• Jayne Tamburello

'Mother' of all herbs


Every spring I like to go outside and survey ‘the state of my estate’ to see what’s popping up out of the ground, and wondering what is yet to emerge. Last weekend I marveled at the already mature motherwort shoots growing in random places in my vegetable garden bed, and it inspired me to spotlight this noteworthy, albeit lesser known, member of the mint (Lamiaceae) family.

Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca) is an ‘herbalist’s herb’ – an herb used extensively by herbalists due to its demonstrated effectiveness in numerous traditional medicine models, but largely overlooked by the modern, scientific community (i.e., very few, if any, published research papers). That is not to diminish its power, however.

With a name like ‘motherwort’, clearly it must be used to support women’s health. Indeed, Culpeper, of ‘Culpeper’s Complete Herbal’ fame writes: “<Motherwort> makes women joyful mothers of children, and settles their womb as they should be.” (1653). More recently (1931?!?) Maude Grieve indicates that motherwort is “especially valuable in female weakness and disorders”. In more modern terms, Hoffmann (2003) and Wood (2008) discuss motherwort’s virtues in calming nervous tension and anxiety, restlessness, wakefulness, and disturbed sleep, all of which may (or may not) be the result of hormone fluctuations.

Extending our understanding of motherwort a little deeper, we now look to the Latin name: Leonurus cardiaca for additional clues. ‘Leonurus’ was inspired by the lion’s tail-like appearance of the main shoot of the plant when it’s in flower (see photograph). Species ‘cardiaca’ suggests that the herb may be useful to the heart or circulation in some way. Grieve (1931) further clarifies ‘female weakness’ by describing ‘palpitations of the heart when they arise from hysteric complaints’, and Hoffmann (2003) agrees that motherwort is useful for anxiety accompanied by chest palpitations, strengthening the heart without straining. The calming result may just be helpful for regulating menstruation and/or stimulating stagnant digestion and metabolism.

At this point we can see a picture emerge of the personality of motherwort and the type of person who would benefit most from this humble mint relative. If you are a woman (or man), who is suffering from symptoms of nervousness that manifest themselves by heart disturbances or erratic blood pressure that might be tied to hormone fluctuations, then motherwort just may be the herb for you.

A last word or two: while motherwort is considered a VERY safe herb with little chance of adverse effects or allergic reactions, caution should be used during pregnancy (consult with your herbalist!). Also, the taste of motherwort is not for the faint of heart – the most beneficial phytochemicals make it a very bitter tea. Sweeten it up a little with some honey, or pair it up with some of its tastier relatives: peppermint, spearmint, and even holy basil would do well.

Culpeper, N. (1653). Culpeper’s Complete Herbal.

Grieve, M. (1931). A Modern Herbal.

Hoffmann, D. (2003). Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. Healing Arts Press: Vermont.

Wood, M. (2008). The Earthwise Herbal: A Complete Guide to Old World Medicinal Plants. North Atlantic Books: Berkeley, CA.

Donna Koczaja, M.S., RH(AHG) graduated from Maryland University of Integrative Health (formerly Tai Sophia Institute) with a Master of Science in Therapeutic Herbalism and a Post-Master's Certificate in Clinical Herbalism. She earned Registered Herbalist status from the American Herbalists’ Guild in 2018. Originally educated as a mechanical engineer, she combines the rigor of her original scientific training with the traditional healing art of herbal medicine to partner with her clients to uncover the root cause of their underlying health issues. Also a Master Gardener since 2008, her primary interest is in inspiring others to improve their health and sense of wellbeing through the joys of gardening and the power of natural medicine.

Donna currently practices as the professional herbalist at the MUIH Natural Care Center (410-888-9048x6614) in Laurel, Maryland. Read more about her, what she does, and why she does it at www.greenhavenliving.com, or contact her directly at greenhavenliving@gmail.com or 240-353-8754.

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