Healing with Motherwort

A warrior herb that nurtures the heart and spirit of women.

As women around the world share their stories and their voices, never has there been a better time for motherwort. Aptly named, this warrior weed targets women’s health, especially the reproductive system, but its value goes well beyond, strengthing not only the body but the spirit as well. Centuries of use demonstrate how this beneficial botanical belongs in your medicine chest.

Growing Tall

Motherwort is a hardy perennial in the Lamiaceae {mint} family that’s native to northern Eurasia {including Siberia}. Immigrants brought it to North America to use as medicine and as a food for bees, and it has thrived ever since, considered invasive in many of the states in which it grows. Flourishing wildly in neglected gardens, meadows, riverbanks, open woods, and roadsides, motherwort can and will grow prolifically just about anywhere it finds well-drained soil and full sun to dense shade.

Beginning from a clumped, basal rosette, it sends up one sturdy, branched, hairy, and purple-tinged square stalk that often grows to a height of six feet. Leaves are opposite, slightly hairy, and light-green with pale undersides. Lower leaves are larger, deeply three-lobed, and oak-shaped while the upper leaves are smaller, and five-lobed, resembling mugwort when not in flower. When crushed, the leaves can give off an unpleasant odor, and the flowers are said to have a somewhat disagreeable scent.

Motherwort flowers bloom from July to September and are small, delicate, and pale-pink to purple with a bottom lip covered in fluffy, thistle down-like hair. They grow up the stalk along the with the leaves in alternating whorls of six to 12 and contain an abundance of nectar that attracts bees. The sepals of the flowers are prickly, and once the petals are gone, become small burrs. Motherwort reproduces by self-seeding and through its extensive rhizomes, which form large colonies.

Motherwort is easy to grow and will flourish in most USDA Zones, especially 4-8. You can sow seeds right into the soil or start them indoors. Seeds germinate within two to three weeks. Plant after the last hard frost, about 1 – 3 feet apart, keeping them well watered. Motherwort grows profusely and may serve best in containers, where it has a little constraint. Plants started from seeds will not be large enough to harvest the first year, but you can usually harvest them twice the second year. Cut back flowers to keep motherwort from taking over or harvest them when they are in full bloom.

Harvest: Wear gloves when picking; some folks experience contact dermatitis after handling motherwort. Tincture aerial parts right away or dry for later use. You can cook young shoots and eat them like nettle; add fresh or dried flowers {without the spiny sepal} to soups and salads. Beer makers have used motherwort in brewing for its bitter character as an alternative to hops.

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What’s In A Name

As the common name suggests, motherwort has long been associated with aiding mothers and women. It has a strong history of use in both Europe and Asia. The botanical name, Leonurus cardiaca, comes from the Ancient Greek leon for lion and oura for tail, referring to the plant’s leaves, which resemble a lion’s tail. Cardiaca pertains to the herb’s actions on the heart. As a whole, the name translates to “lionhearted,” a term that speaks to motherwort’s action on the physical cardiovascular system and the emotional/spiritual heart.

First used by the Ancient Greeks to treat anxiety, depression, and heart palpitations in pregnant women, it became more widely known by its common name, motherwort, or “herb of the mother.” Pierandrea Mattioli, a 14th-century Italian physician and personal doctor to Ferdinand II, found it “useful for pounding heart, spasms, and paralysis” and to stimulate menses. English botanist John Gerard {1545 – 1612} used it for infirmities of the heart, and Nicholas Culpeper claimed, “There is no better herb to drive melancholy vapours from the heart, to strengthen it, and make the mind cheerful, blithe and merry.” {In Europe, it was first used to treat ailments of cows, hence its other common name, “cow-wort.”}

By the 19th-century, eclectic physicians were using motherwort to calm “morbid nervous excitement,” delayed menstruation, and all conditions that caused disquietude and wakefulness.

Leonurus Lore

People have also turned to the herb for mystical purposes. Many cultures have used motherwort to honor their goddesses of fertility because of the herb’s association with the moon and Venus. It was often an herb featured in lunar rituals. Considered a protective plant, it was especially useful in spells to guard pregnant women and their unborn children. Many women would keep a sachet of motherwort concealed with photos of family to protect and bless loved ones. Planted around the home or hung from doorways, it kept away unwanted guests, both physical and supernatural. Motherwort burned as a smudge would drive “wicked spirits” from the house. Leonurus was also used as counter-magic to reverse a curse.

Hindu lore suggested making a tea of motherwort and adding it to the laundry when washing socks and undergarments to impart protection and bring peace to the home. Japanese folklore tells of a town whose main water source was a stream fed by rainwater trickling through the hills of motherwort. The inhabitants of the village drank daily from this stream and were bestowed with extraordinarily long life – up to 130 years of age. Esotericism believes that an incense of motherwort and mugwort can aid in astral projection, as well as promote inner trust, healing, and confidence.

Monthly Serenity

As a remedy for PMS, motherwort helps pacify intense emotions. In this recipe, skullcap and oat straw provide a soothing boost by calming and nourishing the nervous system. Hawthorn and linden relieve tension, anxiety, and soothe the heart, and vervain, ladies’ mantle, and borage work to combat sadness and irritability and lift the spirits.

  • 3 parts motherwort
  • 3 parts skullcap
  • 3 parts oat straw
  • 2 parts linden
  • 2 parts hawthorn
  • 2 parts vervain
  • 1 part ladies’ mantle
  • 1 part borage

Prepare as a tincture {see below} or capsule, since these herbs taste very bitter. Dosage: 10 – 25 drops, 3 times a day or two capsules, three times a day. Begin with a low dose and increase if needed. Consult with your physician before using if you have cardiac issues.

Modern Medicine

Today, we know a lot more about the science behind motherwort’s wide-ranging benefits, and which ailments this amazing herb most effectively targets.

For women: To start, when it comes to women’s reproductive health, motherwort’s mild diuretic action helps relieve hormonal water retention. It also contains leonurine and stachydrine, two alkaloids that act as uterine stimulants, which can help bring on suppressed or delayed menstruation. At the same time, it offers antispasmodic and anti-inflammatory properties which work to inhibit prostaglandins, the chemicals produced by body tissue that stimulate contractions in the uterus and are responsible for pain. Taken as a tonic herb over time, motherwort can tone the muscles of the uterus, decreasing pain in the future.

As a powerful nervine, motherwort has an incredible effect on the nervous system. Cooling and calming, without being overly sedating, it helps dispel the heat from hot flashes and alleviates the panic that sometimes accompanies them. Superb for tackling the challenges of premenstrual syndrome {PMS}, it is one of the best remedies for extreme emotions, especially over-whelming anger and frustration.

This nervous system effect goes further, providing some calm in moments of stress from over-worry, world events, personal adversity or despair, anxiety, and sleeplessness. By imparting a sense of inner peace, it uplifts the spirits, soothes the mind and body, and facilitates better sleep.

Moon-Time Support

Motherwort is a time-honored remedy for painful, scanty periods. Each of the accompanying herbs offers powerful antispasmodic actions. Cramp bark and kava sedate the uterine muscles, while ginger provides strong anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties. If needed, valerian root, a powerful muscle relaxant, and sedative can replace kava for nighttime relief. Do not use if you are prone to heavy periods.

  • 2 parts motherwort
  • 2 parts cramp bark
  • 2 parts ginger root
  • 1 part kava

Prepare as a tincture {see below} or capsules, since most of these herbs are very bitter. Dose: Begin with 10 – 25 drops, three times per day. Increase if needed. Capsules: 2, 3 times per day.

For the Heart:

The German Commission E actually approves this well-known cardiovascular tonic for its effect on nervous cardiac disorders, and for its ability to manage the palpitations that can accompany hyperthyroidism. Toning the heart muscle, motherwort helps to regulate heart rate, especially by calming rapid heartbeat from anxiety and menopause. A 2014 study, published in Planta Medica, a peer-reviewed journal from the Society of Medicinal Plant and Natural Product Research, found that motherwort inhibited the effects of oxidative stress {inflammation} on the muscles of the heart, leading to further investigation into its use as a protective cardiac remedy. While stimulating circulation, Leonurus also reduces the risk of blood clots that can cause heart attacks and stroke and has been found to be more effective than valerian root for lowering blood pressure.

motherwort tincture

Motherwort Tincture

This tincture is a fantastic remedy for those who need emotional and physical heart strength:

Fill a glass jar three-quarters full with motherwort {preferably fresh} and cover with your solvent of choice: 100-proof alcohol, apple cider vinegar, or glycerin. Cover and set in a dark place for 4 – 6 weeks, shaking daily. Next, strain, bottle, and store in a cool, dark spot. Dose: 10 – 20 drops, three times per day.

A Caretakers’ Heart

One of the most fascinating things about motherwort is its ability to strengthen our emotional hearts. Traditionally an herb for women and mothers, it offers help to those who serve as caretakers and/or for people who do more for others than themselves and may feel undervalued. And like a strong mom, the herb gives much-needed support, inspiring radical self-care and restoring the inner “Lionheart” needed to fully open your own heart – to give without being taken advantage of, and care with appropriate boundaries. In essence, it helps you care for yourself so you have the stores of endurance and compassion to care for others.

Motherwort helps mend broken hearts and is a wonderful aid for those who have trouble saying “no,” can’t find their voice, or feel they are not being heard. It helps heal the spirit from injustices and promotes the courage to speak the truth, even in the face of adversity.

Cautions:

Do not use motherwort if you are pregnant, nursing, or prone to heavy menstrual periods. Consult a physician before using it if you take cardiovascular, thyroid, blood-thinning, or sedative medications, as the herb may interfere with treatment. Prolonged use may cause photosensitivity. Drowsiness can occur; avoid using sedative drugs. Excessive doses may cause digestive distress. Do not use with young children.

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Flower Essences:

If you cannot take motherwort herb because of the above, consider the flower essence, which does not interfere with most medications. Motherwort essence has all the healing qualities of the herb but can go a bit deeper – it eases deep grief and heartache, opening your heart to receive divine love, acceptance, and peace. Motherwort works to soften the hearts of those who have hardened themselves to the world due to lack of nurturing, those who fear being hurt, and folks struggling with difficult childhoods and abuse. It helps give the courage to work through issues and feel the strength of your own personal power.

Just as its name suggests, motherwort is a fierce but healing warrior. In uncertain, when challenges are looming and we are put to the test emotionally and physically, look to motherwort to help calm your nerves, ease your pain, find your voice, and stand tall with the heart of a lion.

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