Spiraea (Meadowsweet) is a genus of about 80-100 species of shrubs in the Rosaceae, subfamily Spiraeoideae. They are native to the temperate Northern Hemisphere, with the greatest diversity in eastern Asia.
The genus was formerly treated as also containing the herbaceous species now segregated into the genera Filipendula and Aruncus; recent genetic evidence has shown that Filipendula is only distantly related to Spiraea, belonging in the subfamily Rosoideae.
Spiraea (also known as Meadowsweet) is too woody to be used as an edible plant, but has a long history of medicinal use by Native Americans as an herbal tea. The entire plant contains methyl salicylate and other salicylates, compounds with similar medicinal properties of aspirin. Unlike other salicylate-bearing plants such as willow or poplar, meadowsweet's content of these analgesic compounds remain consistent from plant to plant. Unlike aspirin, meadowsweet is effective in treating stomach disorders in minute amounts. The salicylates in this plant are a highly effective analgesic, anti-inflammatory, and fever reducer, without the side affects attributed to aspirin. Compounds in this plant also contain bacteriostatic properties, and the tea of this plant was used by the Blackfeet Indians as an enema and vagina douche to treat infections of the bowels and vaginal area.
In pure form, methyl salicylate is toxic, especially when taken internally. The lowest published lethal dose is 101 mg/kg body weight in adult humans. It has proven fatal to small children in doses as small as 4 mL. A 17 year-old cross-country runner at Notre Dame Academy on Staten Island, died April 3, 2007, after her body absorbed high levels of methyl salicylate through excessive use of topical muscle-pain relief products. Methyl Salicylate is used as a rubefacient in deep heating liniments, and in small amounts as a flavoring agent in chewing gums and other products at no more than 0.04%.