You might have noticed meadowsweet standing tall along hedgerows and riverbanks, with its roots in the damp earth and a froth of creamy-white flowers. It’s an overlooked treasure; the flowers have a pleasant almond scent and make a lovely tea, but you never find it in the shops. And yet, for herbalists, it’s a mainstay for patients who suffer from heartburn, hyperacidity or other gastric troubles.

It will reduce stomach acid, ease inflammation and help to heal gastritis and stomach ulcers, and it works very well in combination with other digestives such as chamomile, fennel, peppermint and liquorice. There’s a paradox here that illustrates very well how herbs work in comparison to drugs. Meadowsweet, or Filipendula ulmaria to give it its Latin name, contains salicylic acid, which is a potent anti-inflammatory and analgesic. In isolation, we know it as aspirin. It’s taken by thousands of people every day to kill pain and ease inflammation, particularly in arthritic conditions.

But aspirin has a drawback. If you take it regularly, there is a high risk of developing gastric irritation and even ulcers, and so people who suffer from chronic pain generally have to look for other solutions. And yet, the herb meadowsweet can help to heal these very problems. How can this be possible?

The answer lies in the complicated chemistry of the whole plant, as opposed to salicylic acid on its own. Meadowsweet also contains tannins, mucilage and volatile oils, all of which help to protect the stomach lining and quell inflammation. The net effect is healing rather than irritating. It’s not as strong, of course, but if you take it regularly over time, it will move you gently in the right direction, especially if you combine it with other healing herbs and pay attention to your diet.