The Nine Blossoms of Blodeuwedd: MeadowsweetApril 18, 2011
Image Credit: thedales.org.uk
Common names: Bridewort, Meadow Queen, Meadow-wort, Mead-wort, Pride of the Meadow, Queen of the Meadow, Lady of the Meadow, Dollof, Meadsweet, Quaker Lady, Courtship and Matrimony.
Meadowsweet is known as Bridewort because it used to be strewn on the ground at Handfastings and Weddings for the Bride to walk on (‘wort’ is an Old English word meaning root or herb). The name ‘Ulmaria’ comes from the Latin “ulmus” (elm) due to the shape of the plant’s leaves. Its Gaelic name (Ius Cuchulainn, and Rios Cuchulainn) associates the plant with the legendary warrior, Cuchulainn, who was treated with Meadowsweet baths to cure uncontrollable rage and fevers. The plant’s name ‘Filidendula’ may come from the Latin “filum” meaning thread, and “pendulus”, meaning drooping – referring to the root tubers which hang together by threads.
A peculiarity of Meadowsweet is that the scent of the leaves is quite different from that of the flowers. The latter possess an almond-like fragrance, and it was one of the fragrant herbs used to strew the floors of chambers in Medieval and Tudor times to provide fragrance and keep out insects. In allusion to this use, Gerard writes: ‘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.’
The ‘Courtship and Matrimony’ name came about because the heady smell of the flowers represented courtship, whilst the sharper smell of the foliage represented the reality of marriage.
An important food plant for hoverflies, butterflies and bees, it is also the main food plant for caterpillars of the following moths – Brown Spot Pinion, Hebrew Character, Powdered Quaker, Emperor, Lesser Cream Wave and Satyr Pug. Roots produce a black dye and the leaves a blue pigment both of which were widely used by the Celts. The seeds provide food for birds.
Meadowsweet is know to have been used for at least 4,000 years as traces of it have been found in the remains of a Neolithic drink in the Hebrides and a bunch of Meadowsweet was also found in a Neolithic burial near Perth. Held by Druids as one of the most sacred herbs (along with Watermint and Vervain), Northern European pagan cultures seem to have used meadowsweet primarily for medicine, and as a perfume and odor-fighter, rather than for religious ritual. However, the plant does play a small role in the Mabinogion, a collection of Welsh myths and folklore, where meadowsweet was one of the plants, along with broom and flowers of the oak used by the wizards Math and Gwydion to create the woman Blodeuwedd.
It was also one of the fifty ingredients in a drink called ‘Save,’ mentioned in Chaucer’s Knight’s Tale, in the fourteenth century when it is referred to as Medwort, or Meadwort, (i.e. the mead or honey-wine herb), and the flowers were often put into wine and beer. It is still incorporated in many herb beers. [Sourced from The Isle of Wight Druid Grove]