Motherwort: An Ancient Herb for Modern Gardens

A versatile herb ally, Motherwort’s medicinal properties include easing stress, calming the heart, supporting women’s health, and more. Learn how to grow, harvest, and utilize this purple-flowered member of the mint family.

| November/December 2018

  • Motherwort has a long history as a medicinal herb.
    Photo by Adobe/pgstudija
  • Motherwort thrives in full sun and well-drained, loamy soil. If you don't grow it in pots, consider planting it along the edge of a field or as a windbreak.
    Photo by Hannah Kincaid
  • Brandy will sufficiently extract motherwort’s properties, but you can use a higher-proof, whole-grain alcohol if you’d prefer.
    Photo by Hannah Kincaid
  • Leave your motherwort mixture in a cool, dark place for 6 to 8 weeks. As it sits, check for uncovered plant material and add alcohol as needed.
    Photo by Hannah Kincaid
  • For a less bitter alternative to motherwort tea, dilute 1 to 2 dropperfuls of motherwort tincture in a glass of water, tea, or juice.
    Photo by Adobe/RFBSIP

My first experience with motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca) was enough to make me a lifelong believer in the plant’s supportive actions. I was going through a particularly stressful time, juggling a looming deadline, a beloved pet’s unexpected injury, and a painful anniversary of a family member’s death. I had not dealt with my stress well, and it began to manifest as a tightness in my throat and a fluttery, anxious heartbeat.

I mentioned my symptoms to a community herbalist, Joanne Bauman, who suggested I consider motherwort. The following day, 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 about deadline started to surface. Almost immediately, however, those thoughts seemed to hit a wall and dissipate into an overall sense of well-being. Best of all, I no longer felt the fluttery, nervous heartbeat that often accompanies my moments of acute stress. The change was so abrupt that I actually felt surprised and slightly disoriented before remembering that I had motherwort to thank. Because of this experience, motherwort is my go-to plant ally for easing anxiety — especially the kind that’s accompanied by a tight chest and heart palpitations.

Motherwort’s Medicinal Properties

After hearing about my positive experience with motherwort, Bauman gave me a few seedlings to transplant to my medicinal herb garden. I planted the starts and began familiarizing myself with the other gifts this generous plant has to offer. I learned that motherwort is in a class of herbs called “nervines,” which help release the anxiety and tension that accompany stress. Motherwort is also one of the plants approved by the German Commission E for nervous cardiac disorders and for thyroid hyperfunction. It’s sedative, diuretic, hypotensive (lowers blood pressure), antispasmodic, and an emmenagogue (stimulates or increases menstrual flow).

Motherwort’s common and Latin names both provide clues to its healing properties. The plant’s genus name, “Leonurus,” means “lionhearted,” and motherwort does indeed provide inner strength during emotionally trying times. The plant’s species name, “cardiaca,” stems from the Latin word for heart. In Rosemary Gladstar’s book Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health, she classifies motherwort as a heart tonic that nourishes and strengthens the heart muscle and its blood vessels. Gladstar says motherwort is particularly useful for tachycardia, rapid heartbeat, and other heart conditions caused by stress and anxiety. (If you’re taking heart medication, then consult with a health care provider before introducing new herbs to your regimen; motherwort may be contraindicated.)



The plant’s common name, “motherwort,” includes the word “wort,” which is historically associated with useful herbs and medicinal plants. “Mother” hints at the plant’s traditional use as a women’s herb. Indeed, women have used motherwort for centuries to help start their menstrual flow if it’s late, relieve cramps, and ease symptoms of menopause, including hot flashes and mood swings. Motherwort was also a common component in midwives’ baskets to reduce anxiety associated with childbirth and postpartum depression. As an emmenagogue, motherwort promotes uterine contractions, which is why it’s sometimes given to women in the last few days of pregnancy to hasten childbirth. (For this same reason, motherwort is not safe to consume during the vast majority of a pregnancy, or by someone experiencing heavy bleeding during their menstrual cycle. Women with endometriosis or fibroids should not use motherwort regularly.)

From Seed to Harvest

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 has naturalized in the United States to the point where it’s now considered invasive in some areas. For this reason, consider growing motherwort in pots, in a spot where you can keep it contained, or simply be cognizant of removing seed heads so the plant doesn’t spread too aggressively.



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