Meadow Sweet in magical bloom

By Rosaleen Dwyer

Rosaleen Dwyer is the County Heritage Officer at South Dublin County Council – every week she gives us an insight into the natural heritage around us and the beautiful biodiversity of the plants and creatures

In damp grasslands or along riverbanks and lakesides in our parks at the moment, you will see Meadow Sweet in bloom. This a tall, elegant-looking plant is topped with layered heads of small, creamy white flowers.

Its name, Meadow Sweet, indeed accurately reflects the wonderful scent from this plant’s lacy flower heads, particularly on a still, muggy day.

Meadow Sweet coming into flower around the lake in Ballymount Park 1

Meadow Sweet coming into flower around the lake in Ballymount Park

It is suggested nonetheless that its name actually originates from the old Norse term of ‘mead sweet’, indicating that the plant was once used extensively to add flavour to mead while brewing.

In the past, because of its sweet fragrance, the plant was also strewn over hard stone floors with rushes and ferns. Meadow Sweet not only acted as a carpet on the cold stone flags but it also helped to mask any bad smells.

Its name in Irish reflects this usage as a strewing herb, where ‘Airgead luachra’ translates as Silver Rush. This name also describes the undersides of the plant’s green leaves, which can be silvery-white in colour.

In folklore medicine, Meadow Sweet was valued as a useful herb for ailments like fevers, colds, and sore throats. Recent studies have indeed shown that the plant contains salicylate, which is similar to aspirin.

Meadow Sweets lacy flowers occur in layers up the stem 1

Meadow Sweet’s lacy flowers occur in layers up the stem

Bumblebees also love this plant, enjoying its easily accessed pollen and nectar resource.

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