Meadowsweet, or Filipendula ulmaria, is a summer British wildflower that foams in ditches and water meadows.
In 1897, a chemist called Felix Hoffman discovered salicylic acid could be produced from a waste product of the plant. He was looking for something to help his father's rheumatism and, while the benefits of this compound as a pain-relieving drug had been known for thousands of years, this was the first palatable and acceptable form to be found.
At the time, meadowsweet's official name was Spiraea and the drug that was made from it became known as aspirin. The invented word combined the ''a'' from acetylic acid and the ''spir'' from Spiraea.
They do things bigger in America and their form of meadowsweet, known as the 'Queen of the Prairies', is a whopper. The pink version, Filipendula rubra, is closely related to our aspirin-producing wildflower and the named form 'Venusta' is a noble plant that looks exotic in a midsummer border and carries on looking good throughout July.
It was the sort of thing that used to appear in grand gardens among rhododendrons, or in water gardens along with giant gunnera, but more recently it has become fashionable as a modern European plant. The Dutch designer Piet Oudolf uses it.
Large plants such as 'Venusta' and the huge Thalictrum rochebruneanum that never need staking are always popular with new-wave designers. Filipendula's wrinkled palmate leaves are handsome and the rosy pink plumes provide the vertical accents that are such a help to any planting scheme.
How to grow
Officially filipendulas (except F. hexapetala, the dropwort that grows on chalky downland) like damp fertile soils but 'Venusta' seems to flourish in any normal border that has been given a bit of help with mulch or manure. Its plumes will grow to a good 1.8m (6ft). On very fertile, moist soil gardeners might be overblessed with running roots, which can always be given away.
Meadowsweet's biggest contribution to modern medicine is probably its evolution into a painkiller. Drugmaker Bayer isolated the key ingredient salicylic acid from the herb, turning it into what we know today as the Aspirin.
The buds contain salicylic acid, which can be synthesized into aspirin. (Use flower)
A tea for heartburn and gastric ulcers. May be helpful also for feverish cold, arthritis, and diarrhea. (Use flower)