Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Meadowsweet is one of the best known British wildflowers. The name ulmaria means "elmlike", since the leaves resemble those of the elm (Ulmus). They are dark green on the upper side and whitish and downy underneath, much divided, interruptedly pinnate, having a few large serrate leaflets and small intermediate ones. Terminal leaflets are large, 1 to 3 inches long and three to five-lobed. There is also a related plant, Willow-leaved Spiraea (S. salyciflora), with simple ex-stipulate leaves resembling those of the willow (Salix). The leaves are sometimes eaten by the larvae of the Emperor Moth.
Meadowsweet has delicate, graceful, creamy-white flowers clustered close together in handsome irregularly-branched cymes, having a very strong, sweet smell. They blossom from June to early September. The stems are 2 to 4 feet high, erect and furrowed, sometimes purple. The whole herb possesses a pleasant taste and flavour, the green parts partaking of the aromatic character of the flowers, leading to the use of the plant to strew on floors to give the rooms a pleasant aroma, and its use to flavor wine and beer.
Meadowsweet was regarded as sacred by the Druids. It is reputed to have many medicinal properties.
In 1897 Felix Hoffmann created a synthetically altered version of salicin, derived from Spiraea species, which caused less digestive upset than pure salicylic acid. The new drug, formally Acetylsalicylic acid, was named aspirin by Hoffman's employer Bayer AG. This gave rise to the hugely important class of drugs known as NonSteroidal AntiInflammatory Drugs, or NSAIDs.
Other species of Spiraea include S. filipendula, S. prunifolia, S. bella, S. fortunei, S. tomentosa, S. trifoliata, S. thunbergii and S. stipulata.
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