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Green Medicine > Medicinal Plants > Pink Lady's Slipper

Pink Lady's Slipper

Photo of Pink Lady's Slipper
Photo Copyright 2000
(Cypripedium acaule)

Pink lady's slipper is a large, showy wildflower belonging to the orchid family. The root of lady's slipper has traditionally been used as a remedy for nervousness, tooth pain, and muscle spasms. In the 1800's and 1900's it (and other species of the genus) were widely used as a substitute for the European plant valerian (also a sedative).

Because this plant has an extremely long life cycle, taking many years to go from seed to mature, seed-bearing plant, and because it will grow only in very specific circumstances, the harvest of wild lady's slipper root is often not sustainable. Cultivation is challenging, and the plant has not been widely grown for the medicinal herb market. Cypripedium, along with other orchid species, is listed in Appendix II of CITES, making it illegal to export any part of the plant without a permit. In 1988, the American Herbal Products Association issued a self-regulatory initiative for its members requiring them to refrain from trade in wild-harvested Cypripedium.

Today, there are only a few companies selling lady's slipper or products containing lady's slipper. The plant is still occasionally gathered from the wild for private use by individuals, and is sometimes picked as an ornamental. Perhaps the greatest threat to this plant, however, is habitat loss, since it grows only in a very selective habitat

Cultivation: Pink lady's slipper grows in calcium-containing soils, in forested areas. It has thus far proven nearly impossible to cultivate in a way that would make it feasible as a cash crop. It requires that certain fungal mycelia be present in the soil, so it is almost necessary to grow it in a forested area which either does contain wild lady's slipper, or is at least the type of environment where it is normally found. Usually this means a wet forest area, with dappled shade. Success has been reported in growing lady's slippers in a controlled laboratory environment, but the cost of this generally makes it unprofitable as a medicinal herb.

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Last Updated: 4/4/02