Motherwort

Motherwort was a popular medicinal herb for many centuries, used to cure things from menstrual cramps to heart conditions. Discover its benefits.

Quick Facts
General Information
  • Common name(s)Motherwort, throw-wort, lion's ear, lion's tail
  • TCM nameYìmǔcǎo
  • Scientific nameLeonurus cardiaca
  • Plant typeHerb
  • Native regionCentral Asia
  • Main Economic UseMedicinal
Motherwort

Motherwort is native to central Asia and parts of Europe and has now been naturalized in North America. It grows wild in woodland and open areas and is normally harvested in summer, its flowering season, but is also commonly cultivated in gardens. 

The history of motherwort goes back many centuries, and writings have been found from herbalists in the 16th century who praise it for its heart-strengthening abilities.

Historical information about motherwort shows that it was used in traditional medicine to treat nervous heart conditions, relieve menopause symptoms, and calm women during childbirth. The Greeks and Romans were particularly keen on using it to treat heart palpitations and depression. Traditional Chinese medicine took advantage of its diuretic and uterotropic properties, using it to help women expel miscarried fetuses from the womb. Modern herbalists continue to use it today for its cardiovascular benefits and diuretic properties.

Medicinal and Nutritional Information

Quick Facts (Medicinal and Nutritional Information)
  • Medicinal actionAntispasmodic, Cardioprotective
  • Key constituentsLeonurine, stachydrine
  • Ways to useHot infusions/tisanes, Tincture
  • Medicinal rating(3) Reasonably useful plant
  • Safety rankingUse with caution

The diuretic and antispasmodic properties of motherwort have found several traditional medicinal uses, including:

  • Relieving menstrual cramps
  • Calming women during childbirth
  • Alleviating symptoms of depression
  • Relieving menopause symptoms
  • Lowering blood pressure
  • Encouraging menstruation (in the case of delayed menstruation)
  • Managing cardiovascular conditions

Modern herbal medicine makes use of the plant mainly for:

  • Treating nervous heart conditions
  • Supportive treatment of thyroid hyperactivity

How It Works

The main compounds behind motherwort's health properties are the alkaloids stachydrine and leonurine. The latter seems responsible for its antioxidant properties, and new studies also suggest it could prevent tissue death in the heart - linking it to the touted heart-healthy benefits of motherwort. Other significant compounds include iridoid glycosides, flavonoids, phenolic acids, and tannins.

Both leonurine and stachydrine have uterotropic properties, and this underpins motherwort's reputation as a uterine tonic.

Test tube studies suggest that small concentrations of leonurine induce uterine contractions, but larger concentrations actually inhibited uterine activity. This could explain why motherwort's medicinal uses have included the seemingly paradoxical oxytocic and antispasmodic applications, having been used to both expel things from the uterus and prevent menstrual cramps. Motherwort health benefits can also be attributed to the plant's iridoid glycosides, as they interfere with prostaglandin formation. Prostaglandins induce inflammation and activate the pain response. This explains why motherwort is so adept at calming women during childbirth and easing menstrual cramps.

How to Consume Motherwort

Main preparations: Tea, tincture, ointment

Motherwort can be drunk as a tea made from the dried herb. Alternatively, medicinal benefits can be had from taking motherwort tincture. For external use, motherwort ointment can be applied topically, especially to specified areas around the heart.

Motherwort Side Effects

This herb is mostly regarded as safe for consumption and does not interact with any medication in any serious way that is known within the scientific community. The only people advised against ingestion of motherwort are those who are pregnant, as it can cause contractions in the uterus and lead to miscarriage or early labor. Related to this, if taken in sufficient amounts, it can cause diarrhea and uterine bleeding as well as possible nausea.

Culinary Information

Motherwort's taste is rather sweet, especially when the young shoots are cooked. This is why motherwort is commonly used for making honey; it is light gold in color and is eaten to promote heart health. Cooking with motherwort as part of a larger dish is not common in the Western Hemisphere, although a notable Malaysian recipe includes the dried leaves of Siberian motherwort being chopped and cooked in sesame oil with ginger.

Buying

Quick Facts (Buying)
  • Where to buyFarmers' markets, Specialized health stores, Online herb stores

Raw and Simply Processed Motherwort

Motherwort tea is available in health stores.

Fresh motherwort can usually be found wild in woodland areas or on roadsides. Alternatively, it can be cultivated in gardens. It is also possible to buy motherwort pre-dried, and this can be used in cooking or to make homemade medicinal remedies.

Motherwort Supplements

Sold as tablets, capsules, and extracts, motherwort supplements are popular as a way of maintaining heart health and dealing with gynecological complaints, such as menstruation issues. It is important to remember, however, to avoid all forms of motherwort during pregnancy, as it can induce miscarriage.

Plant Biology

Classification

Motherwort is a member of the Lamiaceae or mint family, which contains well over 3,000 species of plants. Motherwort plants reach an average of five feet (1.5 m) tall and feature distinctive toothed, drooping leaves and small, pink flowers arranged in axillary clusters on elongated flowering branches.

Varieties and Subspecies of Motherwort

Botanists have agreed to divide L. cardiaca into two different distinct subspecies, L. cardiaca subsp. cardiaca and L. cardiaca subsp. villosus. However, some additional subspecies have been occasionally described, although controversy remains as to whether to classify L. c. subsp. turkestanicus as a subspecies or a distinct species, and subsp. nuristanicus and intermedius are sometimes treated as varieties rather than true subspecies. Furthermore, L. c. subs. cardiaca also possesses two agreed-upon varieties, pubescens and royleana.

Finally, it is worth noting that there are two other well-known herbs that are also known as "motherwort," although they belong to different species: Leonurus heterophyllus (commonly called Chinese motherwort) and Leonurus sibiricus (known as Siberian motherwort). Both species seem to share the same uses as common motherwort.

Growing

Quick Facts (Growing)
  • Life cyclePerennial
  • Harvested partsFlowers, Leaves
  • Growing habitatTemperate climates
  • Planting timeSpring
  • Propagation techniquesCuttings

In countries with temperate climates, motherwort cultivation is possible during the summer months. This easy-to-grow plant will germinate with temperatures of approximately 70°F (20°C). Motherwort can be invasive, so cutting flowers when they fade is the best way to keep them under control. If planted in May, the scented purple flowers beloved by bees will appear in the second half of the summer.

Additional Information

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, motherwort leaves are called yìmǔcǎo (益母草).

Economic Data

As there is no motherwort market to speak of, the plant has little economic importance across the globe. There is a niche for the herb in the herbal medicine industry, but outside this, there is not a lot of demand for motherwort products.


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