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Meadowsweet

Filipendula ulmaria

  • Name also: Mead Wort, Double Lady of the Meadow, European Meadowsweet, Meadow-sweet, Queen of the Meadow
  • Family: Rose Family – Rosaceae
  • Growing form: Perennial herb. Rhizomatous.
  • Height: 0.5–1.2 m (20–50 in.). Stem hairy–quite glabrous, stem leaves numerous.
  • Flower: Corolla regular (actinomorphic), creamy white, 5–8 mm (0.2–0.32 in.) broad; petals usually five, 3–4 mm (0.12–0.16 in.) long. Calyx 5-lobed. Stamens many, longer than petals. Gynoecium separate, pistils several. Inflorescence an abundantly flowered, wide compound corymb. Flowers fragrant.
  • Leaves: Alternate, stalked, stipulate. Blade pinnate, 3–5-paired, with terminal leaflet. Leaflets ovate–lanceolate, with doubly serrated margins, top glabrous, underside light-coloured, densely short-haired, terminal leaflet larger than others, usually 3 or 5-lobed. Small leaflets intermixed with large ones.
  • Fruit: Alternate, intertwined, approx. 3 mm (0.12 in.) long achene.
  • Habitat: Damp meadows, ditches, shore-side meadows, hedgerows and alder groves, waterside meadows that are prone to flooding, damp broad-leaved forests, rich mixed swamps, fens, springs.
  • Flowering time: June–August.

Meadowsweet grows on many kinds of damp and loamy ground. It is common all over Finland, anywhere it can find a suitable growing place: on shore-side meadows, damp broad-leaved forests, bog margins and seashore hedgerows. The species exploits human activity well and can take over wet unused or formerly farmed fields almost entirely, and ditches are often full of it. Only rarely can another herb thrive in the small amount of space and light that remains below meadowsweet, and only very few large herbs can grow beside it.

Meadowsweet’s display of yellowish white flowers are an essential part of the Finnish summer. It doesn’t flower until it’s nine or ten years old, but it compensates with its fine display. On warm summer days the inflorescence’s cloyingly sweet, slightly vanilla-like fragrance attracts clouds of pollinating insects. The flowers have no nectar, but pollinators are rewarded with pollen, which they spread from flower to flower and which also spreads on the wind. Meadowsweet’s hard stem remains rigid throughout the winter and the arching achenes spread across the frozen land.

Meadowsweet’s aromatic flowers have been used to flavour wine and beer. The powerful fragrance of cut flowers in a vase fills the whole room. In the old days meadowsweet flowers were scattered on the floor before feasts: as the flowers were crushed underfoot their fragrance would float up and mask any unpleasant smells from e.g. those who were not so particular about their personal hygiene. Meadowsweet has been used as a medicinal plant to treat many complaints. In 1839 German chemists isolated a new chemical, spirea acid, in its leaves. A similar kind of substance, salicylic acid, was also found in willow leaves, and it became known as Aspirin. It was later proved that spirea acid complemented with salicylic acid didn’t have a weaker medicinal effect, but rather had less side effects. Because of its active ingredients, tea made from its flowers should be enjoyed sparingly if at all, and only small amounts of the leaves should be used in a herbal tea blend. Meadowsweet is the provincial flower of Ostrobothnia.

Other species from the same genus
Other species from the same family
Trees and bushes from the same family

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