Several different species of the orchids known collectively as ‘Lady’s Slipper’ were used in traditional healing systems before the combination of habitat destruction and overharvesting placed these remarkable flowers at risk. It takes many years for Lady’s slipper plants to develop from seed to their mature form. Symbiotic relationships with fungi in the soil are required for the successful propagation of all species of Lady’s slipper. The species commonly used for medicinal purposes include, but are not limited to, Cypripedium acaule, Cypripedium parviflorum, and Cypripedium pubescens.
Lady’s slipper has a special affinity for the nervous system and has been widely used in the treatment of nervous affections. The nervous system may be in a state of overstimulation leading to tension, with complaints of restlessness, fidgeting, and excitability. Ailments from emotional excitement: patients who exhibit pronounced emotional inundation, completely and utterly overwhelmed by intense and markedly fluctuating states. For example, there can be a dramatic oscillation between wanting to laugh and wanting to cry, where both the laughter and the weeping are exaggerated and disproportionate to the situation at hand. Emotional ebb and flow can give rise to difficulties in forming social bonds. There can be heightened sensitivity that leads to isolation and withdrawal, though there can also be great efforts to be recognized and seen. For example, the sophistication of the lady’s slipper orchid is expressed in the exaggerated care that these patients can put towards maintaining their personal appearance. However, they often feel that their care of elegance, along with all that makes them special and unique, is not recognized or valued nearly enough by their peers.
The 19th century physician Edwin M. Hale wrote of these features of the medicine of Lady’s slipper: “It causes at first a feeling of exhilaration of the mental and nervous system…it acts upon the cerebrospinal system, and is useful for the effect of over mental exertion, or reflex nervous excitement.”[ Quoted in Michal Yakir. Wondrous Order. Kandern: Narayana-Verlag, 2021. Pg. 751. ] Accompanying these symptoms, there may be varying degrees of insomnia, characterized by restlessness and muscle fasciculation (twitching of the limbs). Lady’s slipper is useful in cases of insomnia where the patient cannot fall asleep or wakes up as a consequence of excessive mental activity. We can see this in children, for example, who wake up in the middle of the night with an overabundance of energy, wanting to talk and play, without any desire to go back to bed. Such children are often overly engrossed in their own imaginations, and prefer to be alone because of a heightened sensitivity to others and to their environment. If these children do want company, it will usually be that of their parents or of children younger than themselves. In both children and adults, the overexcitement of the night may be followed by weakness and indifference during the day.
Michal Yakir writes: “There is a mutual association between the nervous and the digestive systems: disturbed digestion due to nervous emotion (anxiety, a sad event, mental exertion) or nerve conditions as a result of a digestive disorder. Amenorrhea [the absence of menstruation] accompanied by hysteria, nerve weakness and depression. The nervous system along the whole length of the spinal cord is stimulated and aroused.”
Lady’s slipper is also characterized by a mutual association between the nervous system and the hormones and reproductive system. This connection has been explored at least as far back as the time of Paracelsus (1493 – 1541):
“The testicle-like shape of the root suggested its early application. The name ‘orchid’ comes from the Latin for testicle. Paracelsus said that Lady’s Slipper, by virtue of this signature, would ‘restore a man to his lewdness.’ The flower provides a signature different from the root. Lady’s Slipper gets its name from the resemblance of the flower to a slipper. Several closely related species are called ‘Moccasin Flower.’ Paracelsus said that if a plant looked like a foot, it was a remedy for a foot. The foot represents the possibility of wandering, while the shoe represents protection for the foot [for the wanderer]. It also represents the idea of settling down. An old proverb says, ‘When the shoe fits, wear it.’ When the right thing appears one cannot do anything else but commit oneself to it. When people commit themselves to something that doesn’t fit they grow restless and doubtful. Life has no stability, emotions slip back and forth. They are candidates for Lady’s Slipper.”
Lady’s slipper has been widely used for issues of premature birth in children and post-partum exhaustion and depression in mothers. Premature babies may suffer from an underdeveloped or immature nervous system, and hence may grow up to be easily and distressfully stimulated by their emotions and surroundings. “The body still isn’t ready to operate on its own in the world.” The post-partum depression and exhaustion of the mother may be characterized the feeling that she does not have the energy to adequately love and care for her child. In general, there can be issues centering around the feeling of never being sure that one has done done the right thing. In issues of love, there can be the tendency to develop strong romantic ties but without the level of maturity to commit to one’s partner. This speaks to an underlying lack of stability and indeterminacy in life and in the emotional sphere.
Overview and additional indications:
Antispasmodic, sedative. Quieting the nerves, promoting sleep. Nervous afflictions: tremors, irritability, restlessness, spasm, epilepsy. Hyperesthesia (heighted sensitivity of the senses, one or more senses could be affected simultaneously), often resulting from the overstimulation of the brain. Fevers of nervous origin.
Abdominal worms. Digestive disorders with a strong link to the nervous system.
Infections and inflammations of the eyes, characterized by pronounced soreness and irritation.
Itching and burning of the skin, often without any signs of redness or swelling.