Meadowsweet is a herbaceous perennial shrub native to Europe, but also found in North America. It enjoys damp conditions and grows abundantly throughout most of the UK in meadows, ditches, road or stream-sides. It is also known as Lady of the Meadow, Queen of the Ditch and Bridewort among other names.
The name Meadowsweet is said to come, not from the fact that it grows in meadows as one would expect, but from its early use to flavour mead, evolving from Middle English Medewurte, as it appears in Chaucer’s The Knight’s Tale. We find in its long documented history, that it was also considered an important strewing herb in Elizabethan times, and was considered to be one of the most important herbs used by Druids. Meadowsweet has been used for colds, respiratory problems, acid indigestion, peptic ulcers, arthritis and rheumatism, skin diseases, and diarrhea.
In the mid nineteenth century Salicylic acid was isolated from Meadowsweet which lead to the later creation of aspirin. The word “aspirin” is derived from “spirin,” based on Meadowsweet's Latin name, “Spiraea.” It is important to note that the general wisdom is that people who are sensitive to Salicylates (this includes some asthmatics) should avoid this herb, as should those who are taking warfarin, as there is the potential of an additive effect. I would also be prudent and avoid use during pregnancy and lactation.
Fragrant, sweet & with a delicate almondiness, Meadowsweet is easily one of the most overlooked of all herbs, and cooking with it couldn't be easier, as it can be used in all the same ways Elderflower can. This tutorial shows us making a simple but truly delicious cordial from it. This cordial is lovely diluted with sparkling water, and served with ice. It can also be used to make delicious cocktails!
You will need:
Large bunch of Meadowsweet (about 50 heads)
500g sugar (split in 2)
2 litres Water
Bring the water to a boil, and dissolve in 250g of the sugar and add the lemon juice. You then simply strip the open flowers from their stems and add to the water. I look to add a really good covering of flowers on top of the water.
The leaves and stems of Meadowsweet contain the far higher concentration of Salicylates which gives them a medicinal taste, so it is important to remove just the flowers for this preparation - we are hoping for a fragrant, honeyed flavour rather than an antiseptic one!
Return the pan to the heat, and bring back to a simmer. As soon as it reaches simmering point, remove the pan, give everything a good stir and leave, covered, to sit overnight. The next day strain out the flowers, add the other 250g of sugar and boil for 5 minutes.
Whilst still hot, decant the cordial into warm glass bottles which have been sterilised in a warm oven for about 10 minutes. Be aware that adding the hot cordial to cold glass bottles may cause them to crack, so take care to ensure they are at similar temperatures. Seal, and allow to cool. You can then add a pretty label. The cordial will keep for 4-6 weeks in the fridge.