Marveling at Motherwort

Leonurus cardiaca, a beautifully descriptive Latin name for this medicinal herb garden staple. Roughly the name translates to lion tail heart … but this plant is more commonly known as Motherwort.

The first time I planted Motherwort I made the mistake of planting her in the center of my garden. It just seemed right to me that she be at the heart of all the rest of the plants. However, this plant gets so tall and ended up shading out some of my other herbs and blocking the overhead irrigation I was using at the time. Now, I have three Motherwort plants on the outside edge of my garden. I find three plants is enough for all the medicine making needs of my family. You might consider planting more depending on what your herb garden goals are.

Motherwort is a member of the Lamiaceae family. Another bitter mint like Skullcap which we talked about last spring. It has a hairy square stems with opposite serrated palmate leaves which are slightly hairy. The flowers have pinkish purple petals forming an irregular corolla with a bell-shaped calyx and four stamens.  Height really depends on age and life stage, once my Motherwort starts flowering it is taller than I am at five and a half feet.  It can stand to be planted in partial shade and does not require fertile ground.  Motherwort self-sows readily so pay attention to where you plant it and make sure to prune back all the flowers each year to keep seeds from spreading.  The flowers are gorgeous and make excellent additions to bouquets, but be careful harvesting as the calyx is spikey! You will definitely find bees attracted to the addition of Motherwort in your garden.

Medicinally this plant is vast! There is also quite a bit of phytochemical research which has been done to understand what the constituents of Motherwort are and how they act.  If you are curious I recommend reading scientific research articles about any herb that you might want to use. For me herbalism and plants feel like magic but it is really helpful to be able to reference scientific data that supports folk remedies.  Motherwort is a cooling and relaxing nervine like Skullcap with anti-inflammatory properties and also is specifically indicated for health issues concerning people with uterus’ and menstruation. It is specifically indicated for heart conditions. Generally, the aerial portion of the plant is used for teas, tinctures and decoctions.

To germinate Motherwort seeds you can either direct sow in early Spring or you can cold-stratify and then sow into pots to transplant at a later date. Motherwort does not require quite as long as stratification period as Echinacea which we covered in the January newsletter.  Cold-stratify the seeds in a moist paper towel or in a moist growing medium in your fridge for ten days to two weeks and then sow into pots. Lightly cover the seeds with soil or vermiculite. They should germinate in two to three weeks at a soil temperature between 65-85 degrees. If you do not feel like cold-stratifying, direct sow Motherwort seeds into a prepared garden bed and the cold moist early spring ground should do all the work for you. Mark the rows where you seeded and thin plants to about ten inches once they have sprouted. 

As always check to see if an herb is counter indicated for any medication you are taking or health issue you might have.

≈ by Taryn Hunter

* Motherwort Seeds are available on our site Here:

Citations:  Zhang RH, Liu ZK, Yang DS, Zhang XJ, Sun HD, Xiao WL. Phytochemistry and pharmacology of the genus Leonurus: The herb to benefit the mothers and more. Phytochemistry. 2018 Mar;147:167-183. doi: 10.1016/j.phytochem.2017.12.016. Epub 2018 Jan 12. PMID: 29335190.

Wojtyniak K, Szymański M, Matławska I. Leonurus cardiaca L. (motherwort): a review of its phytochemistry and pharmacology. Phytother Res. 2013 Aug;27(8):1115-20. doi: 10.1002/ptr.4850. Epub 2012 Oct 8. PMID: 23042598.