Mead Wort, Pride of the Meadow, Meadow Queen, Meadsweet, Bridewort
Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria) is a commonly found distinctive flowering plant. The scent, somewhere between caramel and Germolene, combined with the unique shape of the leaves and the delicate flowers make this an easily identified and unusual foraging ingredient.
Where does Meadowsweet grow?
As the name suggests, Meadosweet can often be found in meadows (although the name is more likely to be from mead-sweet and named for the practice of using it in the brewing of ales and fermenting mead). It is also found in damp woodlands and along waysides/roads – you can often see the white ‘candy floss’ flowers alongside roads and tracks.
In spring the small leaves can be found just poking up above the grass at the edges of hedgerows, meadows and watercourses.
Is Meadowsweet edible?
Meadowsweet is quite edible, but the trick is finding something to do with it! The plant contains several useful chemicals, principal of which is salicylic acid. This chemical, found in many other species, was distilled and synthetically altered into the drug we know as aspirin, named for the old latin name for Meadowsweet – Spirea ulmaria.
Meadowsweet has a long relationship with alcoholic beverages in several countries, and is often used at some point in the preparation of mead, wine and ales as a flavouring.
I use it to flavour Thai-inspired stir fries and curries, and I know of at least one London restaurant that distills the plant into an essence to flavour the caramelised top layer of Crème Brûlée.
How to identify Meadowsweet
The three identifying characteristics I use for showing off Meadowsweet to foraging clients are the sycamore-style leaf at the end of the stem (with pairs of leaves along the stem below), the dual-coloured stem itself (deep red on one side, pale/green underneath and the flowers themselves. The scent of the flowers or crushed leaves/stem are also useful for identification – Germolene ointment mixed with a bit of caramel.
Potential dangers and misidentification
There are few plants that can be mistaken for Meadowsweet after a little examination, but something for asthmatics – and others who must avoid Non-Steroidal Anti Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) – is that it can induce some asthmatic symptoms (see notes above about salicylic acid and aspirin).