Thursday, May 8, 2014
LILY OF THE VALLEY
Lily of the Valley-Convallaria Majalis
Also known as: May lily, Our Lady's Tears, Ladder to Heaven, Jacob's Ladder, Lily Constancy
Parts used: whole plant
Meridians/Organs affected: heart, kidneys
Properties: antispasmodic, cardiac tonic, laxative, diuretic, mucilaginous
Lily of the Valley is a member of the Lilaceae family along with Garlic, Aloe, Asparagus, Sarsaparilla, Chives and Trillium. It is a beautifully scented plant with a creeping root that sends up quill like shoots in the early spring that sheath one another until they leaf out with oval blades that curl at the base. The flower stalk itself is bare of leaves and has a short stalk that bears small, white, downward facing bell like flowers with curled edges. By the fall, the flowers have turned to berries that are scarlet in color. However, it is rare for the wild variety to come to full maturity due to its creeping root.
The name 'majalis' means 'that which belongs to May'. This comes from astrology as Lily of the Valley is believed to be ruled by Mercury (Maia was the mother of Mercury and the daughter of Atlas). There are many stories involving this plant. It was believed that the scent of it would draw out the nightingale from the bushes to find his mate. There is another story involving St. Leonard who fought a dragon in the woods near Horsham, England, finally killing it after many hours and suffering several wounds. Legend is that wherever his blood was spilled that Lily of the Valley sprang up in memory of the battle. St. Leonard's Forest to this day is covered with these fragrant flowers. Lily of the Valley is also referred to as Our Lady's Tears and is associated with the Virgin Mary. It is considered to be a symbol of purity and can be found in many religious paintings.
The British have used this plant for quite some time for the same things foxglove (digitalis) has been used for without the harmful side effects. Both plants contain cardiac glycosides that increase the strength of the heartbeat while helping to regulate the rate without taxing the blood supply too much. However, with Lily of the Valley the glycosides are released sequentially and are excreted by the kidneys so there is no toxic accumulation in the body. Lily of the Valley also contains flavonoids that act to dilate the arteries while the asparagin content acts as a diuretic helping the body get rid of excess fluid which helps with hypertension.
The dried root has been used for centuries not only as a heart stimulant but also for epilepsy. The powdered root still is used today as a diuretic, and the distilled flower water has been used as an eyewash for palsy (a neurological condition that affects the muscles that move the eye). Tea made from the flowers has also been considered an excellent tonic for nerve issues. It is thought to strengthen the brain and make thoughts more clear.
The chief components of Lily of the Valley are both glycosides-convallamarin and convallarin. Convallamarin is soluble in both water and alcohol and acts much like digitalis on the heart as well as being a diuretic. Convallarin is soluble in aclohol and only slightly soluble in water and helps to purge the body. In the 16th century it was made into what was referred to as 'Golden Water' and stored in gold or silver vessels. It was believed that this water would help anyone suffering from apoplexy (the incapacity resulting from stroke or cerebral hemorrhaging). It was also said that the water 'doth strengthen the memorie and comforteth the Harte.' Gerard was quoted as saying that 'a glasse being filled with the flowers of May lilies and set in an ant hill with the mouth close stopped for a month's space and then taken out, ye shall find a liquor in the glasse which being outwardly applied helps the gout very much.' It was also said to be useful for rheumatism and sprains. An ointment made with the root and lard was used for burns and ulcers and the root was boiled in wine and used for fevers. In some parts of Germany they still make a wine with the flowers of the Lily of the Valley plant and with
Culpeper said that, 'It without doubt strengthens the brain and renovates weak memory. The distilled water dropped into the eyes helps inflammations thereof. The spirit of the flowers, distilled in wine, restoreth lost speech, helps the palsy, and is exceedingly good in the apoplexy, comforteth the heart and vital spirits.' It was used during the war at the front lines to treat men who had been exposed to poison gas.
Lily of the Valley provides us with a pale greenish-yellow dye in the spring and a beautiful golden dye in the fall. The USDA has classified it as poisonous, therefore, it is not allowed to be sold in health food stores. However, according to Ed Smith, it is much milder and far safer to use than digitalis but one should go to a qualified physician for such use. Lily of the Valley is not recommended for pregnant women as it can stimulate contractions.
As is customary with my posts I am including some interesting links here for your perusal. Use them as you see fit.