Herb: MOTHERWORT (Leonorus cardiaca; Labiatae)
Other Names: lion’s tail, lion’s ear, throw-wort (2)
Lion’s ear, lion’s tail. (57)
Character/Energetics: bitter, spicy, slighty cold (6) ; pungent…drying, cool (15)
Meridians/Organs/Body Parts affected: pericardium, liver (6) nerves, heart, uterus (14)
Part used: the aerial portion (6)
aerial parts. (8)
Identification & Harvesting: A perennial with a short woody rhizome; grows to about 4′; stem is erect, quadrangular, grooved, hollow, often red-violet and usually hairy. Leaves are long-stemmed; lower leaves palmate; upper leaves trilobate; upper surface dark green, lower surface light green. Small bright red bilabiate flowers in dense whorls in the upper leaf axils. Fruit a brown, triangular 3 mm nutlet with a tuft of hair at the tip. An unpleasant odor. Grows wild in temperate Europe and Russia and Asia, and in North America. (2)
Collect stalks at flowering time, between June and September. (8)
Harvest in summer. (15)
Stems square. Leaves stalked, palmately five-lobed, lobes trifid at apex, coarsely serrate, reticulate veined, the veinlets prominent beneath, with slender curved hairs; upper leaves trifid, entire, and wedge-shaped below. Flowers pinkish, in thick whorls in the axils of the upper leaves; calyx teeth rigid and sharp. Tastes very bitter. No odor. (57)
European motherwort, L. cardiaca, found throughout much of Europe, has become naturalized in the US and is a common weed in many parts of the country. The Asian species, L. sibericus, is also naturalized in the Pacific Northwest, Texas and Gulf Coast. L. artemisia is the Chinese herb yi mu tsao. (61)
Active Constituents: Diterpene bitter principles incl. leocardin; iridoide monoterpenes incl. ajugoside (leonuride), ajugol, isoquercitrin, hyperoside, genkwanin; leonurins (a.k.a. syringa acid esters of 4-guanidino-butane-1-ols); betaines incl. stachydrine (N-dimethyl-L-proline); caffeic acid derivatives incl. caffeic acid-4-O-rutinoside; tannins; trace volatile oils. (2)
Bitter principle, and bitter glycosides, leonurin, alkaloids, tannin, essential oil, resin, organic acids (6)
bitter glycosides incl. leonurin and leonuridine; alkaloids incl. leonuinine and stachydrene; volatile oils; tannins. (8)
alkaloids (inc. Stachydrine), bitter glycosides, volatile oil…vitamin A (15)
Actions: mild negative chronotropic, hypotonic, sedative. (2)
emmenagogue, astringent, carminative, cardiac tonic, diuretic, antispasmodic, antirheumatic (6); Primarily emmenagogue, nervine, tonic; also antispasmodic, diaphoretic, laxative. (14) uterine stimulant, relaxant… (15)
Antispasmodic, tonic, nervine, emmenagogue. (57)
All three listed species are used to promote blood circulation and regulate the menses, and as a diuretic. A mild sedative and astringent, valued for relieving spasms and lowering blood pressure. Chinese studies show it increases the volume of blood circulation, stimulates uterine activity and promotes urine flow. In the West, considered sedative, hypotensive and cardiotonic. Possibly antioxidant, immunostimulant, and cancer preventative. (61)
Conditions & Uses: Used for cardiac insufficiency of categories NYHA I and II; arrhythmias; nervous heart complaints; thyroid hyperfunction; flatulence. (2)
It is used to treat menstrual disorders, (delayed or stopped menses), menopause, as a uterine stimulant, for cramps, gas, nervous heart problems, cardiac edema, swollen thyroid, neuralgia and rheumatic complaints….This is an important heart herb in Western herbalism. (6)
Used for menstrual conditions and uterine conditions, cardiac and circulatory problems. Used to stimulate delayed menses or amenorrhea, esp. in cases of anxiety or tension. Eases false labor pains. Smooths menopausal changes. Eases nervous tachycardia and any other cardiac troubles deriving from anxiety or tension. (8)
Internal uses — amenorrhea: infusion, decoction, ticture, fluid extract. Cramps, disturbed sleep, dysmenorrhea, endocarditis, fits, nervousness, palpitations, pericarditis, pulmonary congestion, uterine pains: tincture, fluid extract, infusion, decoction. Fevers: tincture*, fluid extract*, infusion*, decoction. Heart tonic, spasms: tincture, fluid extract.
External uses — stomach cramps: fomentation.
*Usually used in combination with other herbs when treating the indicated problem.
Motherwort tea, taken warm, is an excellent remedy for suppressed menstruation and other female complaints. It is good for all nervous comditions, cramps, convulsions, sleeplessness and suppressed urine. Combine motherwort with cramp bark and squawvine for female cramping and suppressed menstrual flow and urine retention. A hot fomentation made from strong tea will relieve cramps and pain during menstruation. It is excellent for nervous conditions and acts as a heart tonic, especially when combined with hawthorn berries. (14)
L. Cardiaca/L. Heterophyllus. Useful as a tonic and for the heart, the aerial parts are ideal for palpitations with anxiety and nervous tension. The alkaloids encourage and ease uterine contractions, so are valuable both for menstruual pains and during labor. The herb also stimulates menstrual flow. In China, L. Heterophyllus (yi mu cao) is also used for eczema and sores.
Relaxing for palpitations and arrhythmias; also has stimulating action on the heart….Sedative, heart tonic, and uterine stimulant; good for palpitations and anxiety. (15)
Used to reduce swelling and stimulate development of new tissue. Clinical reports confirm its use to treat heart disease, hypertension, dysmenorrhea, hypermenorrhea and kidney disease. Also used for nervous cardiac symptoms. (61)
Especially valuable in female weakness and hysteria, acting as a tonic to the generative organs and allaying nervous irritability. Promotes flow of the menses, and generally braces up the uterine membranes. It will be found useful as a simple tonic in heart diseases or weakness and in recovery from fevers when other tonics are inadmissible. (57)
Combinations: Chinese women often use it combined with dong quai as a menstrual regulator. (6)
Combine with rosemary and fu ling for both tonic and calming actions.
Prescribed with herbs such as hawthorn as a heart tonic.
Combine with other sedative nervines like lavender or vervain, or with sage to ease night sweats, or with mugwort. (15)
Precautions: No known hazards or side effects with designated dosages. (2)
This herb is a uterine stimulant, so avoid in pregnancy. It may be used in labor.
Seek professional advice for all heart conditions. (15)
Known to have anti-platelet activity — use with care when taking herbs or drugs with anticoagulant activity (such as warfarin or horse chestnut). Anti-platelet principles potentiate the danger of bleeding disorder contingent upon anticoagulants. If you are taking large amounts, have your bleeding time measured by your doctor as a precaution. (1)
If other cardiac drugs are prescribed, use as a cardiotonic only under physician supervision. Avoid during pregnancy and nursing, as it affects the uterus in ways not fully understood. There have been no toxicity studies, but the few reports of reactions involve rare contact dermatitis from handling the fresh plant. (61)
Applications: Infusion: steep 5-15 min.; 6 oz. 3-4 x daily. Tincture: 30-60 drops (1/2-1 tsp) 3-4 x daily. Fluid extract: 1/2-1 tsp 3-4 x daily. Powder: 5-10 #0 capsules (30-60 grains) 3-4 x daily. (14)
Infusion: Use as a tonic for menopausal syndrome, anxiety and heart weakness, or for menstrual pain. Add 2-3 cloves and drink during labor. Take after childbirth to help restore the uterus and reduce the risk of postpartum bleeding.
Syrup: The infusion is traditionally made into a syrup to disguise the flavor. Use in similar ways.
Tincture: Use as the infusion. Prescribed with herbs such as hawthorn as a heart tonic.
Douche: Use the infusion or diluted tincture for vaginal infections and discharges. (15)
Dosage: 10‑30 gms. (6)
1-4 ml tincture, 3 x daily. (8)
The infusion of 1 oz. to a pint of boiling water is taken in half-cup doses. Powder dose, 1/2-1 drachm. Liquid extract dose, 1/2-1 drachm. (57)
Steep 1/2-1 tsp in 1 cup hot water for 10-15 min, 3 x daily. Tincture 20-50 drops up to 5 x daily. (61)
General Notes: An important heart herb since Roman times, motherwort, or Leonurus cardiaca, derives the Leonurus part of the botanical name from a Greek word meaning lion’s tail, describing the shaggy shape of the leaves. Its common name also suggests a medicinal application for, in Gerard’s words, “them that are in hard travell with childe.” Early herbals also recommend the plant for “wykked sperytis.” Chinese herbalists use the related species L. heterophyllus mainly for menstrual disorders.
“There is no better herb to take melancholy vapours from the heart, to strengthen it, and make a merry, cheerful, blithe soul.” Nicholas Culpepper, 1653. (15)
In the US where heart disease is still the top killer, it’s amazing that the historical use of motherwort in heart disease has sparked little interest or research. (61)
(1) Joniris Herbals Research Data, “The Herb-Drug Mix” by Robert Rountree, M.D., Herbs for Health,
Jul/Aug ’99, pgs. 52-54
(2) PDR for Herbal Medicines (Medical Economics Co., 1998), pgs. 932-33
(6) Planetary Herbology by Michael Tierra, C.A., N.D., pg. 274
(8) The New Holistic Herbal by David Hoffman, p. 215
(14) Natural Healing With Herbs by Humbart Santillo BS, MH, pgs. 147-48
(15) The Complete Medicinal Herbal by Penelope Ody, pgs. 74, 148-149, 168-169
(57) Potter’s Cyclopaedia by R.C. Wren, F.L.S., pgs. 237-38
(61) 101 Medicinal Herbs by Steven Foster, pgs. 138-39