Alchemical Water: the Magic of Lady’s Mantle

Lady’s Mantle is a fairly common plant, with its 300 plus species native throughout the cooler regions of Europe and Asia as well as the mountainous regions of Africa and the Americas. Lady’s Mantle is a ground cover plant with small, pleated leaves that grow thickly together and bloom with small, bright chartreuse flowers.

As well as being decorative and often used to aid gynecological issues (one use is to regulate heavy menstrual flow; studies have also confirmed its efficacy in regulating menopausal symptoms; for these purposes, the plant is often made into a tea), Lady’s Mantle has another historic use. They belong to the genus Alchemilla, a name which is rooted in the word Alchemy. So, what has a commonly found plant have to do with turning base metals into gold?

Quite a bit actually.

While there are many different recipes for making the Philosopher’s Stone, most of these include a process called calcination, where the substance is heated and dehydrated, often reduced to ashes before it goes through a process of solution – or dissolution – where its ashes or remnants are added with water before later being once again separated through sublimation (reheated and turned into vapor).

Now the Philosopher’s Stone is literally the Holy Grail of Alchemy; not only can it transmute lead into gold, but it can also provide the Alchemist with immortality – or at least a very, very long life. One purported example: Nicolas Flamel and his wife Perenelle; while they purportedly died in the mid 1400s, sightings of the pair extended all the way into the twentieth century (the most recent claim was made by Andre Breton, one of the fathers of Surrealism, in his book Arcanum 17 (a reference to the Star Tarot Trump). Since he was Surrealist, that’s probably best taken with a grain of Salt (more on Salt below)).

But I digress: back to the flower…

Lady’s Mantle has large broad leaves which are great for collecting rain and morning dew; the plant also goes through a process of de-wetting, where excess water from the bulky stem is transferred out onto the leaves meaning that these leaves are often found covered in water. These dewy droplets were known as “celestial water”, thought to be one of the purest water sources known to humankind, and preferential for Alchemical work [Essential Perennials: The Complete Reference to 2700 Perennials for the Home, Ruth Rogers Clausen & Thomas Christopher, pg. 44]

Alchemilla mollisAlchemilla mollis showing the beading effect of water on its leaves. Image from; photo by and (c) 2018 Dominicus Johannes Bergsma – own work

This ability to pull water was associated by Western Alchemists with the element Mercury. In their cosmological schema, the universe is made of three elements: Salt (salis) – the physical aspect of the body; Sulfur, which is the life force or animating principle (anima mundi), and finally the mysterious Mercury (Mercurius) – named for the messenger of the Roman Gods, identified with the Greek God Hermes and the Egyptian God Thoth, Mercury is truly the prima materia – the very essence of all being.

So, what is the takeaway regarding the mysterious Lady’s Mantle?

Only that she’s an enigma wrapped in a riddle wrapped in a plant…

Alchemilla vulgaris; image from; photo by and (c) 2007 Jina Lee – own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

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