In medieval times, meadowsweet was a favorite strewing herb—Gerard wrote in his Herball (1597) that “the smell thereof makes the heart merry and joyful and delighteth the senses.” Salicylic acid isolated from the plant was first synthesized in 1860 and later used to develop aspirin. Nowadays, meadowsweet is taken for gastric problems and inflammatory conditions, such as arthritis.
Habitat & Cultivation
Native to Europe, meadowsweet grows easily in damp places, preferring ditches and the banks of streams and rivers. It seeds itself freely, but can also be propagated by root division in autumn or spring. Leaves and flowering tops are harvested in summer when the flowers open.
- Flavonol glycosides (approximately 1%), mainly glycosides of quercetin
- Phenolic glycosides (salicylates)
- Volatile oil (salicylaldehyde)
- Polyphenols (tannins)
- Stimulates sweating
Salicylates: The salicylates are aspirin-type substances that help to reduce inflammation and relieve pain, for example in arthritic conditions. However, they do not have the blood-thinning properties of aspirin.
Protective combination: Unlike aspirin, which at high doses causes gastric ulceration, the combination of salicylates, tannins, and other constituents acts to protect the lining of the stomach and intestines, while providing the anti-inflammatory benefit of the salicylates. Meadowsweet clearly illustrates the fact that herbal medicines cannot be understood by considering their constituents in isolation.
Traditional & Current Uses
Acid indigestion: The herb is a key remedy for acid indigestion and gastroesophageal reflux, and can quickly help to improve troubled digestions. Its mode of action is not well understood, though its anti-inflammatory action is clearly important.
Arthritis: Meadowsweet is commonly taken as a remedy for rheumatic and arthritic problems such as osteoarthritis, gout, lumbago, and sciatica. It is a mild diuretic and is thought to help the kidneys to clear acid residues from the body, thereby relieving joint inflammation, which is often associated with acidity.
Digestive remedy: Meadowsweet is a safe remedy for diarrhea, even in children, and is used with other herbs for irritable bowel syndrome.
Other uses: Meadowsweet has traditionally been taken in much the same way as aspirin—to ease the pain and discomfort of headache, colds and flu, and toothache.