Herbal Nerd Society Exclusive Article
When you need a good hug, reach for Motherwort. In the line-up of heart-healing herbs, Motherwort is one of The Best herbs for soothing both a physically exhausted heart and an emotionally exhausted heart. Modern herbalists often look to this weedy member of the mint family for support in blends for racing heart and high blood pressure, hormone-induced emotional swings, and anxiety or nervousness you can’t quite kick. The commonality to near all conditions is a relationship of some kind to the Heart.
Mothewort and Traditional Western Herbalism
Motherwort, aka Leonurus cardiaca, has been associated with matters of the heart since the Ancient Greek physicians and likely well before them in Europe. It’s taste is described as “nauseatingly bitter” by Michael Wood, who suggests this herb for heart-related conditions that include an element of Tension or Constriction. This includes heart-related matters, such as hypertension, tachycardia, high blood pressure, anemia and poor blood flow due to vascular tension. It can also include conditions that result from or cause emotional tension, like hyperthyroidism or Graves Disease, PMS and PMT or hormonal fluctuations that include anxiety, tension, irritability, mood swings, and hot flashes. All of these conditions share an element of overheating; Motherwort’s cooling energy helps the systems affected return to a more balanced and functioning state without dampening them. Motherwort’s affect is like a great, big hug when you’re stressed-out…coupled with a bitter kick in the pants to make whatever changes are needed to better nurture or mother yourself.
Motherwort’s Ayurvedic Actions
From an Ayurvedic Perspective, Motherwort’s cooling energy primarily moves Pitta. It boosts Vata and reduces Kapha in the process of bringing Pitta’s heat into balance. The bitter to acrid taste is one clue that connects Motherwort to Pitta and the digestive fires. Ayurvedic practitioners Drs. Frawley and Lad describe Motherwort’s post-digestive affect as bitter, too, making Motherwort a clear and consistent herbal remedy. They, like Traditional Western Herbalists, connect Motherwort with both the circulatory system and the Nervous system for cooling overheated conditions, especially those relating to the female hormonal system.
Motherwort and TCM
Traditional Chinese Medicine herbalist Lesley Tierra describes Motherwort’s action as invigorating to the blood. She connects Motherwort with the Heart, Liver, and Bladder meridians and the cool, spicy, and bitter tastes. Within the context of Chinese Medicine, this makes Motherwort, aka yi mu cao, an important herb in formulas designed to build and move blood, increase yang, and calm the Shen.
Leonurus heterophyllus is the variety of Motherwort most often used in TCM formlation, although both L. cardiaca and L. heterophyllus share similar uses and properties. It’s long been used primarily by women; yi mu cao translates to “Good for Mother” and is among TCM’s favored long-standing remedies for women in their fertility years. Here, too, Motherwort is connected with conditions of blood and tension, such as PMS abdominal pain; fibroids, cysts, and tumors; Deficient Blood induced infertility, irregular and delayed menstruation, PMS nervous tension, and heart palpitations. Additionally, Peter Holmes suggests the use of Motherwort to help postpartum in Qi constraint conditions that include pain, lumps, and abdominal cramping. He writes that motherwort’s “uterine contractant effect has a slow onset, but is certain.”
Who is the Motherwort Person?
Motherwort’s cooling action coupled with that bitter bite is a specific kind of medicine. It soothes without pacifying, rather instead reminding you to own your power and use it wisely. When I’m working with a client who seems a little high-strung, as in nervous or anxious but unable to take action to change the situation, I may well reach for Motherwort whether a heart or blood condition is present yet or not.
The Motherwort Personality is that of one who too easily gets stuck in a state of agitation, often believing he or she doesn’t have the power to change whatever upsets them. That belief coupled with the fire to make the needed change creates all kinds of overheated conditions that will quickly wreak havoc on one’s circulatory, nervous, and endocrine systems.
The solution Motherwort offers is to cool off the heat long enough to allow one to examine the beliefs and other roadblocks that stand in the way. Often, the changes that Motherwort people ultimately need to make are either to their expectations or to their beliefs about their own power. In either case, they have the energy needed to make the change once they build the courage to do so.
Physically, people who benefit from Motherwort include those who tend to have lots of heat and blood in their upper bodies, so red-faced folks, those with rosacea or prone to blushing or reddening of the skin as well as those who experience heat rising such as indigestion and acid reflux, racing thoughts coupled with anxiety or racing heart, and hot flashes, particularly those of a rising nature. They often also tend toward tension of the upper body which may come and go but is often coupled with feelings of uncertainty and may leave them feeling so tense they’re exhausted or drained of energy by worry.
DIY Motherwort Remedies
I often use Motherwort as a Dui Yao or herb-partner with either nervous system herbs, like Skullcap, or with circulatory herbs, like Hawthorn. Skullcap and Motherwort in equal parts supported by a mildly warming sedatives like Valerian or Passionflower and cooling or warming nervines like Milky Oats and Hops make a terrific formula for insomnia that includes racing mind and anxiety or worry that’s outta control.
Paired with Hawthorn and supported by liver-supporting bitters like Dandelion and Burdock, Motherwort helps PMS and menopausal digestive disruption including diarrhea and acid reflux when it’s connected with irritability, tension or stress, and moodiness. In both cases, Motherwort is not the sole star of the show. Instead, Motherwort holds that position with another strong and clear herb that will help direct the intention of the formula.
As a supporting actor, Motherwort offers gentle yet firm cooling properties to help take the edge off the heated aspect of the condition you’re addressing. It’s wonderful as a balance to a generally heating formula, particularly when a little easing of anxiety or nervous tension is needed with a building or tonifying formula. For instance, a warm formula designed to build blood during the fertile years can benefit from Motherwort as a director who points the formula specifically toward the reproductive system without contributing so much cooling energy as to negate or take away from the warming and moving energy the formula is designed to create.