Herb To Know: Lady's Mantle

| December/January 2003

  • Lady’s mantle’s greenish-yellow flowers harmonize well in the perennial border with lavender, garden sage or anise hyssop.

Genus: Alchemilla vulgaris
Family: Rosaceae

• Hardy perennial

Hailed by gardeners as a wonderful ornamental, the round, scalloped, green or grayish leaves of lady’s-mantle sparkle with dew drops, and its long-lasting, airy flowers delight the eye. Yet this plant is more than a beauty to its beholders. It has a long history of use as a medicinal herb and was once thought to have magical properties.

The name Alchemilla comes from the word “alchemy.” Alchemists of old held this plant in high esteem, believing that the dew on the leaves might hold the secret to eternal youth or to turning base metals into gold.

Lady’s-mantle was dedicated to the Virgin Mary, the shape of the leaf suggesting a pleated medieval lady’s cloak. Not everyone thought the leaf looked like a cloak, though. Lion’s foot, bear’s foot and nine hooks, other names to which this herb has answered, allude to the lobes on the leaves, and another moniker, dewcup, refers to the tendency of the leaves to collect water droplets. (Droplets that appear at noon in dry weather are exuded from the leaves by the process of guttation.) Great sanicle, the old name popular in 16th-century herbalist John Gerard’s time, referred to the herb’s alleged healing powers.

Lady's Mantle: The Plant

Lady’s-mantle is native to Europe but has become naturalized in north-eastern North America. It will grow in Zones 3 to 8 in sun or shade. At least partial shade is recommended in warm climates. Plants grow 18 inches tall from a stout rootstock “full of thready strings,” says Gerard. The leaves evergreen in mild climates, have seven to 11 shallowly toothed lobes and may be 6 inches across. The leaves that arise from the crown are each borne on a long, narrow stalk; smaller leaves sparsely clasp the flower stalk.

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