Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Lady's Mantle - Herb of the Week

Decided to go with an herb of the week I love to look at.  It is also an early herb in the garden and its was out in full force this Spring when many plants were not.. 

Lady’s Mantle Alchemilla xantbochlora

According to tradition, this was a popular "magic" plant in northern Europe from earliest times, rising to prominence during the Middle Ages for its connections with alchemy. It was also sometimes associated with the Virgin Mary and dubbed Our Lady's mantle. Subsequently shortened to Lady's Mantle, the scalloped leaves supposedly resembling a sculptured cloak. It was traditionally prescribed for infertility and "women's troubles" and was said to regulate the menstrual cycle and ease menopausal symptoms - as it still is prescribed by herbalists today.

The most striking thing about Lady’s Mantle is the way the dew collects on the leaves in the morning and after a rain.  I heard one story where these sparkly droplets are the reason it is considered a Lady’s Mantle – covered in diamonds.  I recently learned that these are not dew drops at all. According to American botanist, Ryan Drum, the 'dew' that collects on the tips of the leaves and in the well of the open leaves is actually a vascular secretion that rises up to the tips of the leave's margins at night, then rolls down into the cup to be reabsorbed in the late morning. 

Its connection to alchemy is how the scientific name was assigned. The ability of the leaves to hold moisture drops, often dew, trapped in the central dips of the leaves and by their waxy surface. Dew was a much-prized ingredient in the recipes of the alchemists of old and this plant could provide an accessible source.  So the herb was named 'Achemilla"- the little alchemist.

The genus Alchemilla contains some 200 species native to the north-temperate zone. The nomenclature is very confused, in part because these plants can produce fertile seeds without pollination. Thus, all the offspring of a given plant are identical to the parent, and every minor difference between populations is perpetuated. Some taxonomists have considered these slight variations to be species while others have not.

Related species A. alpina, another medicinal species, is lower-growing, 4-8 in with Star-shaped leaves. A. molis, from the carpathian mountains and known as "the garden variety", is the most attractive of the three with paler green, scalloped leaves and a more luxurious show of greeny-yellow flowers. It is widely grown in herb gardens. but has less medicinal value.

To Grow

A perennial member of the Rose family, Lady’s Mantle it will grow to 16-20 inches in height, with harry, branched stems and deeply lobed leaves (seven or nine lobes) with serrated edges and a froth of yellowish-green flowers in late spring and throughout summer. Found in mountainous areas, meadows, pasture lands and on rock ledges in Europe and throughout northern temperate regions. Grows in any soil in sun or partial shade. Self-seeds prolifically and seedlings come true. Fresh seed germinates readily. Sow seeds in well-drained potting medium, 1/8 inch deep. They may take three to four weeks to germinate at 60 to 70 degrees. If you have room for only one plant, you may prefer to buy one or get a division from a friend.

To increase your stock of lady’s-mantle plants, separate pieces of the crown with their attached roots in spring or fall and plant them in moist, fertile soil. If plants seem to be spreading too rapidly, hold off on the fertilizer. Lady’s-mantle will tolerate a fairly dry soil, though it grows best with ample moisture.

Lady’s Mantle also may be grown in a container, outdoors or in. Place it in a cool, deep pot and fertilize it occasionally with a high-nitrogen fertilizer. Keep the soil damp in spring and summer, drier in winter.

In cooler climates, Lady’s Mantle is quite trouble-free. In humid areas, however, water remaining on the leaves and crown in summer promotes fungal diseases. Good air circulation, thorough garden sanitation and a sand mulch are preventive measures worth trying. Applications of a fungicide may be necessary in difficult cases.

Clusters of 1/8-inch greenish-yellow flowers held above the leaves appear in June and July. The individual flowers are insignificant and, because they have no petals, don’t even hint at their family relationship to garden roses.

 As an ornamental, Lady’s Mantle is superb in the front of the perennial border or as a ground cover in front of old roses, rhododendrons, azaleas, ferns or pines. For a ground cover, set divisions 8 to 10 inches apart. Lady’s-mantle’s large, more or less smooth leaves contrast nicely with the fuzzy foliage of lamb’s-ears or horehound, the vivid green leaves of fern-leaf tansy or the small, neat foliage of hyssop. The flowers harmonize well with those of lavender, garden sage, hyssop, anise hyssop or nasturtiums. 

To Use

Lady’s Mantle has numerous traditional medicinal uses.  The plant leaves have astringent and anti inflammatory properties.  It has been used to controls bleeding and is taken as an infusion for menstrual and menopausal problems. Applied externally for vaginal itching, as a mouthwash or lotion for sores and skin irritation.
The reputation of Lady’s Mantle as a medicinal herb has some scientific basis: Tannins give the root and dried leaves an astringent property. Nevertheless, claims for its efficacy were extreme. Herbalist Gerard noted, “It stoppeth bleeding, and also the overmuch flowing of the natural sickness.” Lady’s Mantle also was prescribed to calm hysterics, relieve vomiting, lighten freckles and even restore lost virginity. The herb, though not fragrant, was sometimes placed under the pillow to promote sleep.  Most of these later suggestions are more folklore than truth.

Brew an infusion of the leaves and flowers  to treat menstrual irregularities and difficulties. Rich concentrations of tannin make it especially valuable in curbing heavy or excessive menstrual flow, and staunching bleeding from cuts and wounds.  Make a standard brew of 1 to 2 teaspoons of dried herb to each cup of water. Drink warm to relieve cramping.

Growing Lady’s Mantle as an ornament can encourage you to use it in ornamental ways as well.  The blossoms are excellent in both fresh and dried arrangements.  Because they have no petals, they dry well and add great texture.  You can also press the leaves and use them to decorate notepaper or bookmarks. Because the distinctive edge and deep ribbing you can press them into ink and use them as a stamp or to ornament tuffa or concrete.

The leaves are edible and sometimes shredded and added to salads.  Lady’s-mantle has been used very little in the kitchen. The young leaves can be added to tossed salads as a bitter accent. In northern England at Easter time, leaves of Lady’s Mantle, bistort (Polygonum bistorat) and lady’s-thumb (Persicaria vulgaris) were mixed with oatmeal and barley and boiled in a bag to make an herb pudding known as Easter mangiant.


I found this recipe for a woman’s Tea on the Modern Alternative Pregnancy website

Happy Uterus Tea
I created this simple tea to alleviate menstrual cramps. You can also use this tea at the very end of pregnancy to prepare your uterus for labor and prevent hemorrhage. Here’s what you’ll need:
1/2 c Lady’s Mantle
1/2 c Red Raspberry Leaf
1/4 c Lemon Balm (you can add more to taste)

Put these in a pint-size Mason jar with a lid and shake until they’re mixed up well. To make this tea, steep a tablespoon of herbs in a cup of hot water for about 5 minutes. Begin drinking the tea about a week before I’m expecting my period. If you have problems with heavy cramping, try drinking a cup (warm or iced) every day of the month.

This lotion recipe was shared by author Leslie Bremnes on The Herb Society Forum

Lady’s Mantle Lotion

30 ml.glycerin
10 drops of essential oil of lemon, rose, geranium or sandalwood 
10 g carragheen moss dissolved in a little hot water 
30 ml strong infusion of lady’s mantle 
60 ml alcohol (Vodka) 

Stir the glycerin into the dissolved mossAdd the essential oil to the vodka mixing well, and then blend the two mixtures. Stir in the herbal infusion, blending well. Pour in a screw-top jar and label. Shake before use if necessary. 

A Small history of Alchemy

In its narrowest and best-known sense, the primary concern of alchemy was the transformation of base metal into gold, but its wider significance is that it marked the beginnings of systematic chemistry.  With origins in ancient Egypt, the science of alchemy passed to the Greeks of Alexandria, to the Arabs and then to the West. Leading alchemists of the 13th century were Albertus Magnus, Roger Bacon and Arnold de Villeneuve, who wrote widely on the subject. Although they believed in the "philosopher's stone" (the instrument capable of transmuting metals into gold), they were also pre-occupied with the discovery of a divine water, or elixir of life, capable of healing all maladies- with the purest dew as a necessary component.

In the 16th century, the Swiss physician, Paracelsus, took up some of the tenets of alchemy, including the concept of the "prima materia" and the "quinta essentia", the primary essence of a substance, but gave it a new direction - The chief objective was the making of medicines, not gold, dependent on a study of the properties of plants and their effects on the body.

Photo one photo credit: <a href="">Sassy Gardener</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">cc</a>

Photo three photo credit: <a href="">Chris Coomber</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">cc</a>

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