Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca)
Lion’s Ear, Lion’s Tail, Mother’s Wort, Throw-wort, Yi Mu Cao
About This Plant
Motherwort is a hardy perennial from the Mint family found in USDA zones 4-8. It grows from four to seven feet tall and is an easy-to-grow, prolific self-seeder with a propensity to take over a garden if not kept in check. It is commonly deemed a weed and considered invasive in some areas. It forms a clumping habit and can commonly be found growing in neglected gardens, open woods, floodplains, riverbanks, meadows, fields, and along roadsides. It especially likes to grow near areas of water. Despite it’s sometimes vilified reputation, Motherwort is an esteemed medicinal plant that is often revered by herbalists and healers.
Motherwort grows strong and tall, proudly reaching up to the sun. It’s green and pink spires sway upward. Those who tune into the quality of its character say it presides over the garden like a watchful, protective matriarch, showing her love with fierce protection in the way she swaddles her seeds in sharp armor, keeping them safe until they have matured and can spread.
It blossoms in miniature clusters of delicately painted soft pink to pale purple flowers that are said to resemble the healthy womb and reproductive system tissues. It tends to bloom in early Spring and then again towards the end of summer. The flowers rest above where the leaves start to grow out from the square stem. Its calyxes are sharp and thorny.
It’s leaves are similar to the shape of a heart with lobes that resemble lion’s teeth. The lower leaves have three to seven unequal toothed lobes while the upper leaves are lanceolate to three-lobed. The leaves are slightly hairy on the top side and greyish beneath. Like other members of the Mint family, the leaves have a distinct odor when crushed. Also like its Mint family relatives, it has a square stem that is smooth and sturdy, clad in short hairs and often purplish, especially near the nodes. Its shallow but extensive roots spread through rhizomes to form large colonies. Pollinators love Motherwort. It’s not considered a particularly showy plant and is often planted along the edge of fields or as a windbreak.
Nicholas Culpepper had this to say about Motherwort: “Venus owns this herb and it is under Leo. There is no better herb to take melancholy vapors from the heart…and makes a merry, cheerful soul.” Motherwort has a long history of use pertaining to ovulation pain, menstrual headaches, mood swings, menstrual irritability and false labor pains. Historically, herbalists and midwives applied a poultice of the herb to the lower abdomen to assist throughout labor and to help expel afterbirth.
Motherwort’s scientific name, Leonurus cardiaca, literally translated means Lion’s Heart. Leonurus may be descriptive of its ragged-edged leaves which resemble the tip of a lion’s tail, or it may have to do with the fierce love this plant is said to exude. The name Motherwort means “Mother Herb” and is aligned with its traditional use of the healing of women after childbirth.
Motherwort seeds need a few weeks of cold stratification for germination. They also are light-dependent germinators so surface sow seeds and gently press them into place. They germinate in about two to three weeks and can be directly seeded in the Fall or Spring or started indoors and planted out after the final Spring frost.
Seedlings should be thinned or transplanted with two feet between plants.
Motherwort thrives in well-drained, loamy soil and full sun to dense shade. It likes moist soils and will need enough water to keep it moist.
The aboveground parts of the plant can be harvested just as the plant begins to fully bloom which may be anytime between late June and August. Motherwort can be prickly with hairs and the flowering tops are a bit sharp, so you may want to wear gloves when harvesting.
Allow the seed heads to dry on the plant. Cut the top of the stalk just below the seedheads and place in a bucket. Allow the seeds to dry the remainder of the way in a warm, dry, well-ventilated place. Knock the stalk around in the bucket and the seeds will fall directly into the bucket. You’ll probably want to wear gloves for seed harvesting.
Motherwort can be used as a pot herb and tossed into soups, lentils, or beans. The flowers can be used as well in such a manner.
Motherwort is in a nervine which is a class of herbs that help release anxiety and the tension that accompanies stress. It is approved by the German Commission E for nervous cardiac disorders and for thyroid hyperfunction. Its taste is bitter, acrid, and astringent. Many consider it too bitter for tea making and prefer it tinctured or to have fresh plant prepared in vinegar.
Motherwort is said to bring about balance in the body systems, specifically the cardiovascular systems and for a woman’s menstrual cycle. It has long been said to bring healing to the emotional heart, helpful for people who need emotional support, who suppress their emotions, and feel isolated and alone. It is said to help one to tend to their heart and live in accordance with their truest nature.
It is used for heart conditions including heart failure, irregular heartbeat, fast heartbeat and heart symptoms due to anxiety. It also is used for the absence of menstrual periods, intestinal gas, and overactive thyroid. It is said to increase circulation and move blood which can help move along scanty, stuck menstruation, postpartum depression and anxiety, as well as relieve menopause-related hot flashes, and night sweats. It also can be applied directly to the skin to relieve the itching of shingles.
Motherwort is generally regarded as safe. Many advise that it should be avoided in pregnancy and by those on cardiac medications or sedatives and individuals with hypothyroidism. It may be contraindicated if you have endometriosis or fibroids. Women who have a very consistent menstrual cycle are cautioned that taking Motherwort regularly may throw off their cycle. The German Commission E advised that there are no known contraindications for this herb in pregnancy and that Motherwort has been used as a nervine for anxious pregnant women for many centuries.
Motherwort is native to southeastern Europe and Central Asia and has naturalized in southern Canada and east of the Rocky Mountains to the point where it is now considered invasive in some areas.