I spent the first half of the summer with my eyes peeled for motherwort-- a lovely, upright mint family plant. Motherwort hails from central Eurasia, but has spread throughout the temperate world as a garden plant and escaped weed. This photo was taken in the beautiful garden of Peggy Fitzgibbon in Chautauqua County, who bravely cultivated this prickly species for its medicine.
Motherwort’s botanical name—Leonurus cardiaca, or ‘lion-hearted’—gives a clue about its most common medicinal uses. In his textbook Clinical Herbalism, David Hoffman writes that “Motherwort is an excellent heart tonic, strengthening without straining… It may be used in all heart conditions associated with anxiety and tension.” Motherwort is hypotensive, gently lowering blood pressure as a diuretic. Its antispasmodic properties are specific to the cardiovascular system, and are used to support tachycardia and other heart conditions. Chinese studies have also found motherwort to decrease clotting and support healthy cholesterol levels. Unlike many conventional heart medications, its support is more gentle and long-term. One must use it for at least several months to reap its benefits, and it is safe to use for much longer.
In the US, Cherokees used motherwort for nervous system relaxation. According to research performed in China, motherwort’s alkaloids (and most likely its volatile oils) do indeed have nervine properties. Some add motherwort to bed-time formulas to help ease into sleep.
While in school at the Blue Ridge School of Herbal Medicine, I encountered a fascinating link between the physical and emotional heart. Many scientifically-backed cardiovascular herbs have traditionally been used to support grief, heartache, relational strain, and life transitions. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, it is said that “if the Heart is strong, than the mind will be clear, the emotions positive and calm, and the spirit strong.” There are many factors that may contribute to this connection. The non-profit HeartMath Institute shares:
'Most of us have been taught that the heart is constantly responding to “orders” sent by the brain in the form of neural signals. However, it is not as commonly known that the heart sends more signals to the brain than the brain sends to the heart. Moreover, these heart signals have a significant effect on brain function—influencing emotional processing as well as higher cognitive faculties such as attention, perception, memory, and problem-solving…
'HeartMath research has demonstrated that different patterns of heart activity (which accompany different emotional states) have distinct effects on cognitive and emotional function. During stress and negative emotions, when the heart rhythm pattern may be erratic and disordered, the corresponding pattern of neural signals traveling from the heart to the brain inhibits higher cognitive functions… The heart’s input to the brain during stressful or negative emotions also has a profound effect on the brain’s emotional processes—actually serving to reinforce the emotional experience of stress.
'In contrast, the more ordered and stable pattern of the heart’s input to the brain during positive emotional states has the opposite effect—it facilitates cognitive function and reinforces positive feelings and emotional stability. This means that learning to generate increased heart rhythm coherence, by sustaining positive emotions, not only benefits the entire body, but also profoundly affects how we perceive, think, feel, and perform."
Motherwort is certainly an herb that affects this heart-mind process.
Motherwort’s bitterness is a bonus for those requiring a digestive kick start. However, it doesn’t make for the tastiest tea. I prefer to make a tincture (alcohol extract) or infused vinegar out of the fresh leaves and flowers, when the plant is flowering. Questions about making your own? Get in touch! Motherwort doesn’t grow abundantly near you? Check out Strictly Medicinals to purchase the easy-to-grow seeds.
Before using motherwort, talk to your doctor if you are currently on medication. For information about how motherwort can support women at various life stages, check out this article from the Redroot Mountain School of Botanical Medicine.
- Eich, Kathy. “Motherwort: Healing the Anxious Heart and Mind.” Redroot School of Botanical Medicine. 2009. www.redrootmountain.com.
- HeartMath Institute. www.heartmath.org
- Hobbs, Christopher, PhD. “Herbs for the Heart.” 1998. www.christopherhobbs.com.
- Hoffman, David. Clinical Herbalism. Rochester: 2003. pg 562.
- University of Michigan Health.”Motherwort.” uofmhealth.org
- Weed, Susun. “Motherwort.”Herbalpedia. 2000. www.susunweed.com