Health in your own backyard: Introducing Motherwort

by Mahalia Freed ND

An important herb for the uterus, heart and nervous system, Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca) is a great example of an urban herbal ally. This often-overlooked plant is central in formulas for menopausal/perimenopausal women as well as post-partum, and for PMS and painful periods. Motherwort is recognizable by the distinctive jagged shape of its scratchy leaves and characteristic square stem.

You can find this larger member of the mint family growing as a healthy, wild “weed” in laneways, ditches, and untended yards throughout the city. Now that you know what to look for, pause, sample a leaf, and appreciate the medicine at your fingertips!

Uses:

Women’s health

Motherwort is often called for in easing the transition for menopausal/perimenopausal women.  It is especially good when there is anxiety with palpitations, but is also generally nourishing to the nervous system, and calming to the nerves and heart. Motherwort relaxes smooth muscles as well as our minds, helping to eliminate both painful periods and PMS. The herb is a uterine tonic. And in case you were wondering, “wort” is a Middle English word for “herb” or “plant”, so this is literally a “mother’s herb”. Indeed, motherwort has a long history of use postpartum, to help someone who has just given birth to recover physically, and adjust to their new (parenting) role. I consider it especially if the postpartum period is accompanied by elevated blood pressure, anxiety or heart palpitations.

Cardiovascular health

As evidenced by its latin binomial, “cardiaca” this weed is a major heart tonic for both men and women. Literally, “Leonurus cardiaca” means “heart of the lion”. Motherwort can decrease or stabilize blood pressure, and is considered to have a diuretic action. Herbalist Susun Weed calls this herb “bypass in a bottle”, referencing its ability to grow new blood vessels as well as strengthening heart function. And finally, as discussed above, the plant is key in herbal formulas for palpitations.

Nervous System

When someone is anxious and heart-sore, Motherwort comes to mind. This weed calms the nervous system (and the thyroid) along with its heart-calming effect. Further, it is very bitter, which means it supports the liver. The liver in Chinese Medicine processes all emotions, and bitters very often can help lift heavy, stuck emotions from the body. I often include this herb in formulas where depression and anxiety are being addressed, no matter what the age, stage or gender of the client. A calming heart tonic with specific action on the liver is so often applicable.

Administration

While some hardy herb lovers will make a tea of the fresh or dried leaves, this herb is decidedly bitter. Thus, motherwort is best taken as a tincture, or alcohol extract. Dose will vary depending on your constitution, your health conditions, and what other herbs, supplements and/or prescription medications you are taking. Ask your naturopathic doctor or medical herbalist what dosage & frequency is best for you.

Cautions

Consult your naturopathic doctor or medical herbalist if you have low thyroid function, heavy periods, fibroids, or are pregnant. Safe during breast-feeding.

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