Motherwort: 5 Benefits, Dosage, & Safety

Motherwort has been a popular therapeutic herb in Europe and Asia for centuries. The aerial parts, or leaves and flowers, are used for various medicinal purposes and in some cuisines.   …

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Written by: Siobhan Mendicino
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Medical Review by: Daniel Powers, MS
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Motherwort has been a popular therapeutic herb in Europe and Asia for centuries. The aerial parts, or leaves and flowers, are used for various medicinal purposes and in some cuisines.  

The herb was traditionally used for strengthening the heart and calming the nervous system.   

This article will look at the health benefits of motherwort herb, its safety, and history.  

benefits of motherwort

What is Motherwort?

The motherwort plant is a historically loved herb with a wide range of therapeutic properties. It is best known for its incredibly bitter taste and similarity to the plant mugwort.

The scientific name for motherwort is Leonurus cardiaca. Motherwort is a highly-revered herb in many traditional medicinal systems, including European, Chinese, and Native American. 

Traditional accounts suggest motherwort for “restlessness” and “wakefulness” and as a condiment for soup stocks and flavoring for beer.   

Modern research indicates that motherwort supports heart health, aid in various gynecological issues, and provides pain-relieving effects.   

Motherwort’s constituents, including alkaloids, diterpenoids, and iridoids, are thought to be responsible for some of these health-supporting effects. 

Health Benefits of Motherwort:

Clinical scientific research, traditional medicine systems, and contemporary herbalists have observed a variety of motherwort benefits. Below are the primary health benefits of motherwort and its main constituents. 

health benefits of motherwort

1. May Benefit Mental Health

Research indicates that motherwort benefits the nervous system and may have potential health benefits for anxiety and depression.

Anxiety and depression are mental health disorders that affect the brain. Both conditions can affect mood and behavior and often trigger symptoms like low energy, fatigue, and trouble sleeping.

In a clinical study observing patients with anxiety and sleep issues, researchers observed that motherwort oil extract significantly improved anxiety and depression in 32% of patients and moderately improved these symptoms in 48% of patients. The extract also reduced blood pressure levels. 

In a review of motherwort, researchers discovered that motherwort tincture reduces anxiety in animals. The study attributed these effects to the amino acids present in motherwort. 

Animal research has found that leonurine, an active constituent in common motherwort, has an antidepressant effect on mice with stress-induced depression. These results were attributed to the leonurine’s ability to decrease inflammation in the brain. 

The European Medicines Agency observed that motherwort is an herb that is “traditionally used to reduce nervousness in adults and children, notably in cases of [sleep disorders].” They recommend a tincture for “symptoms caused by stress, anxiety, [and] hypersensitivity of [the] nervous system.”

Herbalist David Hoffman writes that motherwort “may be used in all heart conditions associated with anxiety and tension.”

Traditional herbalist Maude Grieve says motherwort is an herb that “allay[s] nervous irritability and induc[es] quiet and passivity of the whole nervous system.”

The 17th-century herbalist and botanist Nicholas Culpepper wrote that motherwort is “useful for removing melancholy vapors from the heart, improving cheerfulness, and settling the wombs of mothers.”

Summary:

Both clinical research and traditional herbalism indicate that motherwort may be beneficial in reducing anxiety and depression.

2. May Support Gynecological Issues

A variety of sources suggest that motherwort benefits and supports the female reproductive system and menopausal symptoms.

Gynecology is the study of women’s biology and diseases that often affect the female reproductive organs. These organs produce eggs and certain sex hormones, and support a fertilized egg until birth.

A review observing the benefits of motherwort for preventing postpartum hemorrhages after cesarean sections or vaginal deliveries discovered that motherwort significantly increases the rate of recovery compared to an oxytocin injection. Women’s recovery time until normal menstruation was also significantly shorter in the motherwort groups.  

Another review involving women experiencing postpartum hemorrhages observed that the combined injection of motherwort and oxytocin lowers the risk of bleeding compared to just oxytocin. Researchers mentioned that some active constituents extracted from this herb also had a soothing effect on the uterus.  

A lab-based study observing Leonurus japonicus’ constituents (which are similar to Leonurus cardiaca’s chemical composition) may help to regulate menstruation. These results suggest that motherwort may be helpful in managing menstrual disorders. 

In David Hoffmann’s Medical Herbalism, he mentions motherwort as “valuable for stimulating delayed or suppressed menstruation” and “a useful relaxing tonic for menopausal changes”.

Celebrated herbalist Rosemary Gladstar explains that motherwort is “valued for many women’s problems, including delayed menstruation, uterine cramps associated with [suppressed menstruation], water retention, and hot flashes and mood swings during menopause.”   

The American Botanical Council writes that there is “widespread use [of motherwort] as a childbirth aid and menopause aid, and for gynecological and reproductive issues.”

The European Medicines Agency suggests using motherwort for hormonal changes during menopause, menopausal flashes, encouraging menstruation, absent or painful menstruation, and premenstrual tension. 

Eclectic physicians Dr. Felter & Lloyd write in their medical text, The King’s American Dispensatory, that motherwort is helpful for “suppressed and painful menstruation.”

Summary:

Motherwort appears to be able to support gynecological health in a variety of different ways. Human trials are needed for confirmation of these findings.

3. May Support Heart Health

A variety of sources suggest that motherwort is considered a heart-strengthening herb that benefits cardiovascular health, especially as a blood pressure herb.

Research demonstrates that poor blood circulation can cause heart disease. Herbs like motherwort may act as a cardiovascular tonic and support healthy blood circulation, reducing the risk of heart disease.

In a research review of Leonurus cardiaca’s constituents, researchers found that motherwort increases the effect of warfarin (a pharmaceutical that prevents blood clots) in the body which may help to increase blood flow. This can also lead to an increased risk of bleeding.

A review of traditional Chinese herbal medicine observed that motherwort decreases blood pressure and heart rate while also increasing blood flow. This research concluded that these motherwort effects may support people managing atrial fibrillation, which causes an irregular heartbeat and often leads to blood clots. 

An animal study observing leonurine discovered that this phytochemical reduces triglyceride fatty acids, total cholesterol, and LDL cholesterol levels which could be significant in supporting people with atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis occurs when plaque builds up on artery walls causing blockages and potential strokes.    

The European Medicines Agency suggests using Leonurus cardiaca for the “treatment of heart and blood system conditions” and “early stages of hypertension [high blood pressure].” They recommend a motherwort tincture for “cases of pre-hypertension, isolated clinical hypertension, borderline hypertension, [and] treatment of functional heart disorders.”

The American Botanical Council suggests that motherwort may work to alleviate heart palpitations, and David Hoffmann writes that motherwort is an “excellent heart tonic, strengthening without straining…specific[ally] for tachycardia (heart palpitations).”

Herbalist Rosemary Gladstar mentions that Leonurus cardiaca is “beneficial as a heart tonic…[and] is a remedy for most heart disease, neuralgia, and an over-rapid heartbeat.” She describes motherwort “as a superb herb for nourishing and strengthening the heart muscle and its blood vessels.”  

Herbalist M. Grieve writes, “there is no better herb for strengthening….. the heart.” She mentions that motherwort is used for “heart disease, neuralgia, and other affections of the heart.”

Summary:

Motherwort may support heart health by lowering blood pressure and improving blood flow. Additional scientific evidence would be useful for further verification of these findings.

4. May Provide Pain Relief

Motherwort is noted for its ability to reduce pain. However, only a few animal and lab-based studies have been conducted on the herb for this application.

An animal study observing leonurine discovered that the active constituent significantly relieves pain in mice with abnormal uterine cell growth.

Another animal study found that motherwort extract reduces pain in mice experiencing various pain-inducing tests. A 500mg dose of the motherwort extract provided the most effective results. 


The European Medicines Agency recommends motherwort for “pain of the stomach, pain caused by gallstones, painful menstruation, and cardiac pain.” 

Traditional herbalists, Drs. Felter and Lloyd, suggest motherwort for “painful menstruation.” 

Summary:

A small amount of scientific evidence has found that motherwort may alleviate pain, however human studies are needed to verify this finding.

5. Other Benefits

Other purported motherwort health benefits include: 

  • Antioxidant Effects: A review of motherwort notes that the herb’s active constituents, including polyphenolic compounds and flavonoids, have an antioxidant effect. 

Summary:

Motherwort has been tied to a wide variety of health benefits. Human clinical trials are needed to verify these findings.
5 benefits of motherwort

Motherwort Safety:

Safety Class: 2b (botanicals not recommended for use during pregnancy)

Interaction Class: A

Motherwort is generally a safe herb for most individuals to consume. It should be noted that motherwort is not recommended for pregnant women.

Motherwort is generally recognized as safe (GRAS) by the FDA. 

Hoffmann reports that “[e]xcessive use of motherwort may interfere with other cardiovascular treatments.”

Pregnancy & Lactation:

The use of motherwort during pregnancy and lactation is not recommended due to limited safety data.

The Botanical Safety Handbook (2013) mentions “early studies of motherwort on uterine tissue provided conflicting results on uterine stimulant activity.” 

The European Medicines Agency also writes “[b]ecause of the traditional use for uterine stimulation, motherwort should not be used by pregnant women.” 

Dosing:

Standard dosing for motherwort is as follows:

Infusion (tea): Add 1 cup of boiling water to 1-2 teaspoons of herb. Infuse for 10-15 minutes. Drink 1 cup, 3x per/day.

Tincture (1:5): 1-4 ml, 3x/day.

Fluid Extract (1:1): 2-4 ml, 3x/day.

The British Herbal Pharmacopeia suggests using 2-4g of dried herb daily and Commission E recommends 4.5g of herb daily.

Sustainability:

Motherwort is not on the United Plant Saver’s “at-risk” list and is considered to be a sustainably grown and harvested herb.

Naming & Taxonomy:

Motherwort’s scientific name is Leonurus cardiaca. It is more routinely called “common motherwort” as there are numerous other similar plant species that are used in herbal medicine.

The scientific name Leonurus is the Greek word for “lion’s tail”, referring to the plant’s resemblance, and cardiaca refers to the plant’s affinity for managing heart issues.  

The common name “motherwort” means “mother’s herb” (wort meaning “herb”) and stems from the herb’s use as a childbirth aid and menopause aid, and for gynecological and reproductive issues.

Motherwort is a perennial herb in the Lamiaceae family (i.e. mint family) and is known for having a peculiar, yet aromatic scent. Traditional accounts often mention the herb’s particularly intense bitter flavor.  

Mothewortis native to southeastern Europe and central Asia; however, it has been naturalized globally and is now cultivated worldwide. Motherwort has the characteristic square stem of the Lamiaceae family and can grow to be 2 to 3 feet in height. The slightly-hairy leaves travel all the way up the stem, and the flowers appear in small pink clusters where the leaves meet the stem.    

Many plants in the Leonurus family contain similar active constituents and are often used interchangeably for therapeutic purposes.        

Common names of motherwort include: Common Motherwort, Throw-wort, Lion’s Tail, Lion’s Ear, Heartwort, Plante Mère, Queue de Lion,  Echte Herzgespann, Agripaume, and Yi Mu Cao.

Other plants in the Leonurus species include: 

  • Leonurus japonicus (Chinese Motherwort) 
  • Leonurus quinquelobatus 
  • Leonurus sibiricus 
  • Leonurus chaituroides
  • Leonurus deminutus
  • Leonurus incanus 

History & Traditional Use:

Leonurus cardiaca has a long history in European and Asian traditional therapeutic systems. The ancient Greeks gave motherwort to anxious women giving birth, and the herb received the Latin name “cardiaca” due to its tonic effect on the heart. 

In the medieval period, an herbalist named Macer Floridus wrote that motherwort was one of the “all-powerful” herbs used against wicked spirits.

The 16th-century herbalist John Gerard mentions that motherwort is supportive of “infirmities of the heart” and 17th century, botanist, herbalist, and physician Nicholas Culpepper wrote that “[t]here is no better herb to drive melancholy vapors from the heart, to strengthen it and make the mind cheerful, blithe and merry.”

Dr. Felter and Lloyd wrote in their 1898 medical text that Russians used Leonurus cardiaca as a “remedy for hydrophobia.”

In Medical Herbalism, Hoffmann mentionsthat Priest & Priest (authors of Herbal Medication: A Clinical and Dispensary Handbook) know motherwort to be “…stimulating and relaxing, an antispasmodic nervine: indicated for reflex conditions affecting cardiac function, and as a simple cardiac tonic. It also influences pre-menstrual nerve tension and muscular rigidity.”

5 motherwort benefits

Conclusion:

Motherwort is a well-known and heavily-administered herb that has been used for thousands of years.

While some human clinical trials exist, researchers suggest that more trials should be conducted to understand and verify this herb’s full therapeutic potential.   

Consult a healthcare provider if you are considering motherwort for medicinal use. It is important to avoid using motherwort if you are taking any other pharmaceutical medications for the heart. 

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About Siobhan Mendicino

Siobhan is a herbal researcher and writer. She has a bachelor of science in communications as well as having completed a post-baccalaureate certificate in herbal studies.