Lady's slipper is a perennially growing herb that reaches a maximum height of one to two feet. The stems of this herb produce oval-shaped leaves that are about 8 inches in length. Each plant produces a single flower during the period of April and June. The color of lady's slipper flowers varies from yellowish to purplish-brown and are borne at the top of an elongated stalk. One petal of the flower changes into a structure akin to a yellow sac, known as the ‘slipper'.
Lady's slipper is indigenous to the forests and meadows in North America. The herb has a plump rootstock that gives rise to numerous curved stems covered with bristles. The stems bear alternate leaves and typical golden yellow blooms. Lady's slipper is a gorgeous member of the orchid family and possesses a distinctive lower lip that transforms into a blow up pouch that resembles the form of a moccasin. Hence, the herb has derived one of its common names ‘Moccasin Flower'. This herb has a spicy and bittersweet flavor along with a disagreeable smell. Lady's slipper succeeds well on damp soils rich in humus content and in any open or shady place.
The vivid yellow, moccasin shaped lip of lady's slipper flower makes it easy to recognize the herb when it is in blossom during spring. People who have a preference for wild flowers look out for this striking orchid. However, as the forest areas in North America are shrinking rapidly, they realize that like several other orchids, lady's slipper too is becoming rarer with the passage of time.
Although lady's slipper possesses a number of distinct therapeutic properties and was valued for them in earlier times, currently the plant is valued more owing to its ornamental features. In the past, American Indians boiled the extract obtained from the plant's roots to soothe the nerves, while the early European settlers in the continent discovered that an extract of lady's slipper was an excellent alternative for valerian or the garden heliotrope, which were especially used by women and children in Europe in the form of a sedative. Subsequently, these European settlers started calling this herb as American valerian. By the middle of the 19th century, physicians in America had begun to prescribe the roots of lady's slipper to treat health conditions, such as headache, irritability, hallucination, hysteria, neuralgia and even epilepsy. In those days, it was said that lady's slipper was a better herb compared to opium for treating insomnia and inducing sleep since this herb was not a downer or narcotic. Even to this day, herbalists advocate the use of lady's slipper in the form of a tranquilizer and also as an antispasmodic agent.
While lady's slipper is often referred to as the American valerian owing to its soothing actions, actually compared to valerian as well as the other different variations of this plant (Cypripedium pubescens/ larger and Cypripedium parviflorum/ smaller), this herb is much less powerful. The last two varieties Cypridedium pubescens and Cypripedium parviflorum were listed in the United States Pharmacopoeia between the period of 1863 and 1916. It may be noted that lady's slipper is a multifarious resin-like substance and encloses cypridenin.
As lady's slipper is scarcely found and expensive too, presently this herb is rarely used. Lady's herb possesses tranquilizing as well as comforting attributes and, hence, it is used to cure nervousness, disorders related to stress, for instance headaches, palpitations, muscular strains, panic attacks as well as general neurotic conditions. Similar to valerian, lady's slipper is also a useful sedative and helps to diminish emotional tension and generally soothes the mind adequately so as to induce sleep. However, it is obvious that the restorative actions of lady's slipper are more positive compared to valerian.
It may be noted that as of now, lady's slipper is among the most extensively applicable nervines that are present in the materia medica. In fact, lady's slipper facilitates in elevating the mood, particularly when there is depression. In addition, lady's slipper can also ease nervous pain; however, this herb is best used in conjugation with other herbs for treating this condition. Lady's slipper is possibly at its best when it is used to treat anxiety or nervousness related to sleeplessness or insomnia.
Herbalists as well as researchers consider lady's slipper to be a genuine nervine as well as tonic, which mildly reinforces the functional activities of the nervous system. The relaxing attributes of lady's slipper are also deemed to be effective in lowering hyperactivity in children. In the form of a gentle sedative, lady's slipper is known to be useful in alleviating persistent insomnia and restiveness. This herb is particularly helpful when the brain just does not stop working, preventing sleep.
Lady's slipper is believed to be an antispasmodic herb that has been effective in easing cramps, spasms as well muscle contractions. Since the herb possesses additional competence to provide relief from nervous conditions, in earlier times, lady's slipper has also been employed to cure epilepsy.
In addition, lady's slipper facilitates in providing relief from the symptoms of neuralgia, a condition accompanied with an acute, excruciating and stabbing pain down the course of a nerve. It is also believed that the herb is effective in alleviating Bell's Palsy (a condition wherein half of the face looses sensitivity).
Habitat and cultivation
The herb lady's slipper is indigenous to the eastern regions of North America. This plant grows in the wild in forest lands and meadows, but owing to excessive harvesting, lady's slipper is seldom found growing in the wild. However, to a certain extent, this herb is also cultivated.
Lady's slipper has a preference for semi shade to somewhat shade, damp to mild dry conditions as well as a soil that comprises loam or sandy loam. The young lady's slipper plants need the soil to contain suitable endomycorrhizal fungus with a view to thrive. While transplantation of large plants, which have been grown in a greenhouse, is possible, it is actually an expert's job to commence the plants from growing from their seeds. In effect, relatively it is simple to maintain lady's slipper in any flower garden.
Lady's slipper is taken in the form of an infusion as well as a tincture.
Infusion: To prepare an infusion from lady's slipper add one or two teaspoonfuls of the plant's root into a cup (250 ml) of boiling water and allow them to permeate for about 10 to 15 minutes. This infusion should be taken when required.
Side effects and cautions
It has been found that lady's slipper may enclose tannins, volatile oils and quinones and these elements are attributed to its impact on diarrhea, pruritus, menorrhagia and hemorrhage. In addition, people taking this herb have also reported experiencing a number of side effects, including headache, giddiness and dermatitis. Some people have also complained of delusions and restiveness, in addition to contact dermatitis after using lady's slipper. As the use of lady's slipper has a sedative effect, using any other hypnotic or sedative along with this herb may result in augmented stupor. It may be noted that people who have allergic reactions to orchids should always keep away from lady's slipper. In addition, this herb should never be given to women during pregnancy or breast-feeding women.
Collection and harvesting
Lady's slipper is a protected plant and, hence, it should never be gathered even if the plants are found to be growing in the wild.
It has been found that lady's slipper blends excellently with other herbs, such as skullcap and oats. In order to cure nerve pain, you may use lady's slipper in conjugation with other herbs like passion flower, Jamaican dogwood and valerian.