Plant Profile: Motherwort
Motherwort is one of those plants that I had heard of in passing but truthfully didn’t know much about…as soon as I encountered her, I fell head over heels! I have personally been working with and growing Motherwort since March of this year and am so grateful for her medicine and teachings.
Motherwort’s latin name, Leonurus cardiaca or “lion-heart”, originates from the Greek word for lion (leon), tail (ouros), with cardiaca representing the heart. The English name “Motherwort” quite literally means “mothers-herb”, reflecting its supportive role for women throughout their lifetime. These names are the first indication of Motherwort’s energetic and medicinal properties on the heart, nervous system, and emotional body.
Motherwort grows strong and tall in sunny parts of the garden, reaching up into the sky with up to 10 feet of growth. Her leaves grow in a rhythmic pattern along a tall, square stem and each leaf is similar to the shape of a heart, with lobes that remind you of lion’s teeth. These qualities, also known as its doctrine of signatures, reveal to us again that Motherwort has a particular affinity for the energetic and physical heart with a rhythmic quality that brings about balance in the body systems – specifically in the cardiovascular system and for a woman’s menstrual cycle. Energetically speaking, its rhythmic growth signifies its ability to steady our mind, body, and soul.
Motherwort’s list of medicinal actions are quite long and we will get into those later on in this monograph. But where I find Motherwort to shine in particular is in the emotional heart. When you think of the phrase “lion-heart” what image is conjured in your mind? I tend to think of the Strength card in Tarot. In this card we see a figure gently stroking a ferocious lion, taming it with her calming demeanor. Like the Strength Card, Motherwort also teaches us compassion, courage, and strength as we dive into the deepest parts of ourselves, cultivate great fortitude, and engage in the transformational process of overcoming our greatest fears and challenges. For all the Tarot lovers out there, Motherwort is also attributed to The Empress (because of its relationship to Venus and role in the female reproductive system) and the VII of Wands.
I am also reminded of the astrological sign of Leo, the lion, and the warmth that radiates from a Leo’s heart like the golden afternoon Sun. Motherwort has a direct correspondence to the sign of Leo (which also corresponds to the heart), and its planetary ruler is Venus and it is associated with the Fire element. For those who know a bit about astrology and elemental theory, this relationship to both Venus and Fire seems paradoxical.
Energetically speaking, Venus is not overly cool or warm, moist, and relaxed planet that is yin, or receptive in nature. In contrast, Fire is quite yang, or intense and active. Fire can be both incredibly creative and powerful, but can also build into destructive excess. This is very different from the qualities of Venus, which tends to be calm and expansive. Yet Motherwort is ruled by both.
Venus governs many bodily systems but has a particular affinity for the female reproductive system, as does Motherwort. Motherwort’s ability to bring about relaxation and open-heartedness is very Venusian in its essence – and its actions as a nervine, sedative, antispasmodic, and its relationship to the energetic heart is especially reflective of its relationship to Venus.
It is clear that Motherwort’s energetic and physical effect on the body is in alignment with the qualities of Venus. And yet it is ruled by the Fire element. Why? Take a look at the plant in the garden. She has a really intense quality about her, especially when it comes to her sharp and thorny calyxes surrounded by vibrant pink flowers, on a stem that tends to redden throughout the season. All very Fire-like qualities. Now its physiological profile. Fire relates to the heart and cardiovascular system, something we know Motherwort helps with, and we also know that Motherwort is a very strong cooling remedy that alleviates excess heat in the body.
So, while Motherwort is ruled by the Fire element, that does not mean it increases Fire in the body. It is quite the opposite! Its ruling element gives us more information about the relationship this plant has to particular organ systems while its planetary ruler, Venus, shows us how this plant may function in the body on a physical and spiritual level.
Now I don’t want to dive too deep into Medical Astrology, especially since I am studying it myself, but what we can take away from these correspondences is that Motherwort has a relationship to the heart and is cooling/balancing in the organ systems it has an affinity for. Whether you believe in astrology or not, these correspondences are very fascinating!
Now back to Motherwort’s interaction with our subtle body…the Motherwort person is someone who needs emotional support; who tends to feel isolated and alone or unsupported; someone who suppresses their emotions, holds things in, and explodes when it becomes too much to bear. Motherwort is especially helpful for individuals who may have experienced pain with their mothers – whether that be in the form of a difficult relationship, not knowing their mother, or losing people who have played a motherly role in their lives. This loving plant helps us to cultivate the ability to mother ourselves while tending to our heart with gentleness and care.
The lion-hearted plant’s fundamental spiritual teaching is to help us learn how to live in accordance with our heart and our truest nature. She helps us to move away from conditioned reactive patterns that hold us back while granting us the experience of what it means to feel grounded in our sense of self. I find that Motherwort offers us the courage to do shadow work, to dive into our deepest depths and confront the darkness within. She assists in grounding our vital force, helps us express our emotions in a healthy way, and allows our inner light to radiate from our heart as if the center of our chest is the Sun itself. Such powerful medicine!
I find that 1-3 drops of the tincture or flower essence taken daily is just enough to grant this subtle shift in the heart center. If you really want to take it to the next level, consider taking a drop of Motherwort tincture or essence before a deep backbend/heart-opening yoga practice. Now on to more of the scientific aspects behind this wonderful plant ally.
Botanical Name Leonurus cardiaca
Common Name Motherwort, Lion’s Tail, Lion’s Ear, Lion Hearted
Parts Used Aerial Parts
Native Region Europe
Geographic Distribution Grows throughout temperate regions of the world in sunny areas. Motherwort is very easy to grow in the garden and can be found throughout the United States in late Spring through Summer.
Botanical Description Motherwort grows anywhere from two to ten feet tall. Like all plants in the mint family, it has a square main stem that is smooth and sturdy, with many branching stems coming off of it. Lower leaves have 3-7 unequal toothed lobes while upper leaves are lanceolate to three-lobed. Motherwort tends to bloom in late May and sometimes again towards the end of summer and has white/pinkish blooms with prickly calyxes.
How to Grow Motherwort will readily grow in your garden! She prefers part shade to full sun, regular garden soil, and plenty of water. Sow seeds in the fall directly in the garden for spring growth or sow in pots/directly in early spring. Barely cover the seed with soil, tamp securely, and keep area moist until germination which typically occurs in 1-3 weeks. Be sure to thin or transplant seedlings to 1-2 feet apart. Motherwort grows strong and tall and she could use a bit of space as she will extend additional shoots up throughout the season. Hardy to Zones 3 to 8, otherwise grown as an annual. Ready to harvest in 60 days, but can provide a second harvest and will come back the following year.
Harvesting Guidelines Harvest when in full bloom in mid-late summer. Here in Zone 7b, we often have a harvest in May and again in late July.
Actions Bitter , Nervine , Sedative , Antispasmodic , Emmenagogue , Cardiovascular Trophorestorative , Relaxant Diaphoretic
Taste Bitter , Acrid , Astringent
Energetics Cooling , Drying
Constituents Motherwort contains leocardin, leonuride, ajugol, galiridoside, reptoside and other components, including flavonoids, leonurin, betaine, caffeic acid derivative, tannins, and traces of volatile oils. The alkaloids responsible for Motherwort’s primary actions include stachydrine, betonicine, turicin, leonurine, leonuridin, and leonurinine.
Its iridoid glycoside content is responsible for its bitterness; leonuride and stachydrine are attributed to its anti-arrhythmic and hypotensive effect; the phenolic acids and flavonoids are cooling as well as strengthening to the cardiovascular system; proline-betaines such as stychydrine and betonicine make up Motherwort’s bitter and nervine relaxant actions. Leonuirine may also stimulate uterine tone and blood flow, and stachydrine may stimulate late oxytocin release. Ursolic acid may have antiviral, antitumorigenic, and cytotoxic activity. So there’s much of the chemistry behind this plant! Lots of interesting info there.
Specific Indications Motherwort is specifically indicated for the following patterns:
Heat/Excitation – Excess heat or overstimulation in the body. This may present as menopause, hot flashes, fever, hyperthyroidism, worn down elasticity of vasculature due to excess heat in the circulatory system, high blood pressure, cardiac issues, etc.
Wind/Tension – Symptoms that tend to come and go. In the nervous system this presents as anxiety, nervousness, insomnia, and tension that is not always present. In the musculoskeletal system wind/tension is associated with cramping, muscle tension, and spasm.
Dry/Atrophy – Matthew Wood brings up the dry/atrophy pattern in relationship to Motherwort and the cardiovascular system if it is lacking vital nourishment and in need of trophorestoratives.
Motherwort is also specifically indicated for individuals who have an erratic pulse, are experiencing heart palpitations, show excess emotionality without reason, and tend to hunch over, burying their heart deep into their chest. Now let’s dive into some of these specific indications in much more detail.
Uses Motherwort’s bitter quality provides a broad beneficial effect for multiple organ systems, including the digestive system and cardiovascular system. It is also one of our top uterine remedies and has as special affinity for women throughout their lives.
Motherwort is an effective remedy for menstrual difficulties such as lack of menses (amenorrhea) and painful periods (dysmenorrhea) as well as menopausal symptoms due to its antispasmodic, nervine, emmenagogic, and hormonal actions. Motherwort’s bitter and emmenagogic actions stimulate stagnant fluids in the uterus and draw them down and out, creating a draining effect. Because of this action, Motherwort is often taken to bring on a late period or infrequent one (amenorrhea) and to establish consistency with a cycle after coming off of birth control pills.
Its bitterness also supports the liver during the hormone fluctuations before the menstrual cycle begins; this is especially helpful in cases of estrogen dominance. An ally for those who suffer from premenstrual syndrome (PMS), Motherwort’s antispasmodic action effectively eliminates uterine cramping, its nervine action calms nervousness and irritability while gently regulating mood, and its hormonal balancing action helps to ease sore breasts and other symptoms of PMS.
This plant also serves as an ally during childbirth – the glycoside leonuride can stimulate uterine contractions and bring on labor. Motherwort’s nervine action also can calm anxiety that may accompany childbirth. Many herbalists and midwives throughout history cite applying a Motherwort fomentation on the lower abdomen to assist throughout labor and help expel afterbirth. Motherwort also eases cramping after the birth (only use it when uterine bleeding has stopped) and supports the mother in cases of postpartum depression and anxiety.
Motherwort continues to help women through their next life-phase by offering menopausal support. During menopause, the production of estrogen shifts to the adrenal glands which are often taxed due to the chronic stress of our modern lives. Because of this additional work for the adrenals, the liver often becomes stagnant and causes heat to rise up into the body. This heat pattern is often expressed as hot flashes, headaches, eye strain, anger, irritability, etc. Motherwort effectively cools these symptoms and has a particularly grounding and soothing effect that many menopausal women find comfort in.
Motherwort is also indicated for individuals with general nervousness or anxiety. This plant’s nervine action is incredibly reliable, calming, and gentle. It can help relax nervous tension that can cause insomnia but is not overly sedating and can be taken throughout the day without feeling tired. Motherwort also helps to ease nervous tension, soothes panic attacks, aids with nervous digestion, and shines as an ally for those who experience anxiety that makes their chest feel tight…that kind of nervous/tense heart feeling.
Motherwort is also a cardiac trophorestorative, meaning that it helps to balance and nourish the cardiovascular system overall. Its nervine relaxant effect helps with heart palpitations; the bitter action improves tone and elasticity of the blood vessels while nourishing the heart, lowering cholesterol levels, and improving coronary function; it helps to move the blood and relieve blood stagnation, thereby stabilizing heart rate. Overall, Motherwort helps to cool excess heat/excitation in the cardiovascular system which leads to damage and stress on the heart and circulatory pathways.
Another example of heat/excitation in the body is hyperthyroidism – Motherwort is palliative to hyperthyroidism symptoms and is often combined with Lemon Balm and Bugleweed as an effective herbal formula. Motherwort is also indicated for difficult digestion due to nervousness, poor absorption of fats and oils, intestinal cramping, and bloating/cramping/digestive upset related to hormone shifts in a woman’s menstrual cycle. Lastly, Motherwort can be used as a relaxant for smooth muscles and to help cool high fevers.
A Note for Practitioners With all of this being said, since Motherwort is a very cooling remedy it is most indicated for excess Pitta constitutions – people who tend to burn the candle at both ends, are quick to anger, and have an overly hot disposition. Their symptoms may be exacerbated by heat or when they get nervous they may start to sweat, feel like they need to lay down to cool off, or become irritable. Motherwort is very cold and dry and may aggravate Vata and Kapha constitutions. If you are working on a formula for Vata and Kapha constitutions and would like to include Motherwort, be sure to balance the cold/dry energetics accordingly.
Dosage For an infusion, combine 2 teaspoons of dried Motherwort for every 8 oz of hot water, steep for 30 minutes, and take 2-3 cups per day. Fair warning though…Motherwort infusions do not taste good. Because this plant is suuuuuper bitter, and I mean really really bitter, taking it in tincture form is a favored route of administration.
Ideally, a tincture made with fresh Motherwort would be a 1:3 ratio with 60% alcohol; if dried, a 1:5 in 40% alcohol is just fine. David Hoffman recommends 20-60 drops of a 1:5 tincture in 40% alcohol, 3 times per day; Michael Tierra recommends 10-30 drops three times daily; and The School of Evolutionary Herbalism recommends no more than 40-100 drops 3x/day as a max, and advocates for smaller doses of this plant.
Personally, I recommend 20-60 drops up to 3x per day for its bitter nervine effect; drop doses of 1-3 drops once daily or as needed for emotional support; and in the case of painful menstrual cycles, 10-15 drops every half hour until pain subsides.
Safety Motherwort is regarded as generally safe but should be avoided during pregnancy, by those on cardiac medications, individuals with hypothyroidism, blood or yin deficiency, and may be contraindicated if you have endometriosis or fibroids. I know many herbalists who use Motherwort with clients who have endometriosis or fibroids with no issue, but some herbalists list this as a contraindication. Motherwort should also be avoided by individuals who are already exhibiting symptoms of excess cold, dry, or relaxed tissue states. It is also cautioned for women who have a very consistent menstrual cycle – because of its emmenagogue effect, taking Motherwort on a regular basis may throw off the menstrual cycle. Taking Motherwort along with sedative medications might cause too much sleepiness. Do not combine with heart medications and remember to always talk to your doctor!
Phew! So there is pretty much everything I know to date about Motherwort. As time goes on, I will update this monograph with additional information and make a note of the most recent edit date at the top of this page. I hope you found this monograph illuminating and that it inspires you to form a relationship with this beloved plant ally! If you would like to connect with her, feel free to try our Motherwort tincture, made with locally grown and hand-harvested Leonurus cardiaca. And don’t forget to order seeds for your spring garden!
May the Earth bless you,
– Ganora, L. (2015). The Action Formula [PDF]. American Herbalists Guild.
– Hoffmann, David. (2003). Medical Herbalism. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press.
– Motherwort, Official (Leonurus cardiaca). Strictly Medicinal Seeds. Retrieved September 19, 2018.
– Nursing 2004 Herbal Medicine Handbook. (2004). Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
– Swartwood, R. (2018, January 25). Motherwort: The Plant World's Mama Bear – Herbal Academy.
– Tierra, M. (1998). The Way of Herbs. New York, NY: Pocket Books.
– Wood, M. (2002). The Six Tissue States. Journal of the American Herbalists Guild, 3(1), 28-33.
– Notes from my studies at The Herbal Academy and Evolutionary Herbalism.
– Additional information collected from various sources including personal experience and synthesized in my personal materia medica.
Disclosure: This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Consult with a qualified healthcare practitioner before using herbal products, particularly if you are pregnant, nursing, or on any medications.