Mothering with Motherwort

Today I’m taking some time to be thankful for Motherwort, Leonurus cardiaca. This lovely lady grows in my garden and comes with me in a tiny amber bottle just about everywhere I go. You ready to hear why I love this plant so much?

A note of disclaimer: information here is for educational purposes only and not for diagnosing, prescribing, or treating any ailment. You are your own best judge of your health and well-being, and the person who makes all final choices about your health (even when working with a doctor) is you! Okay, onto the herbs!

Parts Used: Aerial parts

Main Herbal Actions: Nervine, emmenagogue, antispasmodic, hepatic, cardiotonic, hypotensive, bitter

Indications for Use: The names of this plant give some idea of its range of uses. It’s common name “Motherwort” points to its uses for menstrual and uterine actions, while its species name “cardiaca” suggests that it has some action on the cardiovascular system. The full Latin name “Leonurus cardiaca”, or ‘lion hearted’, is one that many herbalists take to be the nature of this plant as a Nervine; a plant which protects the spiritual heart as well as the physical one. 

As an emmenagogue, this herb can be used to stimulate menstruation which has been delayed or suppressed. It is particularly indicated when anxiety or tension lay at the root of this problem. There is also some indication for using this herb in formula to address painful menstruation or premenstrual symptoms. This stimulating action is why Motherwort is not recommended in early pregnancy, but is often used during labor. When contractions are “false” or prodromal, this herb has been known to ease the pain and quiet the contractions, drawing on its antispasmodic action. During early or active labor, Motherwort is frequently used when labor becomes eratic, uncoordinated, or stalls; its action as an emmenagogue stimulates the smooth muscle contractions and helps labor progress with a normal pattern. It is also found in many ‘herbal induction’ formulas for this reason. Motherwort contains alkaloids that may be responsible for its uterotonic properties (leonurine) as well as for stimulating the release of oxytocin in the human body (stacydrine). Combined with its actions as a Nervine to relieve anxiety and help individuals feel centered, this herb is often a great choice when indicated during labor or late in pregnancy. Adding to its uses for the female body, Motherwort is also a relaxing tonic for menopausal changes. 

As a cardiotonic, Motherwort is excellent for strengthening the heart without straining it. It is specifically indicated for tachycardia or hypertension, particularly when anxiety is involved. It is thought to be protective to the myocardial cells, but evidence for this is not yet clear.

What Studies Show: One study from 1996 showed that an alcoholic extract of Motherwort demonstrated cardio activity in vitro(outside of a living organism). It directly inhibited calcium chloride on myocardial cells, provided the calcium chloride was administered after. It was also shown to stimulate both a- and B- andrenoreceptors. The dosage and methods used in this study are unclear. Another study in 1992 put forth some preliminary research which suggests that alkaloids contained in Motherwort are effective in lowering blood pressure and making changes in the central nervous system. 

Safety During Pregnancy and Breastfeeding: Individuals receiving other cardiac treatments should be cautious adding Motherwort into the mix as it is unknown how it will interact with medications. This herb is not recommended during the first trimester, and should only be used with guidance from a professional during other parts of pregnancy. There are no known contraindications for use during breastfeeding. 


The moral of this story is that I love Motherwort. I turn to this herb when I’m having trouble saying “no”, when I’m feeling emotionally vulnerable, or when my stress is causing chest symptoms (racing heart, heart palpitations, chest tightness, chest heaviness, etc). I keep Motherwort tinctures in my car, my purse, on my desk, and in my birth bag. What a versatile friend to have!

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