Monday, 22 August 2011

Lady's mantle - a herb just for women or everyone?

For the past five months I have wanted to write a blog post about Lady’s mantle, ever since the plant emerged from the long, cold winter in a new and vibrant form. During this time, exciting pieces of information about her uses were brought to my attention which is usually a sure sign I should take closer notice and make a written record of what has been learned.

If you talk to someone about lady’s mantle they will usually comment on its structural beauty - the edges of the leaves resembling a cloak and about the perfect water droplets held in the deep cups of the leaves – giving rise to one of its common names as “Dewcup”.

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.

Heather Nic an Fhleisdeir, who runs the Scottish Academy of Herbal Medicine in Eugene, Oregon, says, “I've been using these vascular secretions (dew) for over a decade now directly on the surface of my eyes. As a vulnerary it is soothing to tired, dry and blood-shot eyes. One client used it on a broken capillary in the white of her eye that had been there for years. Within weeks of daily applications the capillary had disappeared.”

Mrs Grieve tells us that Lady's Mantle belong to the genus Alchemilla of the rose family, most of the members of which are natives of the American Andes, only a few being found in Europe, North America and Northern and Western Asia. In Britain, there are only three species, Alchemilla vulgaris, the Common Lady's Mantle, A. arvensis, the Field Lady's Mantle or Parsley Piert, and A. alpina, less frequent and only found in mountainous districts.

Mrs Grieve says, “The Common Lady's Mantle is generally distributed over Britain, but more especially in the colder districts and on high-lying ground, being found up to an altitude of 3,600 feet in the Scotch Highlands. It is not uncommon in moist, hilly pastures and by streams, except in the south-east of England, and is abundant in Yorkshire, especially in the Dales.”

The local abundance of Lady’s mantle is probably why Hill wrote in 1740, “The good women in the North of England apply the leaves to their breasts to make them recover their form after they have been swelled with milk.” This local use was subsequently proved by Matthew Wood in his practice showing how Lady’s Mantle “lifts tissue and structures that have been bogged down: sagging breasts after lactation and abdominal tissue following childbirth.”

Wood believes it is the presence of salicylates and tannins within the plant which enables the plant to be used to drive water from tissues that are damp and weak as well as strengthening fibres, bringing them back together into a health, toned condition.

The part of the plant used was originally the entire plant – aerial part and roots, but use of the roots has almost been forgotten as the overall use of the plant has changed from being a general “woodwort” to “a woman’s herb”. Mrs Grieve mentions that the fresh root was often employed.

Wood has written two useful sections on Lady’s mantle in his books, The Earthwise Herbal and The Book of Herbal Wisdom. He writes at length about the relationship between Lady’s mantle and the kidneys, showing how they both suck liquid from tissues as well as managing the concentration of fluids within individual cells. He says that the herb is indicated in “purulent discharges and infected passageways (e.g. ears, vagina) where there is pain”.

We have to turn to early herbalists to learn more about Lady’s Mantle’s use as a woundwort.

Culpepper says “Lady's Mantle is very proper for inflamed wounds and to stay bleeding, vomitings, fluxes of all sorts, bruises by falls and ruptures. It is one of the most singular wound herbs and therefore highly prized and praised, used in all wounds inward and outward, to drink a decoction thereof and wash the wounds therewith, or dip tents therein and put them into the wounds which wonderfully drieth up all humidity of the sores and abateth all inflammations thereof. It quickly healeth green wounds, not suffering any corruption to remain behind and cureth old sores, though fistulous and hollow.'”

William Salmon writing in 1710, says “It is amazing how Lady’s Mantle can restore the integrity of torn, ruptured or separated tissue as seen in hernias or perforated membranes. “

Wood gives two case histories where Lady’s Mantle restored a perforated ear drum and comments wryly that he believed it would also restore a damaged hymen, which was apparently one of its uses in folklore medicine.

David Hoffman sums up the use of Lady’s Mantle as a “woman’s herb”. He says, “Lady's mantle will help reduce pains associated with periods as well as ameliorating excessive bleeding. It also has a role to play in easing the changes of the menopause. As an emmenagogue it stimulates the proper menstrual flow if there is any resistance. However, in the often apparently paradoxical way of herbal remedies, Lady's mantle is a useful uterine astringent, used in both menorrhagia and metrorrhagia. Its astringency provides a role in the treatment of diarrhea and as a mouthwash for sores and ulcers and as a gargle for laryngitis.”

Lady’s mantle is normally taken as a tea or tincture made from plant material gathered in early summer. David Hoffman’s instructions are “Infusion: pour a cup of boiling water onto 2 teaspoonfuls of the dried herb and leave to infuse for l0-l5 minutes. This should be drunk three times a day. To help diarrhoea and as a mouthwash or lotion, a stronger dosage is made by boiling the herb for a few minutes to extract all the tannin. Tincture: take 1-2 ml of the tincture three times a day.

Matthew Wood prefers macerating the plant material in brandy rather than vodka and recommends a dose of 1-3 drops

Wood gives a much more detailed account of different mediums for administering Lady’s mantle, saying the most extensive information about various kinds of preparations in alcohol, vinegar, water, oil and salt comes from William Salmon. He used all forms internally, observing that the vinegar “..opened more and removes obstructions. … Taken continually all day, so that the amount equals at least four or five tablespoonfuls, It is a most excellent thing against a virulent Gonorrhea in Men.”

Andre Chevalier in his Encyclopaedia of Medicinal plants also quotes Andres de Laguna’s translation (1570) of Dioscorides’ Materia Medica which recommends two preparations of lady’s mantle – the root, powdered and mixed with red wine, for internal and external wounds, and an infusion of the aerial parts, for “greenstick” fractures and broken bones in babies and young children.

It was Karen Lawton, commenting on the Herb Society forum who mentioned Lady’s mantle’s energetic use. She said, “Ladies mantle connects to the whole history of the matriarchy - I use it a lot with patients who have unresolved issues with their mothers and grandmothers. If you observe the structure of the flowering plant you can see lots of differing delicate layers of depth. I harvest her and work with her with my daughter as I am trying not to pass on the female knots of my lineage to her!”

I think she may have picked up this use from Rosemary Gladstar, since Rosemary quotes from Peter and Barbara Theiss in her book, Herbal Healing for women, “Lady’s mantle is associated with the qualities of gentleness, elegance and grace in combination with powerful authority. If a woman finds difficulty in accepting a maternal role, is troubled by thoughts of abortion and suffers from morning sickness and other disorders during the first months of pregnancy, depression after birth and so on, Lady’s mantle is her herb.”

I was recently standing over my patch of Lady’s mantle with a newcomer to the Sanctuary who wanted something for a friend of hers who was experiencing heavy menstrual flooding at the same time as having to come to terms that she would probably never be able to experience motherhood in this lifetime. We picked some new leaves for her to make tincture for her friend. I shall wait to hear whether she finds it helpful.

Karen Lawton also shared a general women’s tonic she makes made from equal parts of raspberry leaf, nettles and Lady’s mantle. The dose is three drops three times a day. Her original recipe used a nettle syrup rather than a tincture and when I asked her why, her answer was that the syrup was what they had large amounts of at the time of creation and it seemed a good thing to add to the mixture!

Lady’s mantle was also used in a recipe for a hand lotion given by Lesley Bremnes on the Herb Society Forum some years ago.

Ingredients
30ml.glycerin 10 drops of essential oil of lemon, rose, geranium or sandalwood
10g carragheen moss dissolved in a little hot water
30ml strong infusion of lady’s mantle
60ml alcohol (Vodka)
Method
1 Stir the glycerin into the dissolved moss
2 Add the essential oil to the vodka mixing well, and then blend the two mixtures. Stir in the herbal infusion, blending well.
3 Pour in a screw-top jar and label. Shake before use if necessary.

I have to confess that I have never had the need to use Lady’s mantle myself, although I have the tincture in my larder and I have encouraged others to make the “women’s tonic” macerated either in vodka or vinegar. Studying the plant in more depth leads me to feel she could be a useful ally during difficult times in a woman’s life, but that her more ancient use as a woundwort should not be forgotten.

4 comments:

Sandie said...

Fascinating!
We have oodles of this plant growing around here, the A.Vulgaris, although I'm sure I've sena smaller leaved variety growing near the edge of the woods/fields. I love the way it sparkles with its''dew' in the sunshine.

Sandie xx

Allisonian said...

WoW~ Thank you for this wonderful article and for the photos! I have not used carragheen moss, have you? Do you know where it resides? I figure trees, but there is ground moss. I will keep looking, but wanted to ask if you have any info and/or photos? Thank you for everything, Allison of Kelso, WA

Sarah said...

Hi Allison
Carragheen moss is a type of red algae which grows on the shores of countries bordering the Atlantic. You can find more about it on Wikipaedia. I think it's used as a thickening agent and you can buy it from various stockists.

jaysenpluto said...

This is a lot of great information thank you Kitchen Herbwife!