How to Grow and Use Motherwort

How to Grow and Use Motherwort

When I began my studies as an herbalist, I was immediately drawn to wanting to learn more about motherwort.

This medicinal herb has a reputation for reducing anxiety, feelings of restlessness, and stress. It seemed to be calling my name.

A vertical close up picture of Leonurus cardiaca growing in the garden with tiny flowers on a soft focus background. To the center and bottom of the frame is green and white text.attract pollinators, and to make your own herbal medicine?

Here’s what’s to come in this article:

What Is ­­Motherwort?

A spiky, weedy, clumping perennial herb that can reach up to five feet tall, motherwort is often found growing wild, especially in wet areas such as floodplains and riverbanks, or along streams. It is also a common weed along roadsides and in neglected gardens.

A close up of Lonurus cardiaca growing in the garden showing the long upright stem with tiny pink flowers, on a soft focus background.a member of the Lamiaceae family, and similar to many of its minty relatives, it is a vigorous grower that can sometimes be considered invasive.

The plant produces clusters of pink to purple flowers that rise along prickly sepals, blooming from midsummer through early fall.

It also has a unique leaf structure. The lower leaves have five cleft lobes with coarse teeth, and leaves with three lobes grow higher on the stem. The uppermost leaves are oblong with one pair of coarse teeth.

A close up of the dark green serrated leaves of motherwort growing in the garden on a dark soft focus background.Cultivation and History

This herb likely originated in central and northern Asia, spreading to western Europe by sometime around the 17th century.

Believed to have been brought to North America in the 19th century by colonists, and has now naturalized widely throughout the continent.

A close up of the upright flowering stems of the Leonurus cardiaca plant growing in the garden on a soft focus background.Medicinal Use

For centuries, this bitter-tasting herb has been used by mothers, and it was a very common medicine prescribed by midwives.

It has a history of being used to reduce stress during childbirth, postpartum depression, and menopause symptoms, as well as helping to regulate menstrual cycles and reduce symptoms of PMS.

A close up of freshly harvested Leonurus cardiaca with small purple flowers, set on a wooden surface with a glass of water and a small opaque tincture bottle.available on Amazon, it is looked upon as a remedy for those who are feeling overworked, on edge, or underappreciated.

Body into Balance: An Herbal Guide to Holistic Self-Care

In recent years, it has been studied as an herbal treatment for hyperthyroidism. Preliminary research suggests that it can bind to TSH receptors, and prevent the conversion of thyroid hormone T4 to the active form T3, essentially slowing down thyroid function.

Groves says motherwort pairs well with lemon balm, another herb indicated for hyperthyroidism, particularly in an herbal formula for treating Graves’ disease.

Germany’s Commission E, an official government agency similar to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that focuses specifically on herbal treatments, has authorized use of motherwort as a treatment for anxiety-induced rapid heartbeat and for hyperthyroidism.

In vitro studies have demonstrated its ability to have an effect on cardiac function, though further research is needed.

A dearth of well-designed human studies documenting its safe and effective use means we still lack sufficient scientific evidence to support these claims.

Propagation

Motherwort is easy to grow from seed or transplants, or by division.

This hardy perennial can grow in many different conditions, but for best results, look for a spot with well draining soil, and amend beds or containers with compost before planting.

Cold Stratification

If starting from seed or transplants, it is necessary to cold stratify seeds for a few weeks prior to planting. This is simply a measure to trick seeds into thinking that they have just experienced winter and the time has come to sprout.

To cold stratify seeds, soak for 12-24 hours and then put them in a plastic bag filled with sand and peat. Seal the bag and place it in the refrigerator for 10 days, checking regularly for moisture and spritzing lightly if the mix becomes dry.

From Seed

First, read the instructions on purchased seed packets to see if they have been previously cold stratified for planting. If not, stratify the seeds for 10 days. Once the seeds are prepped, they can be sown directly into the garden.

Broadcast seeds in late spring and cover with a very thin 1/8-inch layer of soil. They should take about a week to sprout, and strong seedlings can be thinned to 2-3 feet apart.

You can also choose to sow seeds directly in the garden in late fall.

This way, there is no need to cold stratify your seeds first, as the cold winter weather will take care of this process for you in most growing zones. Motherwort also self sows easily.

From Seedlings and Transplanting

Start cold stratified seeds in flats a few weeks before the last frost date in your area.

Plant them out in a garden bed amended with compost once seedlings have reached 4-6 inches tall. Space plants 2-3 feet apart.

From Divisions

Since motherwort grows quickly and spreads via rhizomes, established plants can easily be dug up, divided, and relocated in new areas of the garden. Divide in spring or fall during dormancy.

Dig a hole twice the width of the roots, spread the rhizome out and gently place it in the hole. Cover it up with soil until the hole is filled in and water well.

You can read more about dividing perennials here.

How to Grow

One unique feature of motherwort is that it grows well in any type of light. You can plant it wherever you have room, whether your chosen location is in full sun or bathed in shade.

It is also adaptable to most soil types, though moist, rich soil with a slightly alkaline pH of 7.7 is ideal.

A close up of the foliage of Leonurus cardiaca, with dark green serrated leaves.Growing Tips

  • Water young plants every few days, until they are well established.
  • To avoid unwanted spread, try growing it in containers or raised beds.
  • A great bee forage plant, include motherwort in areas where you want to attract pollinators.

Where to Buy

Motherwort can often be found growing wild. Considered a weed by some, you won’t find cultivated varieties available for purchase.

Perhaps the easiest way to acquire motherwort is to find a patch already growing in your yard or a friend’s yard, and cut some divisions.

You may also be able to purchase seeds or plants from local nurseries or farms that specialize in medicinal herbs.

Managing Pests and Disease

Though motherwort is a hardy perennial that is rarely harmed by pests or disease, there are still a couple of problems to watch out for.

Spider Mites

In rare instances, spider mites can damage the leaves of the plant. This tends to happen during prolonged periods of drought.

You can treat leaves with a solution of soapy water to get rid of the mites.

Just add 2 tablespoons of a mild biodegradable liquid soap to a gallon of water, and spray off the undersides of the leaves to remove the mites.

Powdery Mildew

Sometimes, white powdery fungus can develop on the plant foliage, hindering plant growth and vigor.

If powdery mildew develops, remove infected parts of the plant and destroy them.

You can reduce instances of this disease by pruning overcrowded areas to increase air circulation, and avoid overwatering.

Harvesting

The ideal time to harvest motherwort is in early to midsummer, just as the plant is beginning to flower. But you can also harvest the large, soft leaves in the pre-flowering stage.

Cut and collect the top third of the stems, including the leaves, flowers, and buds.

Once the herb has finished flowering, it quickly loses its vitality. You will notice that the leaves suddenly seem to look thin and brown, and you will have to wait until next season to harvest more.

Don’t forget your gloves and pruning shears! The flower stalks can be a bit prickly.

Preserving and Making Medicine

This herb is best consumed or tinctured while it’s fresh, but the flowers and leaves can also be dried for later use.

To dry, hang bundles of stems in a dark, airy location, or lay them on a screen in a dark, dry room.

A close up of hands from the left of the frame tying a piece of string round the stems of freshly harvested motherwort, set on a red surface.peppermint, to mask the flavor.

A close up of a white tea cup containing motherwort tea with a sprig of herbs next to it, set on a white surface.

Quick Reference Growing Guide

Plant Type: Herbaceous perennial Water Needs: Low
Native To: Asia Tolerance: Various soil types
Hardiness (USDA Zone): 4-8 Maintenance: Low
Season: Summer Soil Type: Average
Exposure: Full sun to full shade Soil pH: 7.0-7.7
Time to Maturity: 100 days Soil Drainage: Well-draining
Spacing: 2 feet Attracts: Bees and other pollinators
Planting Depth: 1/8 inch (seeds) Family: Lamiaceae
Height: 5 feet Genus: Leonurus
Spread: 3 feet Species: cardiaca
Pests & Diseases: Spider mites; powdery mildew

We All Could Use a Little Mothering Sometimes

As its name implies, this truly is a motherly herb.

Strong and robust, calming and supportive, it is certainly a plant worth knowing how to grow and use. I am excited to make use of my abundant motherwort supply this year.

A close up of motherwort growing in a field, with upright stems and small flowers on a soft focus background.medicinal herbs next:

Heather Buckner

Heather Buckner hails from amongst the glistening lakes of Minnesota, and now lives with her family on a beautiful homestead in the Vermont Mountains. She holds a bachelor of science degree in environmental science from Tufts University, and has traveled and worked in many roles in conservation and environmental advocacy, including creating and managing programs based around resource conservation, organic gardening, food security, and building leadership skills. Heather is a certified permaculture designer and student herbalist. She is also a fanatical gardener, and enjoys spending as much time covered in dirt as possible!

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