Not to be confused with the Native American Meadowsweet (Spiraea Alba) which is a different plant, though, just to confuse matters, the older scientific name for our Meadowsweet is Spiraea ulmaria. The original folk name was Mead Sweet or Mead Wort, as it was used, among other things, to flavour Mead in Medieval times. It appears in abundance in tall creamy-white frothy spears of inflorescence in marshland, boggy meadows and riverbanks throughout Scotland, often forming large clumps of sweetly scented flowers. It was strewn with the ‘thresh’ on the floors of homes to freshen the air and keep fleas at bay and was said to be a favourite of Elizabeth I.
Stems are upright and sparsely branched, with pinkish vertical grooves. The leaves are divided into 5 to 11 stalked, coarsely toothed (each tooth having finer teeth), oval leaflets, green on top and silver underneath due to dense underside hairs. Often five-fingered leaflets at the ends of leaf stalks are accompanied by an opposite pair towards the stalk base. The whole leaf-stalk can be 30 to 60cm long.
Flowers are numerous in branched heads. Each flower 5 to 10mm across, with 5 creamy-white petals and 20 to 40 prominent and messy-looking stamens, which give the raceme its frothy appearance.
Fruits are 2mm, globular and twisted into a spiral, like tiny hands clasped together. Reddish or bright green, turning browner as they ripen.