Motherwort

Leonurus cardiaca

Common Names
Lion’s tail, lion's heart, mother’s weed, throw-wort.

Parts Used
Leaves and flowering tops

Herbal Actions

Emmenagogue, cardiac tonic, nervine, anti-spasmodic, diaphoretic, diuretic, bitter carminative, parturient.

Energetics
Bitter, spicy, slightly cold

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Leonurus ~ the lion-hearted one

Leonurus cardiaca is considered one of the best herbs for “gladdening and strengthening the heart.” Motherwort's Latin name comes from the Greek words leon = lion, ouros = tail, and cardiaca = heart. It has been traditionally used as a female herb for suppressed, painful menstruation, but is also used as a heart tonic for palpitations and irregular heartbeat. Interestingly, many herbs that are good for the heart are also good for the womb, since they both deal with the flow of blood. According to traditional folk lore, ‘wort’ means helpful little friend, marking this remedy as the helpful little friend of worried and anxious mothers who often over extend themselves in the taking care of others. Motherwort is not just for moms, but anyone with nervous exhaustion or anxiety from accumulated life stress. 

Leonurus is an approved medicine by the German government as a sedative for “nervous” heart symptoms, such as palpitations that accompany anxiety or stress. Chinese physicians have used their native species of Leonurus for menstrual disorders since at least 100 A.D., and still use it today. Seventeenth century British herbalist Nicholas Culpepper stated this about motherwort: “there is no better herb to drive melancholy vapours from the heart, to strengthen it and keep the mind cheerful, blithe and merry.”

Medicinal Use

Motherwort is a heart medicine, but the “heart” in traditional medicine is as much spiritual as physical. According to a 19th century book of American home remedies, motherwort is listed as “good for all nervous and hypochondriac conditions.” Its use as a folk remedy was likely introduced in early American history by European physicians, where use of this plant has long been known for nervous heart conditions. Motherwort has been used traditionally by many cultures including, European, Native American, Chinese, and North American Herbalists for a variety of endocrine related issues, and as a tonic for Women’s uterine health.
 
Motherwort is a pleasant and moderately strong tonic, somewhat diffusive in action, classically used as a nervous system tonic, heart regulator, and antispasmodic. It is a pleasant, reliable, diffusive, antispasmodic nervine. It is indicated for those with anxiety, restlessness, and insomnia.

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As an anti-spasmodic, motherwort has the special ability to relax all three types of muscles (smooth, skeletal and cardiac). This property lends its effects on relaxing the uterus and reducing pain associated with child birth. As a gynecological medicine motherwort is a specific female remedy for suppressed or stalled lochia after childbirth. Lochia is a normal postpartum vaginal discharge that consist of blood and bacteria as tissues shed from the uterine lining. It contains a fair amount of blood which gives it a bright red color, looking very much like a heavy period. A few days after birth the lochia will become more watery and will turning a pinkish color. The lochia progressively turns more yellow-white as it begins to discharge white blood cells after about day ten. This typically will taper off a little bit each day before it stops after another two to four weeks. This is a normal ‘housekeeping’ process which reduces the risk of postpartum infection. In some cases, as with lots of bed rest and lack of movement, the lochia may come out intermittently in small gushes releasing clots when movement commences. This is where motherwort is most useful. This herb aids to create an even flow of lochia reducing clots and assisting the stages of discharge to pass within normal ranges.

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Motherwort’s reputation for alleviating heart palpitations is profound.  Racing heart can be a common symptom in thyroid disorders. While Leonurus does not affect the thyroid directly it is often combined with bugleweed (Lycopus) for thyroid conditions where heart palpitations are present.    
 
Motherwort is useful for menstrual cramps and delayed menstruation in those with scant or absent menstruation, and was used in this way as a household folk remedy among early American colonies. It stimulates the flow of menstruation (emmenogogue), so use it only when the flow of menstruation is diminished, and not with those who have heavy periods.  

The whole herb is medicinal, and yields its properties to water and alcohol. When prepared as a warm tea it maintains a gentle outward circulation. High heat injures its medicinal value, so best not to let it boil on the stove, but rather let it steep in a teapot with hot water poured over it. Prepared as a cold infusion it promotes appetite and stimulates digestion, tonifies the uterus, and calms the nerves. It combines well with black cohosh, cramp bark, and skullcap for increased pain relieving and antispasmodic effects.

Preparation & Dosage

Hot Infusion*

Place about a half a cup of motherwort herb (dried flowering tops) in the bottom of pint jar and top with boiling water, and cover with lid. Let stand twenty minutes. Strain into another clean pint jar and discard (compost) the plant material. Take 1-2 ounces of the tea every 2-4 hours for up to three days. Keep teas refrigerated after they are cooled to room temperature. Keeps up to three days.

Cold Infusion*

Place one half cup herb in pint jar top with room temperature or cold water out the tap. Let steep for an hour or two. Strain liquid and store in fridge. Dose is one ounce shots up to 3 x/day

*Do not drink more than 3 cups a day of either preparation.

Tincture

Add 1 full dropper to 2 oz. of water, 2-3 times per day. Best taken between meals. 

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Contraindications

Do not use during pregnancy. Do not use for menstrual pain if your flow tends to be very heavy. Motherwort increases blood flow to the uterus, so use is contra-indicated for women with endometriosis or fibroids. Don’t use this herb if you are taking thyroid or heart medications.

References

  • Bennett, Robin Rose. The Gift of Healing Herbs. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 2014.

  • Bergner, Paul. Folk Remedies Database. Boulder: Bergner Communications, 2001.

  • Grieve, M. (Maud). A Modern Herbal. New York: Harcourt, Brace & Company, 1931.

  • Felter M.D., Harvey Wickes. The Eclectic Materia Medica, Pharmacology and Therapeutics. 1922. Reprint. Bisbee: Southwest School of Botanical Medicine, 2003.

  • Felter M.D., Harvey Wickes and John Uri Lloyd, Phr.M., Ph.D. King’s American Dispensatory, 1898.

  • Gladstar, Rosemary. Rosemary Gladstar’s Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health. North Adams: Storey Publishing, 2008.

  • Hoffmann, David. The New Holistic Herbal. New York: Barnes & Noble, Inc., 1990.

  • Tierra, Michael. The Way of Herbs. New York: Pocket Books, 1998.