Motherwort: The Lion Hearted Herb

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Motherwort, the “lion-hearted herb,” fills your heart with courage and soothes its inner wounds. This herb tends to the physical and emotional heart and is an indispensable part of the Materia medica. With its many uses and simple administration techniques, this herb is sure to become a favorite herb to support a healthy heart. 

In this week’s blog post, you’ll learn:

  • What Motherwort tastes like this and how this translates to its effects on the body
  • It’s unique influence upon the nervous, cardiovascular, digestive, and reproductive systems
  • The emotional indications of Motherwort 
  • It’s associations with the planet Venus and the sign of Leo
  • How to prepare medicine at home using this herb
Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca)

“There is no better herb to drive melancholy vapors from the heart, to strengthen it, and make a merry cheerful blithe soul, than this herb. . . therefore the Latins called it Cardiaca.” – 1652 Nicholas Culpepper 

Motherwort’s Latin name is Leonurus cardiaca, which, as Culpeper notes, speaks volumes about its actions, uses, and specific indications. Known as the “lion-hearted herb,” Motherwort fills your heart with the courage and strength of the lion.

Although it has many biochemical constituents that strengthen your physical cardiovascular system, it also supports the emotional and spiritual heart. This makes it a top-tier heart remedy for when emotional pain or anxiety impacts your heart health by leading to symptoms like an achy heart or even heart palpitations. 

Ready to learn more? Let’s begin.   

Common name: Motherwort

Latin name: Leonurus cardiaca

Botanical Family: Lamiaceae family (Mint)
Tastes: Bitter

Affinities: Cardiovascular, Digestive, Nervous, Reproductive

Actions: Bitter tonic, Nervine sedative, Spasmolytic, Emmenagogue

Energetics: Cooling, Drying, Relaxant

Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca)

Taste:

The taste of an herb gives you tremendous insight into its medicinal properties. In the case of this plant, Motherwort is bitter! While essentially all bitter herbs have an affinity for the digestive system, research is showing that we have bitter receptors scattered throughout our body. Thus this bitter taste is also associated with its influence upon the cardiovascular and reproductive systems in particular, and to some extent the nervous system. 

In the digestive system, the bitter aspects of Motherwort stimulate the liver and gallbladder to increase bile production. Simultaneously, it increases gastric secretions to prime digestion. The bitter taste impacts your nervous system by generating a parasympathetic response due to the connection of the bitter receptors on your tongue and the vagus nerve. Lastly, it benefits your heart by reducing heat and irritation that occurs from hyperactivity. It also lowers cholesterol levels with its cholagogue and choleretic effects. Generally speaking, the bitter flavor has a downward baring effect, meaning it tends to drain fluids, reduce heat, and has what most might refer to as a “grounding effect.”

Affinities: 

Motherwort has an affinity for the digestive system, liver, cardiovascular system (especially the heart and vascular system), nervous system, and female reproductive system, particularly the uterus. When a plant has an affinity for a specific organ or organ system, this means you will see many of its medicinal actions working specifically on these centers in the body.

Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca)

Actions:

Motherwort is a cardiac nervine, nervine sedative, emmenagogue, spasmolytic, and bitter tonic. 

One of my favorite ways to work with this plant is as a nervine sedative. One way we can understand nervines on a deeper level is by looking at the three main conglomerations of neural tissues in the body, what I think of as the “three seats of consciousness.” These are the gut, the heart, and the brain. These are also primary modes of perceiving the world around us: in the gut we have the instincts, the heart contains our intuition, and the brain our intellect. Although all nervine plants have an action on the nervous system (as indicated by the action name itself), each tends to act on a different seat of consciousness. 

As a cardiac nervine, Motherwort is a specific herb indicated for people who experience cardiovascular symptoms when they feel stressed, anxious, or upset. This might be sweating, high blood pressure, a rapid heartbeat, or heart palpitations. Or simply when people get stressed out they feel it in their heart, as opposed to psychological overwhelm (intellect) or get butterflies in their stomach (gut-level instinct). This cardiac nervine action is a highly unique property of this plant that to me is its specialty. Motherwort is so effective for this pattern that it has become one of my favorite remedies

Motherwort is a highly reliable emmenagogue, meaning it stimulates blood flow and encourages the onset of menses. Motherwort is a great remedy for people who have just gone off birth control medication and want to regulate their menstrual cycle and for those who have amenorrhea and have “lost” their period for several months. It is so effective that taking a few drops during the month can cause an earlier onset of menstruation- a consideration worth taking into account before administering this herb. 

It’s worth considering that there are a variety of different emmenagogues. Some are warming and circulatory stimulant, others are antispasmodic to excess constriction. Motherwort resides in the category of bitter emmenagogues, which tend to be more useful for excessive dampness, as noted earlier, bitters drain fluids. It also is antispasmodic so in a way fits into two of these subcategories of emmenagogues. 

As a bitter tonic, it does all the great things bitter tonics do, in terms of stimulating digestion and having an influence on the liver. I do not consider it particularly cholagogue, or strongly purging of bile from the gall bladder, but it will have a general stimulant effect upon the hepatobiliary system. This bitter nature also means that it is cooling and sedates excess heat, a pattern of which is particularly damaging to the heart and cardiovascular system. 

Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca)

Energetics:

Before herbs were classified by constituents, they were understood by what I like to think of as three ecological categories, what are commonly referred to as energetics: Temperature, moisture, and tone. Although knowing the chemical makeup of a plant is helpful, it’s important to reincorporate the knowledge of energetics alongside the chemistry, as this is how you receive indispensable insight into how plants affect the body.

Herbs are either warming or cooling, with the occasional neutral plant here and there. While warming plants increase activity and stimulate a specific organ or system, cooling herbs lessen hyperactivity. Since Motherwort is a cooling herb, it sedates excess heat and irritation in the tissues. It also cools and draws the vital force down when heat from hyperactivity rises upward, such as getting overly heated, sweaty, or flushed.

Moisture is broken down into two categories, drying and moistening. While moistening herbs lubricate the mucosal membranes and supply the nervous systems with healthy oils, drying herbs drain fluid accumulation in the body. Bitter-tasting herbs that are cooling are typically drying, so this combination of bitter, cooling, and drying is quite common. 

The final category is tone, which categorizes herbs as either astringent or relaxant, affecting the tension of the tissues. Astringent herbs tone overly lax herbs and increase the structural integrity of the organ walls and systems. On the other hand, relaxant herbs decrease the tension stored in the tissues. Physiological and musculoskeletal tension are often linked, and we see Motherwort covers both aspects by relaxing the nervous system with its nervine qualities and by decreasing hyper-tonic states of the tissues as a spasmolytic.

Motherwort’s cooling, drying, and relaxant qualities impact the entire body, especially the cardiovascular, nervous, digestive, and female reproductive systems. These energetic building blocks of Motherwort serve as the foundation for understanding everything else about the plant. Before learning what a plant is “good for,” you need to know what its energetic properties are since these translate into every action of the plant to form a whole picture. 

It’s important to consider herbs as constellations of properties that assemble themselves into a core pattern, what we might think of as the essence of the plant. Thus when looking at Motherwort, we want to put all of these core properties together to see the pattern in the person it is specifically suited for. In this case, it is excellent for people with excess nervousness, anxiety and tension that feel it specifically in the heart. They may have high blood pressure or other cardiovascular disease present. This coupled with lack of menses or dysmenorrhea is a picture perfect example of when Motherwort is specifically indicated. 

“Old writers tell us that there is no better herb for strengthening and gladdening the heart, and that it is good against hysterical complaints, and especially for palpitations of the heart when they arise from hysteric causes.” – 1940 grieve’s herbal

Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca)

Emotional Aspects: 

Motherwort is a heart herb through and through. I always say that it works not only on the physical heart but on the emotional and spiritual one as well. If you look closely at this plant, you’ll see that the fuzzy and soft pink flowers are protected by thorns that become increasingly sharp as the growing season progresses. This doctrine of signatures reflects its action on the psycho-spiritual heart, as it heals the soft and “thorny” parts of your heart that have been weakened by hurt. The thorns can also be seen as a protective shield as they exude a clear sense of boundaries around the heart. 

This herb calms, strengthens, and restores the heart on the physical and emotional planes after a painful or traumatic event. Leonurus cardiaca, the lion-hearted one, instills a sense of inner strength and courage to face challenges. 

Motherwort anchors your energy and grants you a sense of groundedness. An indication of this plant is a red-tipped tongue, a pattern of “heart fire” that occurs when your thoughts spin out of control. Motherwort calms the heart and fills you with a sense of inner fortitude and serenity.

Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca)

Alchemical Correspondences 

The alchemical tradition provides you with a unique way of looking at plants. Through this lens, plants are classified by their correspondences to the archetypal forces of nature, such as the planets and elements. 

The planet that governs Motherwort is Venus. This is determined by Venus and Motherwort’s  strong affinity for the female reproductive system, menstrual cycle, and relaxant quality. Just as Venus embodies calm, relaxation, and the emotional heart, plants that possess these qualities often correspond to Venus. This is also shown by its nervine sedative and spasmolytic properties. 

The astrological sign that correlates with Motherwort is Leo, hinted at by the plant’s Latin name, Leonurus cardiaca. Leo governs the heart and cardiovascular system. As a fire sign, patterns of excess Leo can lead to hyperactivity in the heart – something Motherwort balances. When you combine the planet and sign that corresponds to Motherwort, you get Venus in Leo, which can be translated as an herb that relaxes (Venus) the heart (Leo).

Leo is a fixed fire sign astrologically characterized by stability, solidity, and consistency. Motherwort possesses these effects on the heart and the entire body. When the heartbeat and cardiovascular system lack consistency, Motherwort anchors nervous energy and stabilizes an unsteady rhythm. This quality is seen in the female reproductive system as well, where it acts as an emmenagogue to encourage the onset of menstruation and regular menses. 

In terms of alchemical correspondences, Motherwort relates to the fire element. You can see this by the doctrine of signatures, such as the prickly thorns that surround the flowers and the leaves that look like the tongue of the flame, as well as its ability to cool patterns of excess heat.

Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca)

Preparation: 

As mentioned earlier, this plant is bitter! Even the most seasoned herbalists have a hard time stomaching this herb in the form of an infusion. Because of its taste alone, Motherwort is best prepared as a tincture to increase compliance. 

To prepare a Motherwort tincture, use 60% alcohol when using the fresh leaves and 40% alcohol when using dry. Formulate using a 1:5 ratio, combining 1 gram of Motherwort with 5 ml alcohol. You can make it stronger by using a different ratio if you’d like, but I find that a 1:5 ratio yields an effective and potent remedy. Considering 30 drops to be a moderate dose, you can start with less and increase until you find the dosage that works best for you. Keep in mind that this might fluctuate depending on the severity of your symptoms. Many find this herb to be quite effective in pretty low doses, even though it’s not technically considered a “low dose” herb. Perhaps start with 5-10 drops and work upwards from there. 

If you’ve never worked with Motherwort before, now is your chance to do so. With the information above, you can feel confident preparing a simple Motherwort tincture at home and feel its effects for yourself. While preparing a tincture, you can tap into your intention to infuse it with personal meaning and to strengthen and relax your physical, emotional, and spiritual heart.  

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