Top: Meadowsweet, right, growing along a path by the river Avon, Barton Country Farm, Bradford on Avon, Wiltshire.
I have a soft spot for Meadowsweet. Standing in a field of it along the river Avon one July some years ago, trying to rekindle a dying love, I do believe it showed that there is more to plant folklore than we give it credit for, in this entirely too rational age. A gift of Meadowsweet to the lady in question did cause a momentary melting of her heart, but not long enough to find my way back in there.
When we think of plants, love and folklore, we tend to think of love potions, which we’re all familiar with through fiction, or even opera such as Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde, or the marvelously named The Elixir of Love by Donizetti. We expect fictional magic, rather than natural magic which is much more subtle. A plant, or a potion can’t immediately and totally bend a person’s will to us for all time. But it can give us a dose of belief, something to focus our intent on, build hope, and perhaps a bit of earth magic along the way.
But it’s my guess that for a real love potion to work, it has to have the essential ingredient, which is of course love. And it works best when its already present in both hearts.
But do a search for Meadowsweet online and you’ll find countless love potions where it’s listed as a primary ingredient, because it does cut across various strands of folklore from different cultures. According to the National Records of Scotland, Meadowsweet was used in a bath to temper the rage of the Irish warrior Cuchulainn. It’s also said that it got its lovely fragrance from the Irish goddess Aine.
Also known as Bridewort, Meadwort or its scientific name, Filipendula ulmaria, it blooms in summer, from June to late August in Britain, along stream or river banks, in ditches and damp woods and meadows. With tuftlike, creamy white flowers on stems two to three foot tall, time bedecked with fern like leaves, the gentlest of breezes sends it swaying, their soft, almond-like scent wafting delicately.
As such it was a favorite for strewing along the floors to color the scent of a room, counting among its devotees Queen Elizabeth I, who proclaimed it her favorite over all the herbs in her chambers.
16th century herbalist, John Gerard wrote “The leaves and floures of Meadowsweet farre excelle all other strowing herbs for to decke up houses, to strawe in chambers, halls and banqueting-houses in the summer-time, for the smell thereof makes the heart merrie and joyful and delighteth the senses.”
Chaucer called it Meadwort and listed it as one of 50 ingredients in the drink Save, described in The Knight’s Tale, and in fact it’s still used in many meads and herbal beers, going as far back as the bronze age.
To the Druids, it was one of the three most sacred plants, along with water-mint, and vervain. It’s been found in bronze age graves in Wales and Scotland. In fact, Welsh mythology has a tale of a woman named Blodeuwedd or Flower Face, created from oak blossoms oak Blossoms, Broom and Meadowsweet.
It’s long been known as a pain reliever, and was the original plant used to create aspirin. Tea made from the blossoms has been used for ages to treat coughs and colds, and is quite tasty. It’s also been used in jams and jellies, as well as a spice for a delicate, almond like flavor which reflects its scent.
But it’s the combination of beauty and fragrance which made it so attractive to lovers. Under the name of Bridewort, it was used to strew the aisles of churches, for garlands and bridal wreaths, the culmination of courtship, which unfortunately in my case, turned out that summer afternoon to be the wrong type of culmination. Such is the way of love though, where one may see the love they possess as their salvation, while the object of their desire may see it as a curse.
Such is the way of a love spell after all, which have a way of producing unintentional effects as often as not.