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Cornucopia - A flower to make a merry heart

A flower to make a merry heart
Alison Mallett

Meadowsweet: an evocative name, yet one of over a dozen picturesque vernacular names: Queen of the Meadows; Kiss-me-quick; Courtship and Matrimony (ie sweet and bitter!) to mention but three. How does it rate in our gardens? As a wild flower? Or domesticated? Certainly, in our garden it is most welcome.

Filipendula ulmaria is described as an herbaceous perennial of the Rosaceae family, thriving in damp meadows and proliferating along damp verges of many roads in Britain. From leaves rise strong stems to a yard or so, topped, in high summer, with a froth of creamy-white flowers. Both foliage and flowers give a delicious fragrance. It is good in vases, as also in pot pourri. In garden forms my favourite is F. ulmaria 'Aurea', whose foliage emerges a lovely gold turning to lime. There’s also a variegated form, a double flowered one and one with pink flowers.

Meadowsweet is also of considerable historic interest. It was used as a strewing herb - I read somewhere that Queen Elizabeth I liked to have it on her bedroom floor. It was used as a flavouring especially for mead (hence meadwort). It was a medicinal herb, its various decoctions thought to be good for the ague, coughs, colds, headaches (considered to be kinder than aspirin) and all sorts of aches and pains. It made pleasant tea, an alternative to woodruff.

Perhaps less commonly known, meadowsweet makes a delectable drink comparable with that made with elderflower. But what about this: years ago my husband and I were passing through France, and stopped at a restaurant where our meal peaked with an absolutely delicious sorbet. We asked the chef about it and he said “Mais c’est la reine-des-prés! It is from an English recipe.” And fetched a well-worn old English herbal. The sorbet was made from meadowsweet. I imagine you would make it in the same way as you would prepare an elderflower sorbet, with sweetening and perhaps lemon? If anyone has a more exact recipe I’m sure it would be of interest to other HPS members.

Meanwhile here is a recipe for meadowsweet wine, from a nice book ‘Pick, Cook and Brew’ by Suzanne Beedell:
1 gallon flowers
¼ pt cold tea
1 gallon water
¾ oz. yeast
½ lb. raisins
1 lemon
2½ lbs. sugar

Put the flower heads in a container and pour boiling water over them. Stir thoroughly and leave for three days, stirring frequently. Strain the liquid on to the sugar and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Add the juice of the lemon, the cold tea, the chopped raisins and the yeast and put the lot into a fermentation jar. Finish as usual.

Would I be right in thinking that if you stopped before adding the yeast you would get a delicious and refreshing non-alcoholic drink?

First published in the Devon Group Newsletter, June/July 2011
and subsequently in Cornucopia Issue 30.
© Copyright for this article: Alison Mallett

This article was taken from a copy of Cornucopia that was published in 2012. You could be reading these articles as they are published to a national audience, by subscribing to Cornucopia.


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