammatory and sweat-inducing agent. 

Records show the use of meadowsweet during the Middle Ages to treat basic forms of epilepsy. A more persistent use deriving from medieval medical treatment involves using the herb to treat urinary tract discomfort and chronic coughs.

Modern medicinal uses of meadowsweet 

Modern scientific studies point to the antioxidant effects of meadowsweet. Through this effect and other ingredients, this natural remedy addresses some of the following mild conditions.

The primary use of meadowsweet in naturopathy focuses on the herb as a gentle pain and fever remedy, to address mild forms of rheumatoid arthritis as well as for flu infections. Germany’s Commission E approves the use of meadowsweet for supportive treatment of colds; particularly, to promote sweating. 

Meadowsweet Herb Tea

Meadowsweet herb tea has an excellent soothing effect on colds and flu infections. It not only reduces fever, but also relieves pain and helps to reduce swelling of the mucous membranes. 

Meadowsweet Tea

Meadowsweet Tea

Meadowsweet tea also helps with most types of edema. Here the folk medicine claims diuretic and detoxifying effects, which should also be effective against problems of the urinary apparatus and metabolism. These folk applications lack modern scientific validation.

In addition meadowsweet tea helps resolve minor forms of heartburn.

Preparation of a meadowsweet tea 

Pour a cup of boiling water over one or two teaspoons of dried meadowsweet flowers, allow 10 to 15 minutes to steep, and consume as hot as possible. Repeat three times a day.

Meadowsweet as a refreshing drink – infection prevention

Put fresh meadowsweet blossoms and lemon juice (to taste) in a carafe with water and allow a few hours to steep. Drink the water throughout the day.

Meadowsweet wine – as medicine

Pour 0.7 litres of white wine over the leaves and flowers of meadowsweet.  Allow 2 weeks to steep, shaking the mixture regularly. Run the mixture through a sieve, preserving the liquid portion. Drink 1 liqueur glass throughout the day during colds or headaches and rheumatic pains.

Meadowsweet flower

Meadowsweet flower

Meadowsweet tincture – as an embrocation for aching joints

Pour over 2 handfuls of meadowsweet flowers and leaves with 500 ml of about 40% alcohol (e.g. double grain), allow 4 weeks to steep, shaking the mixture from time-to-time and then filter off. Fill the tincture into dark vials and rub topically onto painful joints.

Meadowsweet honey – for cold tea

Combine meadowsweet flowers with liquid honey and allow the combination to stand for 2-3 weeks. This honey combination tastes delicious on spelt bread.

Meadowsweet compresses – topical use for pain

Pour 1 litre of water over 2-3 handfuls of meadowsweet flowers, heat until shortly before boiling and let the mixture stand on the hotplate for 10 minutes. After running through a sieve, make hot compresses to help with rheumatic joint pain, mild symptoms of arthritis, and gout.

Topical use of meadowsweet as a skin ointment

For the treatment of inflammatory skin or acne, prepare meadowsweet steam baths or ointments using creams based on meadowsweet. When preparing a steam bath, use about 1 to 2 teaspoons of fresh or dried meadowsweet combined with hot, but not boiling water. Boiling water dissolves the salicylic acid and renders the combination ineffective. 

Meadowsweet for Skin

Meadowsweet for Skin

To make an ointment, use linseed oil and fresh meadowsweet leaves (fresh flowers are better), prepared in a water bath. The oil should then be drawn for one day and mixed with lanolin the following day. The ointment can be applied two to three times daily and evenly to the respective skin areas.

Side Effects of Meadowsweet Herb

When used as intended, meadowsweet does not result in known undesirable side effects. Although meadowsweet contains only small amounts of salicylates, patients with salicylate hypersensitivity should not use it. This is also true of willowwood (internal link), and similarly applies to infants, toddlers and asthmatics. Pregnant women and nursing mothers are also advised not to take salicylate.

Meadowsweet in the Kitchen

Meadowsweet can be used in the kitchen, however western use (including Germany) as a spice is no longer common practice. In the interest of trying something new, meadowsweet would add an interesting flavor to drinks or jams. The flowers have a sweet, honey-like taste and are therefore very popular for their aroma. 

The flowers can simply be added to certain liquids, such as fruit juices, wine or the like, and left to stand for several hours. Meadowsweet fruit compote can also be used to make fruit compote from apples, pears, cherries and other fruits. The fruits are peeled and cut into small pieces and then left to grow with the flowers of this plant and a little water. Then the fruits are processed as usual.

Meadowsweet herb kitchen

Meadowsweet herb, a tasty addition for fruit compotes

Meadowsweet is also used in some countries for the preparation of desserts. The flowers can, for example, be added to whipped cream for dessert. Sorbets also benefit from the honey almond taste of meadowsweet.

The leaves of the meadowsweet plant can be used to season food. Both fish and game dishes can be very well refined with this herb. The leaves can also be prepared as a vegetable garnish.

Grow meadowsweet herb in your own garden

Meadowsweet grows in most gardens. Meadowsweet grows very well in wet or moist soils. The location should also be sunny. Calcareous soils are preferred by the plant, while sandy soils should be enriched before planting. Compost, for example, is suitable for enrichment. 

Wild meadowsweet leaves

Indoor cultivation poses challenges, as this plant has certain requirements. When planting in pots, it is particularly important to pay attention to the root system, which spreads quickly. Therefore, the ideal pots should be rather large to give the plant enough space.

How to buy meadowsweet

If you want to buy meadowsweet seeds, pay close attention to the species. Both the real meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria), the pink meadowsweet (Filipendula rubra) and the small meadowsweet (Filipendula vulgaris) appear commonly. 

The small meadowsweet, for example, sometimes has different site conditions (drier soils) than the real one; the healing effect of the other two herbs is only little reported or known.

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