How does it feel?
When you crush the flowerbuds of meadowsweet between your fingers you get the characteristic wintergreen smell of methyl salicyate. This is also the prominent taste of the whole herb in tea or tincture accompanied by a slightly slimy sweetness and astringency.
Distilling these traditional organoleptic insights, it is clear this is a remedy with soothing and astringent properties with prominent presence of inflammation-modulating salicylates.
What can I use it for?
Meadowsweet is most valued for its benefits in the upper digestive tract, notably in reducing the effects of acid dyspepsia and acid reflux.
Contrary to common belief such problems are not caused by excess acid, but by unhealthy access of acid to surfaces where it should not be and/or by hypersensitivity to acid or bile.
As we discuss in our Insight article on antacids reducing acid levels often reduces symptoms but at the cost of compromising a major defence measure.
Meadowsweet appears to work as a true healing agent on the lower oesophagus or gullet where it connects to the stomach and is ideal for reflux problems like hiatal hernia and GORD/GERD.
It contributes importantly to the relief of other acid dyspepsia complaints, gastritis and gastric ulcer along with slippery elm powder, licorice, aloe vera and Iceland moss.
Use meadowsweet also for its diuretic and inflammation-modulating properties in arthritis and more widely in chronic inflammatory diseases. It can be seen as a convenient detox remedy in such cases.
It was also widely used for urinary infections and stones.
Into the heart of Meadowsweet
This is a perfect example of the way in which plants transcend their prominent constituents. By rights the obvious content of salicylates in meadowsweet should make it a plant to be used with caution for stomach conditions and also as a potential blood-thinning agent.
Indeed none of these concerns are borne out. It is likely that the very high levels of polyphenols, including tannins bring different benefits, including reducing inflammatory pressures from the gut. A postbiotic effect, in which the microbiome converts meadowsweet constituents into even more useful metabolites, is an intriguing prospect.
Meadowsweet has been used for its astringent property in the treatment of diarrhoea, and it is almost a specific for children’s diarrhoea.It has also been used in the management of arthritis and rheumatism, oedema, cellulitis, kidney disorders, cystitis, urinary stones.
What practitioners say
Digestion: Meadowsweet is used to treat conditions of the upper gastrointestinal tract. Its tannins appear to provide protection to the oesophageal and gastric mucosa while allowing the salicylates to modulate inflammation without causing the harm associated with aspirin derivatives. It is used principally for reflux other acid-associated problems of the gastroesophageal sphincter (such as hiatal hernia, and GERD/GORD), and more widely to a range of acid dyspepsia symptoms and gastritis. Its tannin astringency makes it a useful component in reducing diarrhoea that originates as a reflex from the stomach such as in gastro-enteritis and especially children’s diarrhoea.
Urinary: meadowsweet is widely regarded as an effective diuretic, as a component of a detox regime especially in the case of arthritic problems (see below), and also to reduce oedematous inflammatory conditions. It was also used in kidney or urinary stones and urinary infection.
Musculoskeletal: although its aspirin-equivalence is low there is a tradition of incorporating meadowsweet in formulations to help with arthritic disease. This may have more to do with its reputation as a urinary remedy and the old tradition of using remedies (like nettle, clivers and birch) that were seen to help eliminate acid metabolites from the body.
Skin: there is a reputation for the use of meadowsweet as an external application for skin and mucosal lesions – in a similar way to other salicylate-based treatments with some observations of benefits for acne and cervical dysplasia.
There is very little human research on the effects of meadowsweet. One review of the literature supported its traditional use in inflammatory conditions, including evidence of COX-1 and COX-2 inhibition, with others well demonstrating a reduction of other inflammatory markers, and with indication that flavonoid and tannin components are partially responsible for the demonstrated pharmacological activities.
Laboratory studies have additionally indicated that the high tannin levels are assocatied with elastase inhibiting activities. In vivoantimutagenic activity has been identified, and in vitro effects have been demonstrated against Helicobacter pylori, and Staphylococcus aureus.
Did you know?
The brand name aspirin was derived from the former botanical name for meadowsweet, Spiraea ulmaria. In the late 19th century the German company Bayer was looking for a medicine that could replicate the traditional benefits in arthritis of willow bark (Salix spp.), without the stomach-harming properties of the chemical initially derived from it, salicylic acid.
Walking by the river one day ,one of their scientists reputedly squeezed the flowerbuds of meadowsweet, with a longstanding reputation for healing stomach problems, and noticed the strong aroma of methyl salicylate (familiar from wintergreen oil): it gave him an idea. Back in the laboratory Bayer revisited the earlier work by the French scientist Charles Gerhardt who first generated acetylsalicyclic acid in the laboratory, and marketed it as having comparable properties to salicylic acid without as much harm to the stomach wall. They called their new medicine, now the most widely used in the world, after the Latin ‘a spiraea’ (from meadowsweet).
Meadowsweet is generally safe, even as a salicylate-rich remedy (it is actually used to reduce upset stomach). Although the level of salicylate derivatives makes interaction with anticoagulant agents unlikely.it should be avoided if also taking warfarin, with salicylate sensitivity and in high doses with constipation and iron-deficiency anaemia.
Between 2-6g a day in an infusion or tea, with higher doses traditionally used for short term benefits.
Phenolic constituents are the most prominent actives in meadowsweet, including the following
- Ellagitannins (10 to 15%), especially rugosin-D.
- Phenolic (salicylaldehyde) glycosides, including methyl salicylate (spiraein) in the flowers, monotropitin (gaultherin) in the flowers and leaves, and a salicyll alcohol glycoside.
- Flavonoids (up to 3-5%) consisting of spiraeoside, hyperoside and other glycosides of quercetin and kaempferol.
- Essential oil (0.2% from the flowers) notably salicylaldehyde (75%).
There is evidence of postbiotic transformation of meadowsweet metabolites by the microbiome. Protective urolithins have been generated from meadowsweet elagitannins in human faecal cultures, and in the case of cultures of pig microbiota (which are similar to humans) polyphenol metabolites were detected demonstrating anti-inflammatory and diuretic activity.