By Charles Bradley - 6th July 2020 6:00am
Of all of the experimental wild flower areas set up by Jim Grogan and his volunteers in the early days of the woodland, the area of meadowsweet is, in my opinion, by far the most successful. And, when seen en masse, it is a beautiful sight with its frothy white flowers set against the gentle green tints of its foliage. Meadowsweet reputedly flourishes in "damp soil in grassland and heathland and in areas where water levels rise and fall" — another example of our drainage scheme from the A51 having surprising consequences! (See TarvinOnLine of 29th May 2020.)
Meadowsweet has many medicinal properties. At a time before medicines for pain were widespread, the whole plant was steeped in water to make a tea which could be used as a remedy for an acidic stomach. The painkilling properties are thanks to the presence of Salicylic Acid, which could also be derived (and hence named) by herbalists from the bark of Willow trees (Salix is the Latin name for the Willow family.) Felix Hoffmann (a name very familiar to Organic Chemists!) used Salicylic Acid from Meadowsweet to synthesise a new painkilling drug, Acetylsalicylic Acid. This was then named by his employers, Bayer AG, from Meadowsweet's old botanical name — Spirea ulmaria. Hence the drug became Aspirin — the very first of the class of drugs now known as non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs).
One of the local firms in Sandycroft when I was growing up on Deeside (Flintshire) was Graesser Salicylates. Their claim to fame was that they manufactured aspirin in the form of the most widely-purchased over-the-counter drug in Britain — Aspro. As is the case with Panadol and paracetamol tablets these days, it was then impossible to persuade people like my parents that they would get exactly the same benefit from generic aspirin tablets as they would from the much more expensive proprietary Aspro pills. It has to be said that both, however, were much more convenient than brewing up a tea from Meadowsweet plants. In such ways might one measure progress!