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.
Adobe stock/Anastasiia Malin
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.
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.
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.
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.