Meadowsweet and Great Willow-herb
A triumvirate of beautiful herbs that are visible very often together around the countryside on roadsides, hedgerows, marshland, meadows, edges of boreens and fields in Ireland at the moment are meadowsweet, great willow-herb and valerian. When I was younger I often wondered what they were as we were stacking and bringing in bales of hay on the farm. In some places the meadowsweet and valerian are just beginning to fade.
Meadowsweet has fluffy creamy flowers which have been used for centuries to flavour mead and where it is thought it’s name originates. The plant was also laid on the ground or “strewn” in houses and castles to make them smell pleasant. The flowers and tops of the plant are used for upset stomachs, diarrhoea, heartburn, hyperacidity and absorption problems. It is also an anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving herb. Salicylic acid was first identified in meadowsweet and aspirin was originally synthesised from this.
The great willowherb is a very tall plant with beautiful pretty purply-pink flowers that have a white X at their centre. The flowers have a beautiful scent, not too unlike sweet pea, it has a great source of pollen and nectar for bees and other insects. It likes damp spots on which to grow. It’s not much used in herbal medicine.
Valerian is the last plant in the trio. It contains clusters of small white or pale pink flowers. The root has been used for at least 2,000 years as a sedative and a relaxant. The flowers can also be used but they have a milder effect. Many cats love valerian root, it contains a similar chemical that is present in catnip. For many people it is very helpful in treating insomnia, stress, panic attacks, palpitations and cramps.