If you have been meandering along the country roads for the past few weeks, you’ll have seen swathes of fluffy cream flowers along the verges, tiny sweet fragrant blossoms clustered together in irregularly branched cymes. The plant grows 2-4 foot tall and is called meadowsweet. The legendary Tudor botanist and herbalist John Gerard called this wildflower that blossoms from the end of June until mid-September ‘Queen of the Meadows’, and described how it ‘delighted the senses and scented people’s houses’.
It thrives in clammy meadows and ditches and along river banks. It delights me too and I love it for a myriad of reasons, not only the fact that it comes into season just as the elderflowers fade. I’ve been using the latter in a myriad of ways but from now until September, it’s the turn of frothy meadowsweet. It has many medicinal qualities and is known to contain salicylic acid, one of the components of aspirin and has pain relieving and anti-inflammatory properties. Herbalists value it for its many medical qualities, bees and hoverflies love it too.
But this is a cooking column so how do we enjoy it in the kitchen. Well, I’ve been adding to my repertoire of meadowsweet recipes for the past few Summers. It flavours custard deliciously which can then be churned into meadowsweet ice-cream. You can imagine how fragrant meadowsweet panna cotta and crème brûlée are – infuse the milk for rice pudding. It also makes a delicious cordial, lemonade, spritzer or a simple tea. Strew a few blossoms on the base of a cake tin while making a sponge and/or add some to a lemony icing. Try flavouring end of season rhubarb compote for a delicious surprise and I’ve had success with both rhubarb and ginger meadowsweet jam plus it also combines well with gooseberry to make a delicious compote. How does meadowsweet gin and tonic sound? Infuse gin for a week or two as you would sloe or damsons. Strain and enjoy.
Keep your eyes peeled for meadowsweet as you drive through the countryside. Pop it into a vase on your kitchen table, it will perfume the entire kitchen while you decide on delicious ways to enjoy it…
From Spring onwards when the herb garden is full of an abundance of herbs, we make lots of tisanes and herb teas. All you need to do is pop a few leaves or flowers into a teapot, pour on the boiling water – and allow it to infuse for a few minutes. Infinitely more delicious than the dried herb teabags.
meadowsweet, lemon verbena, rosemary, sweet geranium, lemon balm, spearmint, peppermint…
Bring fresh cold water to the boil.
Scald a China tea pot, take a handful of meadowsweet flowers and crush
them gently. The quantity will depend on
the strength of the herb and how intense an infusion you enjoy. Put them into the scalded teapot. Pour the boiling water over the flowers,
cover the teapot and allow to infuse for 3-4 minutes. Serve immediately in a glass or China
225ml (8fl oz) meadowsweet syrup (see recipe)
750ml (1 1/4 pints) water
Juice the lemons. Add the syrup and water. Mix and taste. Add ice and meadowsweet to garnish.
Makes 400ml (14fl oz)
225g (8oz) sugar
300ml (10fl oz) water
10-15 meadowsweet heads
To make the meadowsweet
stock syrup: Put the sugar, cold water
and meadowsweet into a saucepan. Bring slowly
to the boil. Boil for 2 minutes then
allow it to cool. Strain and store in
the fridge until needed.
It’s great fun to organise a few pals to pick some meadowsweet and have a meadowsweet gin-making party. Either enjoy it neat or put a measure of damson or sloe gin in a glass, add ice, a slice of lemon and top it up with the finest tonic.
50g meadowsweet (heads)
350g (12oz) granulated sugar
1.2 litres (2 pints) gin
Examine the meadowsweet and shake in case there are any insects.
Put the meadowsweet into a sterilised glass Kilner jar and cover with the sugar and gin. Seal tightly.
Shake the jar
every couple of days to start with and then every now and then for 2-3 weeks by
which time it will be ready to strain and bottle. It will improve on keeping so
try to resist drinking it for another few months.
Meadowsweet Rice Pudding
A creamy rice pudding is one of the greatest treats on any day of the year. You need to use short-grain rice, which plumps up as it cooks. I loved this irresistible version perfumed with meadowsweet. Its delicious warm but I love to serve it chilled in Summer with a few fresh berries.
100g (3 1/2fl oz) pearl rice (short-grain rice)
40g (1 1/2oz) sugar
small knob of butter
850ml (1 1/2 pints) milk
20g (3/4oz) freshly picked meadowsweet
softly whipped cream and soft dark brown sugar
summer berries, optional
1 x 1. 2 litre (2 pint) capacity pie dish
Preheat the oven to 180˚C/350˚F/Gas Mark 4.
Put the rice, sugar and butter into a pie dish. Bring the milk and meadowsweet to the boil. Strain using a colander, remove the meadowsweet and pour the fragrant liquid over the rice. Bake for 1 1/4 – 1 1/2 hours approximately (usually the latter but keep checking). The skin should be golden, the rice underneath should be cooked through and have absorbed up the milk, but the rice pudding should still be soft and creamy. Calculate the time so that it’s ready for pudding. If it has to wait in the oven for ages it will be dry and dull and you’ll wonder why you bothered.
Serve with a dollop of softly whipped cream and a sprinkling of soft brown sugar.
Makes 1.2 litres (2 pints)
This is wonderfully rich ice-cream, delicious on its own but also irresistible with fresh raspberries, tayberries, boysenberries or Irish blueberries.
60g (2 1/2oz) meadow sweet flowers (weighted off stalk)
350ml (12fl oz) whole milk
8 egg yolks
110g (4oz) sugar
350ml (12fl oz) rich cream, cold
Place the meadowsweet flowers and milk in a heavy saucepan. Heat to just below the boiling point and remove from the heat. Cover and allow to steep for 10 minutes. Strain through a fine sieve.
Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together. Add warm milk gradually, stirring constantly until all the milk is added. Return to the saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until the custard coats the back of a spoon (170˚- 175˚C).
Pour the cream into a large bowl. Strain the custard into the cream. Mix well, then chill thoroughly.
Freeze according to the directions of your ice-cream machine.
Serve alone on chilled plates or with summer berries.
Rory O’Connell’s Meadowsweet Panna Cotta
Meadowsweet is used to flavour the cream for this delectable panna cotta (‘cooked cream’).
600ml (1 pint) cream
6g (1/4oz) meadowsweet flowers
50g (2oz) caster sugar
2 leaves of gelatine
250g (9oz) ripe raspberries
softly whipped cream
8 ceramic, glass or tin moulds, approximately 100ml (3 1/2fl oz) each, brushed with non-scented oil such as sunflower or grape seed
Put the cream and sugar into a stainless-steel saucepan over a low heat, add the meadowsweet flowers. Slowly bring to the shivery stage – turn off the heat and infuse for 15 minutes or more.
Cover the gelatine leaves in a bowl of cold water until pliable, 3-4 minutes. Pour the meadowsweet cream through a sieve. Return to the saucepan and add the well-drained gelatine leaves. Stir to dissolve completely. If necessary, warm the meadowsweet infused cream slightly. Divide the panna cotta between the oiled moulds and chill for at least 3 hours or until gently set.
Serve with fresh berries or a
seasonal compote – particularly good with poached apricots.
Meadowsweet is sometimes called mead wort or Queen of the Meadows. It grows in damp places, meadows and sometimes along the roadside. It flowers from early summer to early autumn. We use it to flavour panna cotta, ice-cream, custard – here I’m using it to flavour a fruit compote – delicious!
450g (1lb) field rhubarb
450ml (16fl oz) stock syrup (dissolve 175g/6oz of granulated sugar in 300ml (10fl oz) of water and boil for 2 minutes)
4-6 sprigs of meadowsweet
Cut the rhubarb into 2.5cm (1 inch) pieces.
Put the cold syrup into a stainless-steel saucepan, add the rhubarb and meadowsweet. Cover, bring to the boil and simmer for just
1 minute, (no longer or it will dissolve into a mush). Turn off the heat and
leave the rhubarb in the covered saucepan until just cold. Remove the meadowsweet, serve with lots of
softly whipped cream sprinkled with meadowsweet blossoms.