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My Kind of Medicine

Medicinal Motherwort

My first experience with motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca) was enough to make me a life-long believer of this plant’s supportive actions. I was going through a particularly stressful period of time, during which I was juggling a looming deadline, a beloved pet’s unexpected injury, and a painful anniversary of a family member’s death. I hadn’t dealt with my stress well, and it was starting to manifest as tightness in my throat and a fluttery, anxious heartbeat.

I mentioned my symptoms to an herbalist friend, who suggested I try motherwort. The following day, I did just that. I diluted 2 dropperfuls of motherwort tincture in a small amount of water, drank it, and then returned to my work. About 20 minutes later, my cyclical and stressful thoughts of “Hurry up! Hurry up! You’re on deadline!” started to surface. Almost immediately, however, those thoughts seemed to hit a wall and it felt as though I was being reminded that I didn't need to go down that anxious road. That mental wall was so obvious that it actually took me off guard and I had to remind myself that I'd recently taken a bit of motherwort tincture. Up to that point, my other experiences with plant-based medicines had been more gentle and gradual, so I was pretty taken aback. As a result of such clear and obvious personal results, motherwort is now my go-to plant ally for helping to ease nervous tension.

Motherwort plant
Adobe stock/Anastasiia Malin

Motherwort’s Healing Properties

After my positive experience with motherwort, I planted the herb in my garden and began familiarizing myself with the plant’s other benefits. I learned that, as I had experienced, motherwort is a supportive nervine, helping to release the anxiety and tension that accompany stress. It’s approved by the German Commission E for nervous cardiac disorders and for thyroid hyperfunction. It’s also sedative, diuretic, hypotensive (lowers blood pressure), emmenagogue (stimulates or increases menstrual flow), and antispasmodic.

“Wort” means “to heal,” and as the common name “motherwort” implies, the plant has been used by mothers for centuries and was a common component in midwive’s baskets. According to herbalist Susan Weed, one of motherwort’s uses is to reduce anxiety associated with childbirth, postpartum depression, and menopause (but should not be taken during pregnancy due to its emmenagogue properties). In traditional Chinese medicine, motherwort is combined with dong quai to help regulate the menses cycle and reduce symptoms of PMS.

The plant’s botanical name, Leonurus cardiac, means “lion hearted” and is thought to relate to either the flower spike’s resemblance to a lion’s tail or the plant's traditional use as a cardiac tonic. Motherwort’s common and botanical names combine to provide wonderful clues to its healing properties. After taking my first motherwort tincture I felt exactly as though a protective, lion-hearted mother stood over me and said, “Listen up. I love you, but you need to calm down and drop this stressful attitude. Enough is enough.” That impression gave me the strength and courage to carry on with a better attitude and a braver heart.

Motherwort is a bitter, spicy, and slightly cooling herb. It can be taken as an infusion; however, because it’s so bitter, you may consider turning your infusion into syrup by adding honey or sugar. The aerial parts can also be tinctured, which is my preferred method for ingesting this helpful herb.

motherwort with tincture
Adobe stock/13csmile

How to Grow Motherwort

A member of the mint family (Lamiaceae), motherwort is a hardy perennial in zones 3 to 8. It’s native to southeastern Europe and central Asia, and it’s believed that colonists introduced motherwort to the United States in the 19th century.  It has naturalized over the years to the point where it’s now considered invasive in some areas. For this reason, consider growing motherwort in pots or in a spot where you can keep it contained.

Motherwort prefers well-drained soil and a partly shady location. It has a clumping habit, and its flowers will reach up to 5 feet tall. You can direct sow motherwort seeds in fall or early spring; however, I typically have better luck starting perennial plants from seed indoors and then transplanting them to prepared garden beds in spring after all danger of frost has passed. If you’re going to sow motherwort seeds in spring or indoors, give them a period of cold treatment (stratification) for a few weeks, which will trick them into thinking they’ve gone through winter and are ready for spring growth. Seeds should germinate in 2 to 3 weeks, at which point they can be thinned or transplanted to 2 to 3 feet apart. Keep the established plant well watered, and trim back the flowering tops to prevent this self-seeding plant from taking over your garden.

To use, harvest the aboveground parts when the plant is in full bloom, which should be anytime between late June and August. Tincture immediately or dry the leaves and stems to use at a later time.

motherwort leaf
Adobe Stock/Kazakovmaksin

For more information, see Susan Weed’s excellent entry on Motherwort. Her article includes recipes for an herbal blend for premenstrual support, which combines motherwort, crampbark, chasteberries, and oatstraw, along with a recipe for “Cool as a Cucumber Tea,” which helps ease the discomfort of hot flashes.

Thank you to Joanne Bauman for supplying me with my first motherwort seedling and for recommending the excellent plant in the first place. Thank you, also, to Charlotte Brunin, who overheard Joanne’s advice and sweetly placed a motherwort tincture on my desk the next morning. You are both lion-hearted women who I am blessed to know!

motherwort tincture on desk

Motherwort tincture is now a permanent part of my office apothecary!

 

  Hannah was inspired to write this blog post during her time enrolled in The Herbal Academy’s online school where she worked her way through the Entrepreneur Herbalist Package. She is managing editor for Heirloom Gardener and senior editor for Mother Earth News. Read all of Hannah's posts here.

Fermenting Fresh Herbs

Last year, I realized that I simply can’t eat enough homemade pesto. I love spreading it on fresh bread, dipping veggies in it, using it in homemade salad dressings, and more. It’s particularly uplifting in the middle of winter, when its tangy flavor brings back memories of the warm summer garden. This year, I’m doubling the amount of basil in my garden, and I also plan on experimenting with herbal spreads made from dandelion greens, nettle, spicy arugula, kale, and sage.

arugula pesto
Adobe stock/fortyfork

Last week, when Shannon Stonger’s new book Traditionally Fermented Foods landed on my desk, I realized that in addition to pesto there’s a whole other way to preserve fresh herbs in a spreadable, tangy format that I’ve been missing out on— fermentation.

Fermenting fresh herbs is just as easy – if not easier – as making homemade sauerkraut or kimchi. Plus, your gut will thank you for the increased boost in healthful probiotics.

Ingredients

1 cup fresh, chopped herbs, such as basil, sage, rosemary, or cilantro

1 cup water

1 tsp sea salt

Directions

Pack a small jar full of fresh herbs that have been stripped from their stems, leaving a small amount of headspace at the top. Combine water and sea salt to form a brine, then pour the brine over the fresh herbs. Weigh the concoction down so that all the herbs are submerged under the brine (you can use a rock, small plate, ceramic fermentation weight, or a plastic bag filled with water). Let the herbs ferment for five to 10 days or until they taste tangy and start bubbling.

FYI: Because green herbs oxidize with time, your ferment may turn black. This is OK and your fermentation will still be safe to eat.

The finished ferment should last unopened in cold storage for several months. Once opened, it will store for several weeks at room temperature or up to six months in the refrigerator.

Fermenting fresh herbs

It's incredible how much salt water breaks down the fresh herbs over time. I used the Masontops Complete Mason Jar Fermentation Kit, which includes all the materials to transform mason jars into fermentation vessels, including glass weights, a tamper, and food-grade "pickle pipes" that release air.

Fermented Herbs in the Kitchen

Spread your fermented herb paste on a sandwich, mix some into pasta or rice dishes, add it to marinades and dressings, or mix with yogurt for a tangy twist on tzatziki. For a more traditional pesto flavor, mix your fermented paste with olive oil, parmesan cheese, and pine nuts before eating. In Shannon’s book, she includes a recipe for homemade mayonnaise that uses the brine from herbal ferments; now that’s getting creative.

You may find additional inspiration in these articles:

Fermented Nettle Pesto

Fermented Garlic Scape Paste

Fermented Dandelion Stems

Lacto-Fermented Cilantro

And don’t miss this lovely essay about Chef Olia Hercules’ Ukrainian childhood, which included herbal ferments.

If these articles spark your interest and you want to learn more about the health benefits of ferments and receive dozens of unique recipes, then check out The Craft of Herbal Fermentation Course, which is hosted through The Herbal Academy. The course costs $119 and includes in-depth written discussions, video tutorials, charts, and recipes on every aspect of herbal fermentation — from beer and mead to kombucha, water kefir, and fermented foods.

 


 Hannah was inspired to write this blog post during her time enrolled in The Herbal Academy’s online school where she worked her way through the Entrepreneur Herbalist Package. She is managing editor for Heirloom Gardener and senior editor for Mother Earth News. Read all of Hannah's posts here.