Tuesday 23 August 2011

New garden poem over at Mercian Muse

If you fancy a quick tour of my summer garden in verse, hop over to Mercian Muse

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.

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)
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.

Sunday 21 August 2011

Three weeks left!

Only three weeks until the Springfield Sanctuary Herb Festival 9-11 September. Come and join us for two fun-filled days of herbs, kites, stories and songs! Learn how to dye your own wool from natural dyes harvested from the Sanctuary in Kristina's magical dyeing glade. Join the Sanctuary Apprentices to make your own medicine and Denise Fiddaman for herb walks. If you want to gather your own wild foods, Ian will help you identify what is available at this time of year.

Lucinda Warner and Ali English will be furthering our knowledge of using herbs externally and making tonics from local herbs. If you want to know more about propogating herbs, Sam and Louise from Garden Organic will show you how to do it.

Sky Symphony Kite team will be displaying four times over the weekend. Check the online programme to make sure you don't miss their stunning new kite ballet.

The field will be open for camping and to set up stalls from 3pm on Friday and the festival will kick off with an open mic at 7.30pm.

We're trying to keep costs at a minimum, but we'd welcome your donations to help us pay for the loos and cover expenses. Suggested donations are £40 for the weekend and £20 per day. Email sarah at headology dot co do uk for more details and directions to the venue.

Wednesday 10 August 2011

The Cycle of Life

It is difficult to write when you are constantly away from home and the travelling leads to exhaustion, no matter how enjoyable things might be along the way.

July/August was supposed to be a fun month – a reward to ourselves for all the hard work we had accomplished beforehand. Friends were joining us for the storytelling festival at Much Wenlock. The weather was much better than forecast – only a few heavy showers and some sunshine. The stories were wonderful and the music lovely, but my mother (who is registered blind and has vascular dementia) decided to go for a walk on her own and had to be returned home in a distressed state by a passing neighbour. She then refused to enter the house for several hours, necessitating calling out the doctor and the ambulance.

When I rang my father to tell him we’d arrived at the festival, it was all over, but I could hear the fear in his voice. He’d been taking a nap when it happened. I had to phone my sister in Italy to brief her on events and she visited the following weekend to make sure everything was safe.

The next weekend I was presenting at Herbfest. It was a wonderful weekend full of enthusiastic herb lovers who welcomed the opportunity to make their own herbal concoctions and wanted to expand their experiences.

It was a long and exhausting journey to north Somerset and I was wiped out with the stress of it all when we returned.

The following Tuesday, my cousin rang me to say my aunt had died. Although it was not unexpected news, it was very sad to share the pain of his loss and worry about breaking the news to my mother. The two sisters had been estranged since my grandmother died forty years ago, but I’d tried to keep some level of communication between the two families and was grateful I’d taken time to write to my aunt and sent photographs just before her death which she had been able to take comfort from.

At 7.15am on the Thursday my eldest son rang to say his wife’s waters had broken and she was in labour. I went into work to be told that because I am managed from the Sheffield office and worked mostly from home, I would no longer have a desk or any shelf space. I was devastated.

To put this in some kind of context, it must be explained that although we have a fairly large and comfortable house, in the past month we have finally, after thirty years of no maintenance, had the roof insulated along with the cavity walls, the gutters and facias replaced, the front door, back door, garage doors and porch replaced and the lounge furniture recovered and the lounge redecorated.

This has meant Chris had to clear several spaces including the roof, box room and our daughter’s bedroom as she decided to come home to live permanently after four years away. The front room which houses both Chris and my computers and the piano where I give lessons is completely filled with extra furniture and piles of books and papers. There are only tracks through the debris and I can’t turn my chair round without hitting something.

The thought of bringing the contents of my work desk and two bookcases/shelving units home was too much. I spent the following week in tears. It brought back all the grief from being made redundant eight years ago when I had to literally put fourteen years of work into black rubbish bags to be thrown away when we cleared my office.

At 5.50pm on Thursday 28th, Richard rang us to say we were now grandparents to a 7lb 14oz boy called James Michael. We heard the first baby snuffles as he lay on his mother’s tummy in the labour ward of St Peter’s hospital in Woking. Laura followed the family tradition of short deliveries, only being in established labour for 5 hours and managing with gas and air.

After a two hour journey and then a further hour wait in the hospital the following day, it was wonderful to finally hold the tiny, warm bundle in our arms and marvel at the tightness of his grip. Everyone else remarked how much he looked like Richard, but I could only see the face of someone I’d never met before, a new person to welcome into the family and learn more about.

The Warwick Folk Festival was very enjoyable, with stunning performances from The Spooky Men’s Chorale and Show of Hands. We also appreciated the lazy days last weekend spent with our friends in The Lake District finalising the details of our American holiday in a month’s time.

The joy of all these events has been tempered by the sadness of my aunt’s death and my mother’s increasing frailty. Every time I speak to her she asks me when I am coming to visit. It doesn’t matter I have been there every three weeks for the past year and will be there again tomorrow and every two or three weeks for the rest of the year. It will never be enough, but it is all I can manage.