Meadowsweet is an herb that not many people have heard of (besides herbalists), but it has a long history of use in traditional medicine and deserves recognition as the plant that played a big role in the development of aspirin.
It has been used for centuries, particularly for pain, digestion, and to flavor mead and wine.
Here's more about the benefits of meadowsweet and how to use it.
What Is Meadowsweet?
Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria) is an herb that belongs to the rose family. It goes by many other names, including meadsweet, bridewort, queen of the meadow, and lady of the meadow.
Meadowsweet is native to parts of Europe and Asia but has also migrated to North America. Its natural habitat is along river and stream banks as well as wet meadows.
Not surprisingly, meadowsweet has a very sweet fragrance when it blooms with pink or creamy flowers. These flowers were once added to bridal bouquets to attract joy and happiness (hence the name bridewort) and were also popular in love potions.
Another use for meadowsweet was as a strewing herb to keep down unpleasant smells (before modern sanitary practices). It was also a popular flavoring for mead and is still occasionally used for this purpose today.
As far as herbalism goes, the aerial parts (flowers and leaves) of meadowsweet are used and have been found to contain antioxidants and salicylic acid. (1)
Meadowsweet, Modern Medicine, & Irony
One of meadowsweet's biggest "claims to fame" is being used to create aspirin. It and other herbs, like willow bark, contain natural forms of salicylic acid, the substance used to treat acne and the active ingredient in aspirin.
It was meadowsweet specifically that salicylic acid was isolated from and later synthesized by Felix Hoffmann (working for Bayer) into acetylsalicylic acid, the main compound in the new drug aspirin.
Ironically, even though aspirin is much more powerful at relieving pain than meadowsweet, it's notoriously hard on the GI tract, often causing ulcers and other problems.
This is ironic because meadowsweet is frequently used to heal ulcers and other digestive problems. It contains buffering compounds that protect the digestive tract, but these were unfortunately left out when salicylic acid was synthesized.
Top Benefits of Meadowsweet
Helpful for Pain and Inflammation
Not surprisingly, one of the most traditional uses for meadowsweet was as a pain reliever. Not only does it contain salicylic acid, which can lessen pain, modern research has also revealed that meadowsweet has anti-inflammatory effects. (2)
Of course, meadowsweet is not the equivalent of aspirin. Herbs don't usually have the instant, forceful effects that modern medications do.
It can, however, be helpful for mild to moderate pain, especially pain that is stagnant and involves heat (meadowsweet is both cooling and promotes circulation). It's also friendly to your digestion, unlike aspirin and other conventional pain relievers.
Meadowsweet has been used for headaches and rheumatism (arthritis). It also combines well with other herbs for pain and inflammation like yarrow.
Soothing for Digestion & Ulcers
Far from causing digestive upset, there are significant benefits of meadowsweet as a healing agent for digestion.
Due to its astringent, slightly drying nature, meadowsweet can be used as a remedy for diarrhea. It also has a pleasant, sweet taste, which makes it an herb children can be convinced to take more easily than others.
Meadowsweet is also excellent as an herb for general stomach upset and nausea. It helps with stomachache and also aids stagnant digestion (either chronic stagnation or that feeling you get after eating too much). Because of this, meadowsweet can be a good substitute for ginger for those who find the root too hot.
Finally, meadowsweet has protective effects for your digestion as a whole, can help with reflux, and also helps with ulcers- usually in combination with other herbs. (3)
Good for Immunity
There's some recent evidence that meadowsweet has a positive effect on your immune system. It was found to have immunomodulatory effects in a recent 2017 study. (4)
In herbal language, immunomodulators have a balancing effect on the immune system. They don't stimulate or suppress it but rather help it to function as it should. Immunomodulators are often helpful for those who frequently get sick. (5)
Conventional medicine also uses immunomodulators (usually in drug form) for autoimmune disorders and in the treatment of certain cancers. We don't know if meadowsweet can be helpful for this someday, but it is useful for immunity in general.
In addition to the other benefits of meadowsweet, the herb also has diaphoretic properties, which means it can help relieve fevers.
Diaphoretics work by inducing sweating so that your body can "sweat out" a fever rather than simply stopping the fever like medication does. Meadowsweet is especially indicated for someone who feels hot with a fever but isn't sweating. Some herbalists will combine it with yarrow for a greater effect.
Toning for Skin
You can make use of meadowsweet's properties for your skin as well as your inner health. Its astringent nature helps to tone skin, and it can also calm signs of inflammation like red patches, blotchiness, and itchiness.
The salicylic acid in meadowsweet helps to naturally exfoliate skin. It may also help with acne, although this aspect hasn't been specifically studied yet.
Ways to Use Meadowsweet
Meadowsweet is most commonly used as a tea. It makes a very aromatic and slightly astringent tea that is useful for many of the conditions mentioned.
To make a tea, use 1-3 teaspoons of dried meadowsweet per cup of boiling water. Cover the infusion and steep for 5-15 minutes. Meadowsweet tea will get more bitter the longer it steeps, so time it according to your taste preference.
Here are a few other ways to take/use meadowsweet:
- As a tincture
- As a footbath for tired/sore feet (steep the herb in just boiled water before straining and pouring into a basin)
- As "lemonade" by steeping the flowers in hot lemon water
- As an infused honey by steeping the flowers in raw honey for 2-3 weeks
- As a hot compress for aches and soreness
There are no known precautions for meadowsweet. However, it's possible that those with an allergy to aspirin may also be allergic to meadowsweet because they both contain salicylic acid (though in different forms).
Enjoying the Benefits of Lovely Meadowsweet
You don't have to be a bride or drink mead to enjoy using meadowsweet. It has a gentle, floral nature but can be powerful for pain, soothing digestion, and skincare.
It may not be one of the most well-known herbs, but it's definitely worth having some on hand!
Disclaimer: This post is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute medical advice and should not be substituted for medical advice. Please consult your health care provider, herbalist, midwife, or naturopathic physician before taking herbs, supplements, etc. Here's the link to our full disclaimer.