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Alchemilla vulgaris—the “vulgar alchemist”—seems a harsh handle for a plant whose common name, Lady’s mantle, derives from its similarity to the scalloped folds of the Virgin Mary’s cloak. Perhaps the early botanists who classified Lady’s mantle were more taken with the herb’s reputed magical properties, or they may have been enamored of its ability to gather dew within its furrowed leaves and seemingly transform it into diamonds. Ancient wizards, in their quest for the secrets they believed would transmute base metals into gold, used “celestial water” captured from Alchemilla leaves to catalyze their magical formulas.

Irrespective of its origins or mystical attributes, Lady’s mantle is among the most attractive and hardy of herbs. Representatives of Alchemilla (there are about 300 species) are equally at home on high, mist-draped mountaintops, on moist grasslands above the Arctic Circle, or tucked into flower beds across suburban America. Indeed, owing to its popularity as an ornamental bedding plant, much of Alchemilla’s medicinal history has slipped into obscurity.

Rich in tannins, glycosides, and salicylates, Lady’s mantle is a first-class botanical astringent. Seventeenth-century herbalist and physician Nicholas Culpeper called Lady’s mantle “one of the most singular wound herbs,” referring to its ability, when applied as a poultice, to staunch bleeding from injuries and assuage the heat in inflamed ulcers. Alchemilla is used as a douche for leucorrhea, and it can be taken internally to deal with heavy menstrual flow. Since Lady’s mantle also acts as an anti-inflammatory, diuretic, emmenagogue, and vulnerary, it has been used for sore throats, laryngitis, toothache pain, kidney stones, urinary tract infections, hemorrhoids, and itching and ulcerations of the female genital tract. The German Commission E approves Lady’s mantle for stemming the diarrhea associated with acute gastroenteritis (stomach flu).

Use 3 to 9 grams of the leaves, flowers, or rhizomes to make a decoction; prepare an infusion by pouring a cup of boiling water over 2 to 3 teaspoons of dried the dried herb; or take 10 to 30 drops of the tincture 3 to 4 times daily. Pregnant women should not use Lady’s mantle, as it could stimulate uterine contractions.

Lady’s mantle is a fairly carefree plant and will fare well in just about any type of soil in a sunny or partially shaded location. It isn’t particularly drought-tolerant, though, so give it a good drink once or twice weekly. The plants should be sheared back after their chartreuse flowers have bloomed to revitalize the leaves and prevent reseeding—although a broad expanse of Alchemilla could be just the thing for an aspiring wizard.


 


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