motherwort: an ally for troubling times

Finally, the second installment of Plant Ally Spotlight! Life has a way of breezing by at an incredible pace, ya know? And I hope to continue posting these herbal profiles with more frequency. I'm focusing on plants that we need right now, to heal our hearts in this time of chaos.

May we all learn to turn to our Mother during this time, to the plants and other nature allies. It is imperative, really. I know with direct experience the powerful healing these beings can bring. Without even ingesting plants, by sitting with them and experiencing their spirit, we receive great insight and transformation. They have so many lessons for us, they teach us how to be human, how to simply be. So without further ado, I introduce you to, Motherwort!

there is no better herb to take melancholy vapors from the heart and make a merry, cheerful soul.
— Nicholas Culpeper, 17th Century Herbalist
Image: Wikipedia

Image: Wikipedia

Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca)

Lesson: a fierce and tender heart grows wings

Offering: steadiness, courage, protection, calm

Element & planetary affiliation: water, Venus

Energetics: bitter, acrid, dry, aromatic



The name Leonurus cardiaca comes from the Greek for lion (leon) and tail (ouros). The leaves emerging from the flower whorls were said to resemble lion’s tails. Cardiaca comes from the tradition of using the plant as a heart tonic. Motherwort is so named for its long standing use as a mother’s remedy. It eased a pregnant mother’s anxiety (though it is no longer recommended during pregnancy except in the last 4 weeks as a partus prep as it can act as an abortifacient) and soothes the nerves of a new mother.

In Japan and China, the herb has been linked with longevity. “An old legend states that there was once a town whose spring ran through a patch of Motherwort. All the local townspeople got their daily drinking water from that spring and all of them lived to be over 100 years old.” ( There is a saying in Japan “drink Motherwort to the despair of your heirs” and on the 9th day of the 9th month there is a Motherwort festival known as Kikousouki.

The Doctrine of Signatures suggests that motherwort has an affinity to the heart with its thorny flower axils which also grow in a syncopated fashion up the stem (like a heartbeat). The pattern of flowers up the stem is also evocative of the vertebra, linking Motherwort with spinal afflictions. And the hairy flowers suggest this bitter mint is good for the nervous system. And indeed, Motherwort is a helper for those who are remarkably anxious with a rapid heartbeat and/or palpitations. This minty beauty is also a wonderful partner for easing premenstrual symptoms, especially cramps. You only need a few drops of tincture to feel her power.

When I look at Motherwort, I see a protective ally who can show us how to maintain healthy boundaries and a healthy attitude, especially toward mothering. The thorny axils say “don’t mess with mama!” The hardy leaves and stem and bitter principle (allowing for assimilation and digestion) provide an ability to cope with difficult circumstances. The leaves emerging symmetrically from the thorny flower whorls look to me like wings – and what comes to me is “give your heart wings.”


Constituents and Nutrients
alkaloids (leonurinine, stachydrine), bitter principle, caffeic acid, diterpenes, essential oil, flavonoids, glycosides (leonurine, leonuridin), lauric acid, oleic acid, resins, tannins, vitamin A

anodyne, anti-adrenergic, anti-rheumatic, anti-spasmodic, anxiolytic, astringent, carminative,
diaphoretic, diuretic, emmenagogue, heart tonic, hypotensive (short term), nervine, oxytocic,
uterine tonic, mild vasodilation

anxiety, bloating, cold, flu, fever, flatulence, stress-induced heart palpitations, hot flashes,
hyperthyroidism, menstrual cramps, menopausal insomnia (with passionflower), overstimulated sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight), white coat hypertension


Image: Unknown

Image: Unknown

Distinguishing Features
I love this description from Witchipedia “Motherwort is an interesting and distinctive member of the mint family (Lamiaceae). It grows on a single, tall square stem decorated from top to bottom with opposite leaves. The leaf shape varies somewhat by location, but are generally lobed and palmate. The flowers appear in early summer and are quite unique and distinctive. They appear at the leaf axils. They are the labiate flowers of the mint family but have a rather furry appearance so that at first glance, motherwort looks like a tall plant with bits of fluff tucked into its leaf axils.” 

Avoid during pregnancy, except in the last 4 weeks.
Take care with blood-thinning medications as Motherwort may have anti-clotting effects.

Image: Eleanor Saulys, via Connecticut Botanical Society

Image: Eleanor Saulys, via Connecticut Botanical Society


Motherwort Infusion
Use 1 tablespoon of dried motherwort per cup of boiling water. Cover and steep for 20 minutes or longer. Strain and sip as needed.


Cool as a Cucumber Tea
from Herbalpedia, via Susun Weed
1 oz motherwort
2 oz linden flower
1 oz chamomile flower
4 oz skullcap herb
3 oz borage flowers, stems, and leaves
2 oz marshmallow root
2 oz hibiscus flower

Combine 1 oz of the mixture with 4 cups of boiling water in a teapot or container with a well fitting lid. Let stand for fifteen minutes; then strain the tea and store it in a closed container. Allow to cool; drink at room temperature. During daytime hot flashes, drink 1 cup as often as needed. Or it can be sipped all day. Just be sure to drink the entire amount each day.


Rested Mama Sleep Tincture
1 part dried Motherwort aerial parts
1 part dried Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) leaves and flowers
1/4 part dried Lavender (Lavandula sp.) flowers
Vodka to cover (100 proof or higher if possible)

Measure herbs by weight and place in a glass jar. Cover entirely with vodka and fill to the top of the jar. Place the lid on and give the jar a shake. Let steep for at least 6 weeks. Strain and bottle in dark colored bottles. Take 1 dropperful (30 drops) in a little water each hour, 2 hours leading up to bedtime.


Sarawakian Confinement Recipe - Motherwort Chicken

(I haven’t personally tried this recipe, but I just had to share it. We don’t have a lot of “confinement” recipes or traditions in our culture, but I hope that’s something that changes. Confinement is the time after a mother gives birth and needs to rest and be taken care of. This recipe is perfect for supporting mama through this trying time.)

1 medium sized chicken, cut into smaller sizes
1/2 cup of dry motherwort herb
2 cups of Chinese cooking wine
200 grams of fresh ginger, pounded and extract juice
2 tablespoons of sesame oil

Pound the ginger and squeeze the ginger juice into the chicken. Marinate the chicken for at least one to two hours. Keep the pounded ginger for later use. In a pan, use the smallest heat to stir fry the motherwort. Depending on your heat, it should take from 15-20 minutes until the leaves are very dry, easily broken and aroma starts to penetrate the house. In addition, the leaves should become very fine until that it stick to the sides of the pan. Be patience, too high heat will burn the leaves very easily and the end result is bitter taste motherwort. Therefore, patience is required. Once ready, set aside.

In the same pan, stir fry the minced ginger with medium heat, stir fry until it is dry and aromatic. The main purpose of this step is the same as in the above step, to make the ginger dry and aromatic. Once ready, set aside.

Put 2 tablespoons of sesame oil in the pan, place the chicken in the pan, stir fry under medium heat and well combined. Place the lid and simmer the chicken until it is cooked and soft. Note that there is no water used in the pan frying. As you cook the chicken, meat juices will be secreted out and the juices simmer the chicken.

Once it almost dries up, add in ginger and motherwort, followed by the Chinese cooking wine, let it simmer for another 10-15 minutes. If the wine dries up too fast, as more wine to get the gravy.

From the above procedure, you may note that there is no seasoning such as salt or water being used. That is for the confinement ladies where salt is a not supposed to be added to confinement food. For normal home consumption, you can add salt and sugar to taste and replace some of the wine with plain water. Best serve hot with a bowl of hot rice.

Image: New Hampshire Garden Solutions

Image: New Hampshire Garden Solutions


Secret Love. Motherwort
by Frances Sargent Osgood

Yes! tell him — tell him I am well,
Say that this cheek doth deeper glow,
Than was its wont — but do not tell,
'Tis the heart's fever makes it so!
And tell him how my lip has curled,
And named his name with idle smile;
But do not tell him for the world,
That tears were in mine eyes the while!

(presumably inspired by the Victorian language of flowers, where Motherwort signified concealed love)


The Chung Ku Yu T‘ui; allusive.
The sad case of a woman forced to separate from her husband by the pressure of famine.
(from The She King [or The Book of Ancient Poetry], translated from Chinese by James Legge)

1. The valleys show the motherwort,
Now scorched in each dry spot.
Behold a wife driven forth from home,
Beneath hard famine's lot!
She sadly sighs, she sadly sighs,
From husband torn and dearest ties.

2. The valleys show the motherwort,
Now scorched where tall it rose.
Behold a wife driven forth from home,
By stern misfortune's blows!
We hear her groans, we hear her groans,
As she her hapless fate bemoans.

3. The valleys show the motherwort,
Scorched in each dampest place.
Behold a wife driven forth from home—
Bewail in vain her ease!
Her tears aye flow, her tears aye flow;
How’er she grieve, ne’er ends her woe!



Wood, Matthew. The Earthwise Herbal, Volume I: A Complete Guide to Old World Medicinal Plants. North Atlantic Books. 2008.

Graves, Julia. The Language of Plants: A Guide to the Doctrine of Signatures. Lindisfarne Books. 2012.

Weed, Susun. Motherwort - Leonurus cardiaca. Herbal Adventures with Susun S Weed.