Sunday, October 30, 2011

Meadowsweet/ Almindelig Mjødurt

Filipendula ulmaria

The habitat of meadowsweet are damp meadows,ditches, along water streams, moist fallow fields, but it can also grow in relatively dry pastures.  It is native throughout most of Europe and Western Asia. It was introduced and naturalized in North America. Other names: Queen of the Meadow, Lady of the Meadow, Bridewort etc. The Latin ulmaria means elm-like, referring to the roughly serrated leaves, similar to elm leaves. The family name Filipendula comes of filum = thread and pendulus = hanging, referring to the swollen tubers on the roots of Dropwort.  (Filipendula vulgaris, Dropwort is alike Meadowsweet as to the flowers, but it is lower and with yarrowlike leaves).

Meadowsweet flowers in June until early September, and the sweet smelling, creamy-white flowers are gathered in a close top. The whole plant possesses a pleasant taste and flavour. The flowers contain no honey, the visiting insects gather pollen. The flowers get their pleasant scent from etheric oils. The little fruits are smooth and with strongly twisted  nuts. The plant was once used as a taste adjustment in mead, but in later times the name is connected to the sweet scent of the flowers.

Folk Medicine:

In the 1300 the physician Henrik Harpestreng recommended to drink meadowsweet with wine against viper bites and to mix crushed seeds with oil to drip into an aching ear. The juice was put in a cloth to sniff against colds, the crushed roots counteracted eye diseases and were with vinegar put on frosty feet. Leaves and roots were used as a compress on wounds and as a patch on gouts.

The flowers of Meadowsweet were introduced in the Pharmacopoeia in 1772.

In the 1700s a decoct of the root was drunk against fever and used to bathe old wounds. An extract of the plant was on the Faroe Islands used against headache.

Medicinal properties today:
The whole plant is used as a remedy for an acidic stomach. Fresh roots are used in homeopatic preparations. Dried flowers used in potpourri. The plant contains the chemicals used to make aspirin.

Other use

In Sweden meadowsweet was in the old days used to strew on the dance floor, where it sent out its fine aromatic scent, when it was being trampled to pieces. It was also used in other countries as a strewing herb on floors to give the room a pleasant aroma, and to flavour wine, beer, mead and viegar.

Pigs raked out the tubers of  Dropwort and eat them. The tubers were in famine times used as a bread flour.

The flowers of meadowsweet were put into wine as a spice. The young leaves or flowers gave a pleasant wine taste for beer or mead. In spring the leaves were used for salad or spinach and the flowers as an aromatic ingrediense in several dishes, the flower buds were used in pickles. Flowers can be added to stewed fruit and jam, giving them a fine almond flavour. The flowers give a light, sweetly spiced tea.

Tanning and dyeing:
Both species of meadowsweet can be used for tanning. A natural black dye can be obtained from the roots  by using a copper mordant. On the Faroe Islands the plant is used for dyeing cloth. 

History, Literature and Mythology:
White flowers have been found in graves from Bronze Age, and these finds could indicate that honey-based mead or flavoured ale were used. In the 16th century, when it was a custom to strew floors with rushes and herbs, it was a favourite of Queen Elisabeth I. She desired it above all other herbs in her chambers. In Chaucer's The Knight's Tale it is known as Meadwort. It was also known as Bridewort, strewn in churches for festivals and weddings and made into bridal garlands.

In Welsh mythology Gwydion and Math created a woman out of oak blossom, broom and meadowsweet and named her Blodeuwedd (flower face).

V.J.Brøndegaard, Folk og Flora, Dansk Etnobotanik , vol. 3, Rosenkilde og Bagger 1979; Danmarks Fugle og Natur, Felthåndbogen, 2011; Nordeuropas Vilde Planter; Norse Mythology; Anemette Olesen, Danske Klosterurter, 2001, Aschehoug.

photo Fyrkat og Lindenborg Aadal 2011: grethe bachmann

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