Distinguishing Features : A sweetly smelling frothy foam of creamy white flowers. Also the fruits are spiralled into a tight ball looking like a miniature clenched fist with four fingers, some crossed, about the size of a match-head. Always grows beside freshwater.
A greenish-yellow dye can be extracted from the flowering tops this plant, whilst the leaves and stem yield a blue dye. The roots yield a red/pink dye or black dye when a copper mordant is used.
When not in flower, Meadowsweet leaves look very similar to those of Agrimony (Agrimonia eupatoria), but the latter has paler leaves and hairy stems midway up (whereas the stems of Meadowsweet are reddish and hairless).
Meadowsweet is related to Dropwort which is in the same Genus.
The name Meadowsweet is thought to derive from its use in Mead, an alcoholic beverage made since the middle ages, and because it has a very sweet smell. In 1839 it was discovered that the flower heads contain salicylic acid, from which aspirin (acetyl salicylate) was later manufactured. The flowers can also be used to make into a wine, and also like elderflowers to flavour pancakes.
The flowers smell sweet, some say of marzipan.
Salicin is a pharmaceutical drug used as an analgesic and anti-inflammatory agent which is found mostly in the bark of the tree
White Willow (Salix alba) (from which it is commercially extracted), but was first found in Meadowsweet. It has a bitter taste similar to
quinine. Salicin is a phenyl β-glucoside. When metabolised by the human body it is converted to Salicylic Acid.
Aspirin (Acetyl Salicylic Acid) also has pharmaceutical uses in humans; such as to thin the blood and prevent the clumping of platelets within the blood which helps prevent the blood from coagulating and thereby causing thrombosis. In lower doses it is used to prevent heart attacks, strokes and blood clotting. It also has anti-pyretic and anti-inflammatory effects and is used as a general purpose medicine at home for influenza and colds (or was - its use in such roles is now discouraged). It is a NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug) and one of the most widely used drugs, being manufactured commercially.
Aspirin has certain undesirable side effects, namely bleeding of the stomach, gastro-intestinal ulcers, tinnitus, and the risk of Reye's syndrome in children. It should not be used by those with stomach ulcers, or by those on Warfarin, another blood-thinning drug.
Methyl Salicylate is used pharmaceutically as a rubifacient in deep-heat ointments and liniments, and as flavouring in some candies and chewing gums as an alternative to the more popular Spear Mint and
Peppermint flavours. It is also used as an antiseptic in mouth wash products.
ASPIRIN - A PLANT SIGNALLING MOLECULE
Aspirin, or Acetyl Salicylic Acid, is also found in plants, being a plant
phytohormone) which not only helps the plant grow but also is involved in a pathway signalling the presence of plant pathogens and mediating the plant defence against the pathogens.
Once activated by a pathogen, it is also involved in inducing resistance to the pathogen in parts of the plant not yet infected. The signalling process also invokes the conversion of salicylic acid into the volatile ester, methyl salicylate, whereupon it can then drift through the air to other nearby plants to prime them against the presence of a nearby pathogen or pest, warning of their proximity by remote control. Methyl Salicylate is also called Oil of Wintergreen, and is indeed produced by the
Wintergreen plants, such as Round Leaved Wintergreen, some species of
Gaultheria, most members of the
Pyrolaceae Family, some species of plants of the Genus
Betula and all species of plants of the
Spiraea family, including Dropwort.
Trials will soon be underway to determine whether preliminary indications that regular small doses of Asprin every day can hold back the re-spreading of a certain few cancers is true. There are anecdotal indications that small doses of aspirin have helped prevent the re-spreading of certain cancers such as prostrate cancer after the cancer was successfully treated. The trials due to take 5 years commencing from 2016 will try to determine if there is any validity in this. The trials will use doses of 300mg, 1000mg and a placebo to determine the validity. In the meantime, patients should never self-medicate without first consulting a doctor; extended low doses of aspirin can be dangerous.
To humans Methyl Salicylate, being an ester, smells sweet, hence the name Meadowsweet. Methyl Salicylate is, however, not only toxic but also an insect pheromone. By this means the plant is also able to attract beneficial insects that will help kill the invading herbivorous insect pests.
A FLAVONOL GLYCOSIDE
The 4'-O-Glycoside of Quercetin called
Spiraeoside is present in Meadowsweet from which it derives its name (Meadowseeet used to have the scientific name Spiraea ulmaria until it was changed to Filipendula ulmaria. Unfortunately, the name of the secondary metabolite did not follow suit~). Spiraeoside is also found in Broom (Cytisus scoparius)