Yesterday I was able to harvest my first crop from the new bed of Alchemilla mollis at my herb field. Alchemilla mollis is better known as Ladies’ Mantle and is now widely known as a herb ‘for women’. This was not always the case. In the early days of its use in Europe around 1500 it was known as Greater Sanicle – Sanicle being the name for a wound healing herb. This was an apt name as its main constituents are tannins which act as wound healers (vulneraries) and astringents. Alchemilla’s anti-inflammatory and toning properties made it an ideal herb to use externally for wounds, sores and ulcers, and as a gargle for laryngitis. It was found to have particular affinity for the healing of torn membranes and there are many cases describing its successful use in the healing of abdominal hernias and even reports of its use in restoring perforated eardrums.
When the Doctrine of Signatures became influential in Western Herbal Medicine the likeness of the leaves to a lady’s’ waterproof cloak or mantle gave it a new name and a new emphasis. The amazing toning and healing action of the leaves made it an ideal fomentation to use post partum to heal tears to the perineum and to reduce bruising and inflammation. Fomentations of the leaves were used on the breasts after weaning to restore tone and shape. The incredible ability of the herb to heal tears and membranes was said to extend to restoring the hymen in young girls although I will admit that this is not something I have ever been asked for in my clinic so I couldn’t comment on its efficacy or otherwise! It is very helpful in cases of incipient prolapse though. A strong infusion is added to a sitz bath or bidet and the area bathed daily.
Alchemilla is excellent taken internally as an infusion or tincture to tone and remove inflammation from the female reproductive tract therefore helping to reduce period pain and excessive bleeding. It also has an emmenagogue action which means that it can encourage the start of a period if it is slow to start.
This herb is a popular garden plant, not particularly for its flowers which are pretty but not showy, but for the leaves which seem to collect dew and rain in beautiful large droplets. These droplets seem to stay long after dew on other plants has evaporated. On a hot sunny day one can usually find droplets on the Alchemilla when all the other vegetation is bone dry. It is almost as though the shape of the droplet makes it more resistant to evaporation. Perhaps a physicist will enlighten me as to why this could be so. In any case the old alchemists placed great value on this dew and collected it for their work, hence the Latin name. Alchemilla droplets are still used in energetic work by flower essence practitioners to help those affected by sexual abuse and trauma.
As well as tannins, Alchemilla contains bitter principles and salicylic acid. Its taste is bitter and astringent and it is reminiscent of the other salicylic acid containing plants which grow near water – Willow and Meadowsweet. Like the other water margin dwelling plants, Alchemilla has the property of removing excess dampness from the tissues when they are inflamed, flaccid or weakened.
If you have Alchemilla growing in your garden you should feel lucky as you have a great healer available on your doorstep. I have several patients who have now planted it to ensure a steady supply as they have found it so useful and have learnt to value it highly. Use it fresh while in season and dry some for use in the winter.
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