This fantastic article about the history and uses of Meadowsweet was written by Carla Lamont, a talented Chef and Writer, who runs Ninth Wave Restaurant, on the Isle of Mull, Scotland.
From June to September, Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria), a great cooking ingredient for the forager, can be found in many of Britain’s water meadows, riverbanks and bogs.
I am completely sold on this heady, decadent smelling wonder, with its dramatic froth of graceful white flowers. It also attracts bees and other wildlife, making it an important part of a healthy ecosystem.
This much underused cooking ingredient has a taste and smell somewhat reminiscent of almond essence. It is a lacy romantic plant (once used in love potions) with such fitting folk names as Meadsweete, Queen of the Ditch, Bridewort, Fausse Spirée, and my personal favourite Lady of the Meadow. Interestingly, meadowsweet's first classified name was Spiraea and the drug aspirin, which it was derived from, took its name from that.
In Britain, meadowsweet is a perennial herb in the rose family, having fernlike foliage and tufts of delicate, creamy-white umbels on stems that can grow up to four feet tall and are sometimes reddish purple. In North America the Filipendula rubra or Queen of the Prairies is a larger variety with wrinkly leaves and blushing pink plumes.
I find the flavour profiles of honey and meadowsweet still work in perfect harmony and are great assets to the modern chef. The French have notably used meadowsweet quite often in both historical and contemporary recipes.
The great Michel Roux book Finest Desserts and David Everitt-Matthias in his Dessert ;From the Le Champignon Sauvage both showcase meadowsweet as a relevant ingredient in today’s culinary scene.
Meadowsweet has inspired me to create aromatic Panna Cotta, almond nougat, and a rich ice cream. The ice cream makes a lovely unique base for a modern banana split. I also make meadowsweet cordial to flavour ganache for sinfully good white chocolate truffles or to pour onto my morning porridge.
A little goes a long way, and meadowsweet is no shrinking violet.
The florets can be dried for a more subtle enhancement to sprinkle over desserts or flavour yoghurts and crumble toppings. An often-unnoticed part of this plant, the dark green leaves add a lovely mellow taste to salads, ices and fruit punch. The honeyed drink of the druids, Mead, was also flavoured with its blossoms, and there are loads of recipes if you’d like to make your own tipple.
You can freeze the blooms for winter use, but make sure they are double bagged and in an airtight container because the smell and taste can permeate everything else in the freezer – Meadowsweet wasn’t used as an ancient strewing herb and air-freshener for nothing! It was even powerful enough to keep the unwanted smells of the Middle Ages at bay.
Dried meadowsweet can be found in herbal or health food shops, but I encourage you to don your boots, grab a bucket and go forth into the fragrant riot of bloom that is summer to find your own.
Please note that individuals with aspirin aversion or asthma should avoid using meadowsweet