Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca)
All mints (Lamiaceae or Labiatae, as they were formerly called) have three features in common:
- square stems, rolling the stem between the fingers to feel the four sides
- opposite leaves—each pair of leaves emerges from the same level, on opposite sides of the stem
- “lipped” flowers—blossoms shaped like open mouths, the upper and lower lips of varying sizes, depending on the species.
Most mints, including lemon balm, lavender and spearmint are aromatic and smell wonderful because of plant volatile oils, which have medicinal properties as well. I like to say “Think stink”—in a good way—to remember aromatic volatile oils, which by the way are easily released into a tea: basil, thyme, rosemary, monarda, hyssop and others like chamomile, lemon verbena etc. Volatile oils are antibacterial, antifungal , antimicrobial, and antiseptic.
However, all mints are not aromatic, some are bitter and not very tasty as teas or herb infusions. Motherwort and skullcap are classified as being “bitter mints”. Motherwort was introduced to North America and naturalized throughout, except for possibly California and Florida, according to the USDA plant distribution database https://plants.usda.gov .
Motherwort (Leonurus) grows in my state and in my garden where she blooms May-August. Because it is in the mint family, it is hearty and spreads in the garden easily; this can be either burdensome or a blessing, depending on how much you would like to grow. The Motherwort I grow, loves to spread it’s little seeds all around each autumn, creating new baby plants.
In Spring, when these starts spread about the garden, gather the young leaves and pour apple cider vinegar over them in a jar. I learned from Susun Weed to fill your jar full of leaves, but not cram-packed. Make certain the leaves are covered with the vinegar and leave only ¼-1/2 inch of air space at the top of the jar. Screw the lid on the jar( if you have a metal lid you need to place wax paper between the lid and jar or the vinegar will corrode/eat the lid). Place your jar in a kitchen cupboard—or somewhere out of direct sunlight–and in 6 weeks, you have Motherwort herb vinegar, loaded with calcium and antioxidant vitamins. Vinegars can be used in soups, stews, as dressings, on vegetables or in veggie juice.
As mentioned above, motherwort is too bitter for tea or herbal infusion. I prefer and make Motherwort tincture/alcohol extract, when she is flowering. I cut the top 1/3 of the plant (includes flowers, flower buds, seeds, stalk, and leaves) , cut them up in pieces and place in a jar, then cover with 90 proof vodka. You want to make sure that your jar is fully packed but not crammed. The plant should be fully covered with vodka and fairly near the top of the jar (no less than ½ inch air space). Any given year, I take no more than half of the flowering tops from any plant community.
Motherwort is a gentle strengthening heart tonic; it tones the cardiovascular system. Maude Greives tells us that there is “no better herb for strengthening and gladdening the heart.” The botanical Leonurus is from the Greek leon “lion” and oura “tail”, which some perceived to be the shape of the plant leaf.
Studies demonstrate her “lion hearted” ability to decrease blood clotting that trigger heart attack, and motherwort contains chemicals that reduce blood pressure. Herbalists suggest 10-20 drops, taken several times a day, can improve heart action, strengthen electrical activity in the heart and lower blood pressure, especially when high blood pressure is a symptom of excess stress and anxiety. Motherwort’s chemical alkaloid leonurine, a mild vasodilator, acts as an anti-spasmodic to relax smooth muscles, one of those being the heart. In its calming nature, it can slow heart palpitations and rapid heartbeat.
Frequently, motherwort is taken in combination with another cardiovascular herb: hawthorn berry (and flower and leaf sometimes in formulas). I have two friends who inquired about options to pharmaceuticals and now take a motherwort-hawthorn berry combination for lowering blood pressure and both attest to the efficacy after physician follow-ups. In a dosage, one takes more hawthorn than motherwort alcohol extract (tincture), while the other seems to require more motherwort alcohol extract (tincture) than hawthorn. That is a good example of how tailoring herbs and dosage to each individual is of benefit.
Recent research shows that the heart has the same memory cells found in the brain. Motherwort may help gently ease heartache, especially from childhood abuse, injuries or difficult life memories. Try 5-10 drops, sit with the plant, unburden yourself to her. To softly lift sadness and bring subtle brightness to the heart, Mimosa (Albizia julibrisin), Linden blossoms (Tilia spp.), and Lemon balm lift mood.
Motherwort has a profound effect on the nervous system. I recommend having motherwort tincture along with rose elixir in a first aid kit. Motherwort comforts, as if putting her arm around you and saying,”there, there.” She invites you to crawl into her lap to relax, quiet nervous irritability, tension, ease upset, all while soothing and strengthening the entire nervous system. As tincture, 20 drops can alleviate frazzled nerves, emotional upset when you can’t seem to get a hold of yourself (car wreck, trauma, stress, bad day). Feel like you’ve had the most stressful day ever? Freaked out? Feel like biting someone’s head off? Worry excessively about things happening? Worst-case-scenario thinking? Frenzied children? Remember the 70’s series of advertisements by Calgon bath and beauty products proclaiming, “Calgon Take me Away! “ Well, herb nervine commercials do not persuade the merits as well, but relax and nourish the tension away: “Take a dropperful of motherwort!
My friend, Hannah Kincaid, senior editor of Mother Earth News and editor of Heirloom Gardener stopped by my garden and mentioned a stressful time in her life. I gave her a young motherwort start and motherwort tincture was a perfect plant ally for her. Hannah writes on her blog,” My first experience with motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca) was enough to make me a life-long believer of this plant’s supportive actions. As a result of such clear and obvious personal results, motherwort is now my go-to plant ally for helping to ease nervous tension.”
Individuals coping with MS, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, neuralgia and nerve conditions often respond to motherwort’s tension and pain relieving properties. In fact, motherwort’s analgesic properties can ease other pains–lower back pain, gas pain, tooth pain. Start with the lower end of a 10-20 drop dosage, and repeat it every 15 minutes until relief.
Motherwort “herb of the mother” has a special affinity for women from puberty to old age. Midwives have used motherwort to stimulate contractions, to aid the birthing of the placenta, and during postpartum to lift mood and ease new mother anxiety.
Women coping with PMS symptoms such as anxiety, irritability, digestive disturbances, nervousness and cramps will benefit from motherwort. A small dose of 5-10 drops of a tincture, taken at the first twinge of menstrual pain and repeated 10-15 minutes as needed will brings fast relief for menstrual cramping. Motherwort is both pain relieving and tonifying to the uterine muscle and usually after prolonged use (within four months) eliminates those menstrual cramps for good, according to herbalist Susun Weed. Topical application of motherwort as an infused oil or as a poultice (usually steeping the plant in hot liquid) placed on the abdomen also eases menstrual cramps.
Motherwort is also a superb ally for menopausal women, with a dropperful moderating hormone levels, emotional swings, and hot flashes. Motherwort also alleviates insomnia, with 10-15 drops taken just before bed to ensure deeper sleep.
Caution: Do not use when pregnant or if your menstrual flow tends to be very heavy. Motherwort increases vascularization to the uterus , so use is contra-indicated for women with endometriosis or fibroids.)
I sometimes have people come and simply sit/be with the healing plants in my garden. The plants appreciate being valued not solely for their physical healing. Call on Motherwort plant spirit to keep you on your life path, bring the gifts of inner growth and trust, and help you find your sense of purpose throughout life. The vulnerable and prickly parts of our natures, the parts we usually try to hide and stuff away, need to be acknowledged as part of our complexity. Motherwort with her spiky seed heads, encourages us to embrace and nourish those hard aspects of ourselves.
Ask Motherwort to bring healing to the spirits of abandoned children and children lost to violence, drugs, and abuse. When placed in a room or grown in a garden, motherwort also has an affinity for energetic healing to persons recovering from heart attack and stroke, Parkinson’s, and brain aneurysms .
Gladstar, Rosemary. (2001) Rosemary Gladstar’s Family Herbal: A Guide to Living Life with Energy, Health and Vitality. Storey Publishing.
Romm, Aviva. (2010). Botanical Medicine for Women’s Health. Churchill Livingstone: St. Louis, Missouri.
Weed. Susun S., (2011). Down There Sexual and Reproductive Health. Ash Tree Pub.: Woodstock, New York.
Susun Weed online articles about Motherwort http://www.susunweed.com/Article_Motherwort.htm
read Hannah Kincaid’s blog post here http://www.heirloomgardener.com/plant-profiles/medicinal/medicinal-motherwort-zbspz1705zkin
All images :Joanne Bauman 2017 from my garden
Joanne Bauman (Prairie Magic Herbals) is a Kansas wise woman herbalist, teacher, writer, herb grower and medicine-maker with two decades of experience. She passionately shares her love of the medicine plants and common healing weeds. Her easygoing teaching style makes learning and making your own herbal items accessible to everyone. Joanne presents at Mother Earth News Fair, Midwest Women’s Herbal and other conferences. She is Herbalists Without Borders (HWB) Community Herbal Apothecary Project Coordinator.
This information is for educational purposes. Any suggestions made and all herbs discussed/listed are not intended to diagnose, treat,cure or prevent any disease, condition or symptom. Any statements made about herbs, and/or remedies have not been evaluated by the FDA. It does not cover all possible uses, actions, precautions, side effects, or interactions of the herbs/plants discussed, and should not be considered medical advice or consultation. If you are on other medications/ drugs, or are pregnant or breastfeeding or have a diagnosed medical condition, please consult your health care professional before taking any herbs/botanicals,dietary, nutritional,or homeopathic products.