Motherwort: From I Can't to I Can

Learn about one of my beloved plant allies, motherwort: Leonurus cardiaca.

♥ from "i can't," to "i can." ♥

 Motherwort. This plant has a medicine that is remarkably accessable, like that friend you never have to guess where you stand with or how they are feeling. Her effects can be felt quickly and reliably. She is a plant that says, "here ya go, here's what you need TO DO THE WORK." To show up to what ails you, what task you have ahead, be it pushing another human being through your pelvis into the world, facing the fears that grip your heart, integrating the pain of loss, addressing systemic imbalances causing thyroid or cardiovascular dysfunction, riding the wild changes of menopause or allowing yourself to calm the heck down. DO THE WORK, she says, kindly, you've got this.  Dear California: you have mountains and deserts and beaches, everyone else gets Motherwort. HaHa. Dear California: you have mountains and deserts and beaches, everyone else gets Motherwort. HaHa.

Motherwort, Leonurus cadiaca, is a really lovely named plant. The English name (motherwort) reflects the long history of use for easing tension, anxiety, cramps in new and expecting mothers (more on that below) and supporting the circulatory system. This is a plant native to Eastern Europe and Asia, brought to the US by the northern european colonizers. It has naturalized throughout the US, although, according to the USDA plants database, not in California (even Northern Cali? LOL).

She is a member of the mint family and spreads wildly as mints do. The main species in comerce for western herbalists is Leonurus cardiaca, though Traditional Chinese Medicine often employs other species. Leonurus, translated from Greek likely means lion's tail (leon - lion and ouros - tail). Cardiaca references the heart, the organ with which this plant has a strong affinity. 

She is a hearty garden plant that can be planted in partial sun in a most gardens. She is gorgeous. Big, leafy, green, fierce. The plant blossoms in late summer and it is the tall, blossoming stalks and leaves that are collected and used in herbal medicine. They can be made into tincture, glycerite, tea or acetum depending on your use. She is delightfully cooling and bitter, tasting like the color deep green to me. 



Here is an outline of Motherwort's super powers:

  • She helps regulate tachicardia (uneven heart beats) especially when due to stress and anxiety; this happens very quickly after dosage and can be a powerful ally for someone who feels their heart beat frequently due to tension and anxiety and especially for someone whose fear of having anxiety can turn into panic
  • She calms the nervous system's overactivity: reducing the sympathetic overdrive that expresses itself as nervous tension and anxiety: worryworts who pace, tighten and get jumpy
  • She has a distinctly soothing quality to her calming powers, like a "big hug from mom," as my herbal teacher introduced her to me exclaimed fondly 
  • She is decidedly bitter, one of the more bitter plants in the mint family, which makes her an ally for stimulating digestion and even more so, an ally for someone who tends to leave their bodies and/or 'zone out' when facing fear or elevated emotions ~ the bitter flavor brings us back into our bodies (jim mcdonald) and helps draw the energetic center of our awareness further down from our minds to our core, as well as bringing us into the present moment
  • She is considered to be a 'cardio-tonic,' a plant that helps restore optimal functioning to the heart
    • Leonurine, an alkoloid that is found in Motherwort, is a mild vasodilator and anti-spasmotic to smooth muscle tissues, including the heart
    • She helps bring down high blood pressure when this is a primary symptom of anxiety and stress response, especially when their are signs of heat and excesses of nervous and digestive systems as well, she is a cooling herb
    • There are recent studies showing her ability to decrease clotting and fats in the blood (great for pre-flight worriers who also might have some stagnation issues) as well as such and such
    • She is a traditional remedy for 'gladdening the heart,' 
  • She may assist with bringing back into balance a over active (hyper) thyroid as part of a larger regimen addressing thyroid excess
  • She has a strong relationship with the needs of mothers and female reproductive transitions:
    • She is an emmenagogue (stimulates the uterus/brings on menses) in larger doses and can be used to help assist a mother the final weeks/days prior to labor, easing labor pains, soothing fears and relaxing elevated central nervous functions as well as calming the heart during such a high intensity period of transition - if pregnant, use only with the supervision of a well studied herbalist or midwife as dosages and frequency matters depending on personal needs
    • Also used post labor to assist with the healthy tone of the uterus as well as a preventative for infection ( largely due to motherwort's assistance in properly evacuating the full contents of the uterus post partum)
    • Motherwort can be a great ally for a formulation addressing PMS symptoms as it has quick relief for the tension and often can assist with the constrictive headaches prior to menses (I like to combine with rosemary and lavender or skullcap for this) in combination with other herbs, nutritional and lifestyle recommendations based on the person
    • For a lady with hot flashes, anxious tension and heart palpitations, motherwort is a great friend to help cool and calm, careful to dose according to bleeding patterns, not too heavy if there is menstrual flooding
    • Motherwort has been said to help mothers who over mother, allowing them to let go and surrender the need to feel in control, especially when they have no idea how controlling/overly involved they can be, it as become their new normal and see worry as a form of caring
  • Motherwort, with her ability to sooth smooth muscle and ease spasms is a great additive to a digestive formula meant for acute gas and cramping, a tight stomach with sudden onset or symptoms coming in waves 
  • Her energy is diffusive, moving trapped energy in our core systems that create blockages leading fear based constriction and stagnation: especially lovely for someone who is very angry, but afraid the anger will overtake them, that their emotions will annihilate them

some personal & clinical notes

So I'll start with the last thing I mentioned above: the ability to help gastrointestinal distress. Recently a good friend whom I love to pieces was visiting me. We ate a a spot I had eaten at before and halfway through the meal I noticed a tightening of the stomach and the beginning of what would be some of the most painful upper digestive cramps I have ever had. I was trying to be cool and ignore them, but they were getting worse and worse. We wanted to hang out on the grass at this big park after lunch and I asked for a pitstop at the Starbucks next to the park to see if they had any lemon balm or chammomile tea (both excellent allies in different ways for the digestive upset I was experiencing). Alas they had some peach calm blend thing that I knew wasn't going to do the full trick, but ya never know, right? 

I thoroughly loved every minute of hanging with my friend on the grass, these are precious moments we don't get too often, but the level of pain I was in was a serious 8 on a 10 scale. And it was coming in waves. When we decided to head home, I was in so much pain I could not stand up straight and literally could not think straight. Thank goodness we found close parking to my apartment. I immediately took a large tablespoon of wild fennel glycerite (a strong carminative: helps get rid of gas/bloat) and two dropperfuls of motherwort tincture. Within 5 minutes a sense of calm came over me and I could breathe deep again, within 15 the entire episode was over. No cramping, no bloating, a few big ass farts and it was done. You would alsmost think I was making the whole thing up it was so dramatic. But I wasn't, I swear. ;) 

I had a client who, though she presented as very calm, shared that she often felt fearful, anxious and like she couldn't stop thinking about how she may or may not be a good enough person/daughter/co-worker/ name it, she worried she was never enough. As she talked, I noticed her skin looked like it was getting warmer/redder and her anxiety levels were rising rapidly. I asked if she was worried she was being a good enough client and she quickly began trying to explain her 'physical' symptoms to me, in an attempt, I felt, to make my job easier and be an easy client. I could recognize her building sense of panic. With her permission, I offered her a few drops of motherwort. The redness in her cheeks quickly cooled and she reported feeling much calmer. As we moved further into talking about her main health concerns, I had her repeat the few drops each time she began worrying that she was not "being enough." Motherwort became a primary ally for her as she made some major life changes which were going to bring on certain judgment from her family. She reported back to me that she "felt as if it was all going to be ok," after having a couple weeks with her formula (2 parts motherwort, 1 part sage, 2 parts milky oats). 

Personally, I have had severe anxiety and I get especially fearful when taking substances into my body. I almost refuse any prescription or over the counter medications and have struggled at times to relax enough to try a new herb without having a panic attack. I am so much better than when I first began my studies a few years ago as many plants have become trusted friends and I have been doing some great counseling and somatic work to explore sensations in my body. I especially used to panic when I would take something sedative or relaxing to the nervous system as feeling too relaxed would bring on waves of panic for me (I know, you would think it was the opposite!) One time I took Kava Kava alone in my apartment and as the delicious calming and heart opening sensations began to kick in, I utterly fought it, sending myself into full "I am going to die right now," panic. I have had a low thresh hold for being soothed and relaxed. I really wanted to get to know motherwort though, and as you might know, I have a hard time being mothered. So, being determined not to have an anxiety attack, I laid on the floor and placed three drops of motherwort tincture on my chest, over my heart. I noticed my breathing deepen and I felt like crying, but couldn't. I slowly took three drops on my tongue, focusing on the spread of the bitter flavor across my tongue. She tastes like deep green healing. I began to feel a soothing warmth come over me, like a hug, and I rolled over into fetal position and cried like a baby. It was very, very, healing. I gradually upped the dosage and now can readily take motherwort as needed. I crave her deep green healing and the cooling calm she brings over me when I start to notice a flashback begin. 

she turns "i can't," into "i can."

In my experience, this is an especially important quality to understand about Motherwort. I don't mena that she turns you into Tommy the Train, spouting "I think I can, I think I can, I think I can," tredging up a hill. I mean that she helps in a way that allows us to face whatever is causing us some intense stress with the same sort of internal reserve of safety that a deep, safe, loving but firm hug from a mother provides. Have you had that feeling in your life? (Doesn't have to be from a physical or even female mother). Its the feeling that even if your worst fear comes true, the worst outcome happens, that there is stilll a home, a lap and a heart that you belong in and are safe in. That you in no way are alone. AND, that whatever you fear you still have to overcome. MOthers can provided the strength and safety for you to go out into the world and be badass; it is not as good if they do all badassery for you and you never have to do it yourself. Motherwort doesn't do the badassery for you, she gives you the fortitude to do it yourself. Her deep green healing soothes our inner toddlers, not sure if the world is quite safe, not sure they can take on that new challenges. Motherwort sees us in our transitions and encourages us forward, knowing whatever we are facing is a necessary challenge. Even heartbreak. 

NOtes on formulation and having her in the home

Motherwort is a tincture I would encourage to be in every first aid kit and home apothecary. She can provide some private support when having difficult discussions, be a great tincture to offer a partner when they are worried or anxious (especially if they don't seem to think they are), can be added to digestive teas to help alleviate tightness and irritability, can be used prior to meditation and magic working on issues of being mothered, finding inner strength and purpose. Motherwort has a low toxicity and can be safely kept as a tincture for a long period of time. This would be one of my indispensable herbal allies in a first aid kit and home apothecary. She can usually be found through local herbalists, at the health food stores where they sell tinctures, online. 

Motherwort makes an incredible base for digestive (as long as it isn't too cooling for a cooled down person), cardiac and nervous system formulations. You can combine her with Orange Peel, Hawthorne and Cinnamon in brandy for a lovely heart tonic (1:0.5:2:1). You can add her to skullcap and milkyoats for a panicky person who needs quick relief and stability (1:1:2). You can do an elixir with Motherwort, Rose, Passionflower and Hops as a night time sedative when bed time is scary (1:2:1:1). You can do a Motherwort, Lemon Balm, Fennel, Cinnamon and Holy Basil tea (1:1:1:1:2) tea for a cooled and tight digestion due to stress. The combos are fun and endless.

But, I will say that there is something quite valuable in using Motherwort as a single, unadulterated tincture.  She just is very giving; I feel like even some non-woo-woo types are able to sense some of the loving woo-woo in a single dropper full of motherwort, often saying things like "that's nice," or "yeah, I can feel that." Simple can very often be the loveliest medicine; good, deep green healing that gives us the fortitude to turn our "I can'ts," into "I cans." ♥

resources and further reading on motherwort: