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Banishes headache pain, relieves arthritis pain, eases flu aches, reduces fever

Imagine your doctor dispensing a bouquet of small, creamy white flowers instead of aspirin every time your arthritis acts up.

It's actually not that farfetched. If 19th-century scientists had failed to unlock the secret of salicylic acid, you might well be picking up flowers from your doctor for things like arthritis, headaches and the flu.

That's because the bud of the meadowsweet plant naturally contains salicin, one form of the key ingredient in an aspirin tablet, says William J. Keller, Ph.D., professor and head of the Division of Medicinal Chemistry and Pharmaceutics at Northeast Louisiana University School of Pharmacy in Monroe. "Once the salicin from meadowsweet is in the stomach, it breaks down to create salicylic acid, and basically that's what happens when you take an aspirin," he explains.

For that reason, centuries-old uses for meadowsweet — for headaches, arthritis and the flu — seem justifiable, says Dr. Keller. "It definitely has an analgesic effect, and it lowers body temperature, so it's even good for fever."

Herbalists also give meadowsweet high marks as a remedy for heartburn, gastritis, peptic ulcers and urinary tract infections. There is as yet no scientific research to support these traditional uses, but research continues. Over the past few years, for example, Russian medical researchers have begun studying meadowsweet's suspected ability to inhibit blood clotting.

Putting the herb to work

You can test meadowsweet's painkilling powers for yourself in the form of a tea. Add one to two teaspoons of the dried herb to a cup of boiling water and let it steep for ten minutes before drinking.

There's one traditional use of the herb that requires no scientific study to confirm. During the Middle Ages, the plant's almond-scented flowers were often strewn to improve the smell of rooms. (Back when farm animals shared living space with people, and people didn't bathe regularly, room-freshening herbs were far more important than they are today.) Meadowsweet smells just as good as it ever did — and, if you're lucky enough to have some growing in your area, the fresh wildflowers can still make a room smell absolutely wonderful.

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