Caryn Hibbert

Summer Thyme Meadows

by Caryn Hibbert The Land 1 Jun 16

Summer Thyme Meadows

The River Leach is a small pristine river that meanders through the farm on its way to the River Thames. Every year without fail its crystal clear waters, filtered by the Cotswold limestone valleys and escarpments through which it flows on its short journey, spill over the banks flooding the surrounding water meadows.  These are often impassable during much of the winter and early spring, the water too deep to wade through.

As spring begins however, so do the wild flowers. From cowslips, snakes head fritillary, buttercups and ragged robin to marsh and burnt tip orchids that flower in abundance, it is a precious delight. Mown paths through the grass simply lead you through the meadows to the river bank.

Flowering in early June you will see Rhinanthus minor, called yellow rattle because the seeds rattle in the balloon-like pods when ripe. Hemiparasitic on grasses, it has structures called haustoria that penetrate grass roots and tap nutrients weakening the grasses. In the old days this would be regarded as an indication of poor grassland, it is in the same family as the “witchweeds” of Africa, horrible parasitic weeds of maize and sorghum that are the enemy of many a third world farmer, but for our wild flower meadows, the weakening of the grasses allows more diverse flowers to colonise, it’s a welcome addition to the party.

Sit quietly by the river bank and breathe in the scent of the river mint, its fresh and aromatic oils released into the air with the slightest brush. Pick a little to take home and infuse for a refreshing tea and also look out for the exuberant meadowsweet with its long stems bearing frothy creamy white blooms. Its name is enough to make you love it, but its heady honey and almond scent has earnt it the crown of queen of the meadows. In the same family as the rose, it was Queen Elizabeth I favourite flower, strewn on the floor of her bedchamber at night and scattered on the floors of churches to welcome Medieval young bride on their wedding days.

Having natural acetylsalicylic acid (aspirin) in its flowers, it was used in Chaucer’s ‘A Knights Tale’ to make a drink called ‘save’.  It can be used too to make a meadow sweet champagne, much like elderflower. We however have gone for stronger stuff, muddle it with a little vodka to make the most delicious summer cocktail and as you sip, hope that the sun shines for a long and happy summer.  This recipe works well with elderflowers too.

Enjoy further reading from Plant Life , as they campaign to 'keep the wild in wildflowers'