Monday, October 19, 2009

Lady's Mantle - Green Alchemist

Lady’s Mantle
(Alchemilla vulgaris)

A beautiful addition to any spring garden is Lady’s Mantle. Her large furry leaves provide a lovely spreading ground cover with a moderate height of 12 inches or so, while her chartreuse flowers provide a gorgeous contrast to many other perennial blooms. The common name “Lady’s Mantle” refers to this herb’s affinity for women’s health, while the Latin moniker makes reference to the “alchemy” that the leaves display as they cradle dew drops like precious diamonds that won’t evaporate for many hours.

Alchemilla’s alchemy doesn’t stop there; the way that the leaves hold droplets of water is in fact a “Signature” for some of the herb’s most valued functions. Although Lady’s Mantle is not a diuretic, it has the ability to pull excess water from the tissues in such a way as to be described as “vaporization.” Again, the words that describe her functions, like her formal name, imply a magical quality. Alchemists once classified this quality as Mercurius (or mercury), one of the three foundational substances in the Universe. The first substance, Salis (or salt) refers to the physical aspect of the body as well as integrity and character; the second, Sulphur is the life force or Qi that provides the animate and passionate aspect of our existence, while Mercurius is much more esoteric: it is the very Essence of Being.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the aspect of Essence, called Jing, is governed by the Kidneys and is a quality that we inherit at birth. Essence defines our sexual potency, regulates our development and carries our genetic and hormonal blueprints. Essence is found at the Ming Men (The Gate of Life-located just below the kidneys, in the center of the body, behind the navel), and provides a basis for the alchemical processes, including the vaporization of its vital energy that supports the body, mind and soul and gives us our personal identity. To quote Matthew Wood in The Book of Herbal Wisdom, “Lady’s Mantle must correspond to processes which encourage cohesion on the surface of the droplet and prevent vaporization, while at the same time…it must possess the ability to refine and distill fluids into their most subtle expression or ‘essence.’”

Like many members of the rose family, its value often centers on its benefits as a women’s herb, in particular to the urogenital organs. Lady’s Mantle not only helps to balance the menses and alleviate premenstrual tension, cramps or pain, but also relieves symptoms associated with menopause. Alchemilla will stop hemorrhage, excess bleeding, and discharges; for leucorrhea, preparing a decoction of the leaves (boiling in water) provides the remedy with more concentrated tannins that astringe secretions and halt discharges. A douche prepared from a decoction cooled to body temperature would also be appropriate. This particular usage of the herb (taken orally or vaginally) is also quite effective for the treatment of Candidiasis.

An infusion of the leaves is used to support the uterus in cases of prolapse as well as for traumas such as miscarriage, abortion, IUD’s, surgeries or Pelvic Inflammatory Disease. (To prepare an infusion, pour boiling water over the herb and steep for about 20 minutes.) Strengthening the uterus is particularly desirable when there is difficulty conceiving or in cases of habitual miscarriage. Because Lady’s Mantle is a uterine stimulant, it is contraindicated during pregnancy except during the last trimester when it is used to prepare the womb for birth; it can also facilitate labor.

Lady’s Mantle has great worth to post-partum women because of her ability to heal and tone tissues. Taking the herb internally as an infusion or adding the infusion to a soothing bath is a great way to enjoy her beneficial properties. In folk medicine her fame included the capacity to restore a mother’s figure, even by providing a lift for sagging breasts! Reestablishing tissue integrity and strength is her primary gift to women, and Alchemilla does it incredibly well; her reputation for restoring virginity (!) by healing a torn hymen is probably not exaggerated.

Healing damaged tissues is not limited to the reproductive organs however; Lady’s Mantle has been known to repair perforated eardrums in record time. When used with Shepherd’s Purse, she has shown wonderful results in the treatment of hernias and various prolapses, including varicosities. As an adjunct treatment for Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Celiac Sprue or Graves, Alchemilla can help repair damage to the intestinal lining, reduce inflammation and dry up diarrhea.

Historically, Alchemilla was mostly used as a vulnerary because she can clean the site of injury, is a good infection fighter, promotes new tissue growth and can help stop bleeding. The accordion-like folds on the leaf are a reminder of her ability to “pull together” a wound and tighten up the tissues. Healing torn muscles is within her range of abilities and adding strength to muscles – including the heart – is another reason her value to humankind is not to be underestimated. Many herbalists will prescribe a tincture of Lady’s Mantle to MS patients to help invigorate weakened muscles and ease pain.

Alchemilla contains salicylic acid, a well-known ingredient found in aspirin, making her particularly helpful for injuries with pain. She’s also effective when applied topically to bruises, or infused in oil and applied to painful joints or gout. Taken internally, Lady’s Mantle will help to maintain our delicate salt/fluid balance and improve the integrity of membranes and cell walls, thereby increasing the transportation of nutrients within the body. Once again, this is evident by the way the droplets of water perch upon her leaves.

From a spiritual and emotional standpoint, Lady’s Mantle also offers many personally enriching qualities. Cellular integrity translates to personal integrity, poise and refinement. She provides a shield of psychological protection and once you’ve formed a bond with her, you’ll emanate a sphere of positive influence to the world around you. Cultivating our relationship to the sacred feminine embodies creativity, sensuality, and divinity in the process of nurturing our relationship to the inner child, matron and crone. From that space of compassion, we can accesses the personal power necessary to release the pain from old wounds and support the development of our most radiant self.

It’s not surprising then to know that the dew collected from her leaves would be added to beauty tonics and lotions, or that Alchemists would place a high value upon this precious dew for the longevity tonics they would create. Once upon a time, people would stuff their pillows with the fresh or dried leaves to ensure a peaceful night’s sleep and gardeners would plant this beauty to encourage the faeries to live in their gardens as well. How we have managed to stray so far from these spirit-supporting beliefs in the name of scientific “progress” is beyond my understanding. Much like the sound of music finally penetrating the ears of someone who has been deaf since childhood, our journey home to the gentle heart of the Earth will be a certain balm to all our souls.

Lisl Meredith Huebner, Dipl.CH (NCCAOM), RH (AHG) is a nationally board certified Chinese Herbalist, and a Registered Herbalist with the American Herbalists Guild. Lisl is also a certified Medicinal Aromatherapist, a level III Reiki practitioner, an Acupressurist, an Auriculotherapist, a photographer, a renowned diagnostician, a teacher and a published writer in private practice for over a decade. She is available by appointment.
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