relax with some queen of the meadow

Sat, Aug 2, 2008

The days lately have been rather warm and sunny, so warm in fact that we’ve been out swimming in Loch Eishort at the end of the road and the meadowsweet is in full bloom.

Meadowsweet Beinn Sgritheall and Ladhair Bheinn

It’s a fascinating plant with a long history, having apparently been imbibed in Bronze Age times and you can almost imagine the brewing being passed down from generation to generation, with Iron Age families sitting outside their broch, watching the sun set over the Minch while sipping from the aromatic brew. It smells wonderful and makes a nice fragance in the home and was indeed used centuries ago as a strewing herb in private houses and also as thatching where more traditional materials were in short supply.

The Vikings knew it as Olgras, or Beer Grass and it’s thought to have derived its name from mead and even today The Heather Ale Company make a brew called Grozet which includes meadowsweet in the ingredients.

It also has uses as a dye, usually black, as in Shetland where it’s known as Blacknin’ Girse and it’s still used on Skye as a dye by Eva Lambert and as a mendicant by Dancing Dolphin.

Meadowsweet

The Gaelic name for meadowsweet is Crios-Chuchulainn, Cuchulain’s Belt. The story goes that Cuchulain one day lost his fearsome temper, for which he was renowned but on this day, nothing would calm him down. Eventually, seeing how angry the great celtic warrior was, his followers took him to the house of some women, who placed him in a bath of meadowsweet. It did the trick and calmed Cuchulain down and ever since, he carried a piece of meadowsweet in his belt.

Meadowsweet has always been a popular plant in the Highlands and one of the greatest of Gaelic bards, Alasdair Mac Mhaighstir Alasdair (gaelic info) sings its praises in the mid 18th century in Oran an-t Samhraidh (The Song of Summer):

’S cùbhraidh fàileadh do mhuineil,
A chrios-Choin-Chulainn nan càrn,
Nad chruinn bhabadainn riomhach,
Loinneach, fhad-luirgneach, sgìomhach,
Nad thuim ghiobagach dhreach-mhìn,
Bhàrr-bhuidh’, chasarlach, àrd,
Timcheall thulmanan diamhair
Mam bi ’m biadh-eunain a’fàs.

Sweetly scented thy wreath, Meadowsweet of the cairns, In round brindled clusters, And softly fringed tresses. Beautiful and graceful, Creamy flowered, ringleted, high, Around sheltered hillocks, Where the wood sorrel grows (translation from Flora Celtica)

It’s also good for headaches and fevers, being used in the 17th century to provide relief and an infusion made from the plant provides a good night’s sleep. So next time you pass the Queen of the Meadow, stop and think back through the thousands of years of history that this plant represents and as winter grows near, settle down in front of the fire with a bottle of Grozet and remember those long warm days of summer.

Meadowsweet and Ladhair Bheinn

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