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Herbal AcademyEXAMPLE MONOGRAPH: MOTHERWORT

Download the Motherwort Monograph as a PDF

Common Name/Botanical Name/Family Name

Motherwort, heartwort, lion’s tail, lion’s ear, throw-wort

Leonurus cardiaca

Lamiaceae

Botanical Description

Motherwort can grow to be 2-10 feet tall. It has soft dark green leaves with deep veins that are a pale green on the underside. The opposite leaves become progressively smaller and change shape as they ascend the stem. The lower leaves have toothed palmate lobes while the middle leaves have three toothed lobes and the upper leaves become lanceolate with two teeth (Foster, 1993). The square stems are sturdy and smooth, and the wider stems are hollow. Motherwort produces white or pink to purple irregular flowers arranged in whorls around the leaf axils. Once the plant goes to seed, the seed pods are barbed and quite pokey (Foster, 1993; Moore, 1979). Motherwort self seeds freely and may become weedy. 

Part of Plant Used

Flowers, leaves, soft stems (Moore, 1979), seeds 

Types of Preparations

Infusion, tincture, and glycerite

Harvesting Guidelines and Sustainability Concerns

Flowers and leaves are harvested when the plant is in early bloom in mid-summer. The smaller softer stems can be used, but the harder stalks, especially from the center of the plant, should be discarded. No sustainability issues known, as motherwort self seeds itself readily, however one would not want to harvest all of the plant or all of the plants in a stand. Harvest no more than 10% of aerial parts. Cut at a node when possible, which will encourage future growth. 

Chemical Constituents

Alkaloids (e.g., leonurine, L-stachydrine, tachydrine, bentonicine, turicin) (Hoffmann, 2003; Kuhn & Winston, 2008); triterpenes (e.g., ursolic acid), iridoid glycosides (e.g., leonuride), phenylpropanoid (lavandulifolioside), and tannins (5-9%) (Kuhn & Winston, 2008); flavonoids (apigenin, kaempferol, quercetin glycosides), volatile oil (Hoffmann, 2003); acids (palmitic, oleic, stearic, linoleic, linolenic) (Foster, 1993).   

Actions

Antispasmodic, emmenagogue, nervine, cardiotonic, hypotensive, anxiolytic (Kuhn & Winston 2008), diaphoretic (Grieve, 1931), bitter (Wood, 2008), diuretic (Tilgner, 1999), circulatory stimulant (Marciano, n.d.)

Taste & Energetics

Bitter, acrid (Wood, 2008), cooling (Holmes, 2006)

Uses

Motherwort’s common name is indicative of its relationship with mothers and the uterus in particular, whereas its binomial is translated as “heart of the lion.” On an energetic level, motherwort is strong as the lion (and fierce like its protective seed pods) but as supportive and gentle as its soft leaves (MacDougall, S., personal communication). This hints at its use in supporting the nervous system, while its species name cardiaca attests to its association with the heart.

Motherwort has a special affinity for the uterus and ovaries. In the history of Greek medicine, aromatic bitters were used to act primarily on the uterus (Wood, 2008). According to Eclectic physician Finley Ellingwood, a particular indication for motherwort is “spasms and harassing bearing down pains” (1919, p. 272) which could be in relation to cramping or problems delivering the afterbirth. It is also indicated for amenorrhea due to cold or dysmenorrhea stemming from nervous conditions (Ellingwood, 1919; Wood, 2008). 

In modern herbalism, motherwort is used for menstrual and menopausal complaints due to its antispasmodic, nervine, anxiolytic, cooling, emmenagogic, and hormonal actions. As an emmenagogue, motherwort brings on delayed menstruation (Hoffmann, 2003) or can help resolve amenorrhea (Bennett, 2014). As an ally for those who suffer from premenstrual syndrome (PMS), motherwort’s antispasmodic action may ease cramps while its nervine action calms emotional irritability (Bennett, 2014). As an ally during menopause, motherwort helps moderate hormone levels and eases hot flashes, night sweats, insomnia, mood swings, and depression (Edwards, 2000; Hoffmann, 2003).

As an ally during early childbirth, motherwort stimulates uterine contractions and can bring on labor; this may be due to the alkaloids leonurine and stachydrine (Trickey, 2003). Motherwort may also calm anxiety that may accompany childbirth or the postpartum period, but should only be used once uterine bleeding has stopped. 

Motherwort’s relaxing nervine and anxiolytic action is helpful when one feels overwhelmed, stressed, frazzled, overly emotional, and/or anxious. This can be helpful in an excessive emotional response that may be out of context for the situation (Bennett, 2014; Wood, 2008). The calcium content in motherwort is very nourishing to the nerves which may aid in its action (Bennett, 2014). The alkaloid leonurine may also play a part, which according to the British Herbal Compendium, when administered intravenously, produces transient central nervous system depression and also has hypotensive action (Kuhn & Winston, 2008). As herbalist Maud Grieve states, there is “no better herb for strengthening and gladdening the heart,” nodding to its roles as tonic to both the nervous system as well as the cardiovascular system (Grieve, 1931). At higher doses, motherwort can be sedating and may aid sleep. 

Ellingwood also shares that Dr. Dawes of England used motherwort as a heart tonic with mild action that supports normal function of the heart (Ellingwood, 1919). Motherwort is indeed a cardiotonic known for strengthening the heart; it is particularly indicated for heart palpitations or an irregular heartbeat because it acts as both an antispasmodic and nervine to relax cardiac muscle and ease tension and anxiety (Bennett, 2014; Hoffmann, 2003). Its diuretic effect may help reduce high blood pressure caused by tension and anxiety. A 28-day clinical study assessing the effect of motherwort oil extract on patients with arterial hypertension accompanied by anxiety and sleep disorders showed a significant improvement in the symptoms of anxiety and depression in 32% of patients, a moderate improvement in 48%, and a weak effect in 8% (Shikov, 2011). This may be because motherwort stimulates the “alpha- and beta-adrenoreceptors and inhibits calcium chloride” (Kuhn & Winston, 2008). A human cell model of arachidonic acid-induced platelet aggregation showed a 15% reduction in platelet aggregation in the tissue models exposed to a concentrated polyphenol-rich extract of Leonurus cardiaca aerial parts prepared from dried plant, indicating it may be beneficial in preventing inflammatory lesions (Sadowska et al., 2017). In a research review of Leonurus cardiaca as a source of bioactive compounds, many studies, ranging from clinical to tissue culture studies and other models conclude that motherwort acts as a cardiotonic and antioxidant (Fierascu et al., 2019). 

Motherwort’s ability to decrease blood lipids and reduce blood platelet aggregation also support traditional use as a cardiotonic (Hoffmann, n.d.). Motherwort is indicated anywhere there are heart concerns that seem to be stress-related.

In China and Japan, motherwort is known as a longevity tonic. One could conjecture that this is due to its cardioprotective and nervine qualities. Herbalist Robin Rose Bennett suggests that motherwort’s nervine qualities also contribute to longevity. “When we are emotionally at peace with life and not anxious, furious, resentful, or frustrated…we tend to live longer…Motherwort helps us to live more joyfully and peacefully” (Bennett, 2014, p. 326).

Motherwort’s bitter taste is helpful for stimulating the digestive system and liver to improve sluggish digestion. Due to its relaxant action, motherwort can ease constipation due to anxious tension (Bennett, 2014), and is supportive in indigestion where nervousness and weakness are part of the picture (Wood, 2008). Motherwort can be used in combination with other herbs to balance it’s bitter flavor, or can be used in tincture form.  

Motherwort is also an ally in the case of hyperthyroidism. It works by helping to bring balance to the thyroid and addressing some of the complaints of hyperthyroidism, including heart palpitations, irregular heartbeat, anxiety, and sleeplessness (Bove et al., 2010). Motherwort’s action as an anti-hypertensive and relaxing nervine may be linked its leonurine content (Trickey, 2003). The herbal regulating body of Germany, Commission E, has authorized use of the herb motherwort as part of an overall treatment plan for an overactive thyroid (American Botanical Council, 2000). It can be useful in hyperthyroidism in combination with lemon balm and bugleweed (Kuhn & Winston, 2008).

Dosage

Tincture: 1-4 mL (1:5, 40%), 3x/day (dried herb) (Hoffmann, 2003).

Tea: infusion of 1-2 tsp dried motherwort in 1 cup boiling water, infused covered for 10-15 minutes, 3x/day (Hoffmann, 2003). This can be infused up to 8 hours. 

Safety & Contraindications

Do not use motherwort during pregnancy, unless at the end of pregnancy under guidance of a qualified practitioner, as it stimulates mild uterine contractions (Brinker, 2010; Mills & Bone, 2005). 

Motherwort is contraindicated for individuals with endometriosis or fibroids if there is heavy bleeding (Weed, 2008) and for those with hypothyroidism (Eich, 2009). 

An additive effect leading to excess drowsiness may occur when motherwort is used at the same time as central nervous system depressants including benzodiazepines (Hechtman, 2019). 

Due to the possible contraindication with hypothyroidism and possible additive effect with relaxant medications, professional guidance and supervision are advised before using motherwort with thyroid imbalances or combining with thyroid medications. Though the  contraindication with hypothyroidism is not totally substantiated, many herbalists choose another herb altogether when working with someone with hypothyroid issues or drowsiness. Consult your doctor before taking motherwort if taking cardiac or blood-thinning medications as motherwort may interfere with these medications (Hoffmann, 2003; Winston & Maimes, 2007). 

References

American Botanical Council. (2000). Herbal Medicine: Expanded Commission E: Motherwort herb. http://cms.herbalgram.org/expandedE/Motherwortherb.html?ts=1608222279&signature=ee110df0f002675248191c871a052329

Bennett, R.R. (2014). The gift of healing herbs. North Atlantic Books.

Bove, M., Stansbury, J.E., & Romm, A. (2010). Endocrine disorders and adrenal support. In Romm, A. Botanical medicine for women’s health (pp.186-210). Churchill Livingstone.

Brinker, F. (2010). Herbal contraindications and drug interactions plus herbal adjuncts with medicines. Eclectic Medical Publications.

Edwards, G.F. (2000). Opening our wild hearts to the healing herbs. Ash Tree Publishing.

Eich, K. (2009). Motherwort: Healing the anxious heart and mind. http://www.redrootmountain.com/motherwort-healing-the-anxious-heart-and-mind/53 

Ellingwood, F. (1919). American materia medica, therapeutics and pharmacognosy. http://www.swsbm.com/Ellingwoods/Ellingwoods_plants_only.pdf

Fuerascu, R., Fierascu, I., Ortan, A., Fierascu, I., Anuta, V., Velescu, B., Pituru, S., & Dinu-Pirvu, C. (2019). Leonurus cardiaca L. as a source of bioactive compounds: An Update of the European Medicines Agency Assessment Report (2010). Biomedical Research International, 2019, 4303215. http://doi.org/10.1155/2019/4303215   

Foster, S. (1993). Herbal renaissance. Peregrine Smith Books.

Grieve, M. (1931). A modern herbal. http://www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/m/mother55.html

Hechtman, L. (2019). Clinical naturopathic medicine 2nd ed. Elsevier Australia. 

Hoffmann, D. (n.d.). Therapeutic herbalism [Correspondence Course]. 

Hoffmann, D. (2003). Medical herbalism. Healing Arts Press.

Holmes, P. (2006). The energetics of Western herbs (Vol. 2). Snow Lotus Press. 

Kuhn, M., & Winston, D. (2008). Herbal therapy & supplements. Wolters Kluwer Health.

Marciano, M. (n.d.). Leonurus cardiaca. https://thenaturopathicherbalist.com/herbs/i-l/leonurus-cardiaca/ 

Mills, S. & Bone, K. (2005). The essential guide to herbal safety. Churchill Livingstone.

Moore, M. (1979). Medicinal plants of the Mountain West. Museum of New Mexico Press.

Sadowska, B., Micota, B., Rozalski, M., Redzynia, M., & Rozalski, M. (2017). The immunomodulatory potential of Leonurus cardiaca extract in relation to endothelial cells and platelets. Innate Immunity, 23(3), 285-295. http://doi.org/10.1177/1753425917691116

Shikov, A.N., Pozharitskaya, O.N., Makarov, V.G., Demchenko, D.V., & Shikh, E.V. (2011). Effect of Leonurus cardiaca oil extract in patients with arterial hypertension accompanied by anxiety and sleep disorders. Phytotherapy Research, 25, 540–543. http://doi.org/10.1002/ptr.3292

Tilgner, S. (1999). Herbal medicine from the heart of the earth. Wise Acres Press.

Trickey, R. (2003). Women, hormones, & the menstrual cycle. Griffin Press.

Weed, S. (2008). Motherwort: Leonurus cardiaca. http://www.susunweed.com/herbal_ezine/July08/wisewoman.htm

Winston, D., & Maimes, S. (2007). Adaptogens: Herbs for strength, stamina, and stress relief. Healing Arts Press. 

Wood, M. (2008). The earthwise herbal (Vol. 1). North Atlantic Books