Motherwort (Leonurus Cardiaca) is an herbaceous perennial plant and a member of the mint family, Lamiaceae. It’s commonly know by several other names including throw-wort, agripalma, lion’s ear, and lion’s tail. Although originally found in Central Asia and southeastern Europe, motherwort has spread worldwide; largely due to its use as a very effective herbal remedy. The English name (motherwort) is reflective of the long history of the plant being used for easing tension, anxiety, menstrual pain, and cramps and pain associated with childbirth.
This amazing herb is found in nearly every part of the United States, with most plants being cultivated in home or commercial gardens for homeopathic use. The plants usually start emerging in early spring and if the water supply is adequate, plants will grow at an amazing speed. The mature plant has medium-green leaves which are deeply and palmately cut into five lobes, or three-pointed segments, which remain close to the stalks. The leaves are interspaced with the prickly calyx-teeth of the plant’s flowers, which range in color from pink to purplish blue and are quite small in comparison the overall plant size. Plants grow well in zone 4-8, and can be found naturally in zone 3 under the right conditions.
The plant blooms from mid to late summer, and can be harvested anytime during this period. When not in flower, many people confuse motherwort with mugwort, even though the latter is larger with thicker stalks. Motherwort can grow to six feet in height with average plants being between three and four feet tall. The plants will spread through natural seed dispersion and one plant can rapidly turn into a small patch unless the flowers are pruned before opening. If you plan to cultivate motherwort, sow your seeds in the fall and allow them to stratify during the winter. The plant requires no special soil and performs well under most light conditions. The root system is shallow, but complex.
Harvesting and Storage
Most herbalists harvest starting in early July and often continue through the balance of the summer months. Studies have shown that the plant is at it’s peak medicinal value during flowering. The entire plant, everything growing above ground, can be used. Harvesting before the plant flowers will yield greatly reduced results. After the plant flowers, cut the stalks you wish to use at their base and either dry in it’s entirely or cut into manageable pieces for fresh use in preparing tinctures. The plants produce limited flowers during their first year, but should provide several cuttings annually for many years following.
One word of caution when harvesting and handling motherwort; the flowers and stalks are very prickly and gloves are recommended.
Medicinal Uses of Motherwort
“Mother’s Herb” has been used, dating back to the ancient Greeks, primarily as a women’s herb. It’s other main use was associated with heart health, giving it the species name cardiaca. An alkaloid found in the plant, Leonurine, is a mild vasodilator and anti-spasmodic, which makes motherwort a great treatment for an overactive nervous system, to calm rapid or uneven heartbeat (tachycardia,) and by default, to reduce blood pressure. It’s often referred to as a “cooling herb” since it relaxes the body in so many ways. It’s also used to decrease muscle spasms. Studies from the Orient have found that it decreases blood clotting as well as the level of fat in the blood and can slow heart palpatations and rapid heartbeat.
Women have used motherwort for centuries for many things related to pregnancy and menstruation. Its’ an emmenagogue, which means it stimulate the uterus and can bring on menses. Because of this, women have relied on tinctures of motherwort to assist in child delivery, both to ease labor pains and to relax the central nervous system during labor and delivery. [Any use of natural or herbal tonics, tinctures, or other applications during pregnancy or childbirth should only be done under the strict supervision of a midwife or healthcare professional – this information is provided only as educational and should in no way be considered medical advice.] Motherwort is an effective and quick acting temporary treatment for pain and discomfort associated with PMS; it reduces cramping, pain, and even helps with tension headaches during a woman’s monthly cycle. Post-menstrual women have found relief from hot flashes, anxious tension, or heart palpitations using it. It’s not recommended for use during excessive heavy flows. IT has also been used historically to help women with delayed or suppressed menstrual flows due to tension or anxiousness or after delivery for its calming effects to avoid post-partum depression.
Its also been used to sooth muscle spasms, as a mild diuretic, as a digestive formula for acute gas and cramping, and topically to treat the itching associated with shingles. It has been used historically to treat rheumatism and lung ailments like asthma or bronchitis. The seeds are often harvested separately and made into a decoction used to aid in urination or for conjunctivitis.
Warnings and Cautions
Fresh leaves occasionally produce skin dermatitis when touched. It also interacts with sedative medications. Since motherwort causes drowsiness, taking it along with a prescription sedative may cause too much sleepiness, which can be hazardous. If you aren’t sure, it’s recommended that you check with a physician before proceeding with this or any herbal treatments.
Uses in Ritual Magick
Motherwort is an herb of Venus and Leo. It’s a strengthening herb which gives a sense of purpose and joy in completing thing. It brings an attitude of success, helps to build self-confidence, and points toward positive outcomes for spellwork. It is also used as an herb of protection and counter-magick.
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