Motherwort: Healing the Anxious Heart and Mind

by John on February 15, 2009

by Kathy Eich

Though anxiety does not define who we are, it can certainly feel like it. Anxiety can cause one to feel as if they are powerless. When powerless, many emotions flare, from fear to shame. Our hearts become stressed. And regardless of the situation, there is an element of failure and loss involved.

Motherwort, Leonurus cardiaca, does much to calm the excess of energy which courses through the heart and nervous system. It is a great healer that spreads joy and calm to those who seek it. While motherwort is often considered an herb for women, men can find benefit in using it as well for maladies of the nervous system and heart triggered by stress.

Leonurus cardiaca

Motherwort, Leonurus cardiaca, (Chinese form: L. sibiricus; L. heterophyllus) is native to Europe and Asia. Colonists introduced motherwort to North America, and it has naturalized here quite easily. It is in the mint family, and has a square stem. Its roots are quite hardy, and if it goes to seed it spreads voraciously.

The Greeks gave Motherwort to pregnant women suffering from anxiety; hence the name “mothers herb” or “mother wort”. Leonurus is of the Greek leon, for lion, and ouros, for tail. The plant in flower was seen to resemble the tail of a lion. Cardiaca refers to heart, for it has, through history, found notoriety as a heart tonic.


Afflictions of the heart and nervous system find rest with motherwort. History tells us that it is considered to be a cardio tonic as well as nervine tonic. Maude Greives tells us that there is “no better herb for strengthening and gladdening the heart.” Due to the presence of the chemical alkaloid leonurine, a mild vasodilator, motherwort acts as an anti-spasmodic to relax smooth muscles, one of those muscles being the heart. Chinese studies have also found motherwort to decrease clotting and the level of fat in the blood. That it can, in its calming nature, slow heart palpitations and rapid heartbeat. Motherwort has a mildly diuretic affect, also aiding high blood pressure. But it is important to note that while motherwort can be helpful in instances of high blood pressure, it is most appropriately effective when high blood pressure is a symptom of excess stress and anxiety.

The effects this plant has on the nervous system are profound. There is nothing subtle in the way that it works. As motherwort “gladdens the heart,” it relaxes the nervous system resulting in an elevated mood, relief of nervous debility and spasm. Higher doses of tincture can act as a sedative to improve sleep, while smaller doses during the day can give energy by balancing and backing off the typically anxious nature of the user. I have used motherwort with illnesses such as MS, chronic fatigue, neuralgia and other afflictions where nerves are compromised. It benefits the spine greatly. And while its stalk of flowers has been compared to rhythm of the heart, or of the menstrual cycle, I recognize that it closely resembles the spine, further indicating it as an excellent nervine tonic.

Hyperthyroidism benefits greatly from motherwort. I explain to my clients who deal with it that the thyroid is how we metabolize. That it affects not only what food we ingest, but how our nervous system and our senses (how we hear, see, touch, taste, smell) process information. While I have seen articles on motherwort indicate that it decreases thyroid function, this is not how the plant functions. It brings to balance and alleviates symptoms associated with a hyperactive thyroid. Those symptoms being heart palpitations, anxiety, sleeplessness, and in some cases depressed appetite, for it is a bitter that stimulates digestion. It is, however, contraindicated for those with hypothyroidism. Though, in certain cases and in low doses in a formula, I have used it successfully when this condition is present for menopause.

Which brings us to issues of a feminine nature. Motherwort inherits its most used common name from the application of use as a plant for pregnancy, birth, motherhood and menopause. Motherwort’s use in pregnancy is specific; since it is an emmenagogue, it puts the pregnancy in danger of termination. It is the alkaloids in motherwort that stimulate this action. But the alkaloids are alcohol soluble, not water-soluble. Therefore, it is safe to say that while the tincture of motherwort, both alcohol and glycerin, are contraindicated during pregnancy, one can safely use the tea while pregnant for anxiety. Note, however, that it will not be very effective for high blood pressure during pregnancy, for it is the alkaloids that facilitate this action as well. The tincture is typically used in a “Mothers Cordial” during the last 4 weeks of pregnancy in preparation for the birth. Motherwort will lesson cramping and anxiety during the birth process. It is used to aid the birthing of the placenta, for easing the anxiety of learning the motherly role postpartum, and lifting the spirits. It can aggravate heavy bleeding, so if you are prone, use it sparingly. It is used with great benefit throughout motherhood in easing the stress of children cycling through difficult phases as well.

PMS is a great venue for motherwort. Women who tend to have menses that come on slowly, and have other symptoms during PMS such as anxiety, digestive disturbances, nervousness and cramps will benefit from motherwort. It also has a mildly diuretic affect, as noted in the cardio tonic paragraph.

Menopause, just like motherhood, is another transitional point for women. I have had great success using motherwort in combination with other plants to ease the anxiety and hormonal shifts associated with hot flashes. In some cases I combined motherwort with kava, black cohosh and bugleweed with great success. Transitions can be traumatic. And this plant can ease much of the anxiety associated with trauma.

There are other things this plant has been witnessed to aid. It has been found useful for fever where there is delirium and sleeplessness. As an antispasmodic, it has been used for rheumatism, and for lung afflictions such as asthma and bronchitis, though I have not used it for such. I have used it successfully for intestinal spasms when in a pinch. The bitter nature of the plant also lends itself well to digestive ills, though these are secondary actions.

The strength of this plant lies in many areas of the body. An important lesson is that motherwort shows us how many things are affected by our emotional response to stress.

There is a process to working with stress and anxiety, instead of it working against us. Anxiety points out what can be perceived as weakness. But I encourage the concept that anxiety can be a tool that assists us in learning something about ourselves, a tool to encourage us to move to a more functional emotional and physical place. Dealing with it makes us stronger. I believe it comes to help us realize that we need to listen to our heart, and realize what we truly desire out of life. And motherwort can bring the stillness to allow us to hear more clearly.

  • Mamalionuk

    What do you advise to help ease the separation anxiety in an 8 month old? I am returning to as little work as possible, but still enough to warrant my bub being in daycare. Can you give motherwort to a baby? I want to ease his fears and endless crying. Thank you

  • Kathy Eich

    Hello! Thanks for writing. It’s understandable that you’d like to calm and ease your baby. Motherwort isn’t the plant for it, though. But I’ll give you a couple of other options. 1. Lavender essential oil. Add 1 drop of essential oil to 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Rub his/her feet with it. 2. If crying from digestive issues and/or teething, use chamomile with catnip tincture. Add 2 drops of each to a teaspoon of hot water. Let it cool, than use a syringe to give the herbs by mouth 2-3 times daily. Give these things a few weeks to work. Good luck. I recommend trying the lavender first!

  • Daniela Circonciso

    Hi Kathy: I just wanted to follow up and offer a sincere heart-felt THANK YOU. I’ve been using the Motherwart tincture for 2 weeks now (still waiting for skullcap to arrive). I must say that this herb has had amazing effects. In the past I have used passionflower & valerian and while they relieved panic & anxiety in the moment, none were very long lasting. Motherwart feels very different. I feel an overall sense of calm & wellbeing, as if it’s time released. Even when I have anxiety, its not as overwhelming. I only wish I would have discovered this herb 2 years ago. I’m hoping it will help with fertility and menstruation, but I wonder if its safe when trying for a baby/pregnancy? Any knowledge on that? I’m 35, my husband is 41 and we’ve had one miscarriage 2 months ago (blighted ovum) after an IUI. No specific fertility issues found. THANK YOU SO MUCH!

  • Kathy

    Dear Daniela, That is wonderful news! I’m so glad to hear that motherwort is acting as a true tonic for you. I look forward to more updates after you add the skullcap. In short, what you are feeling is exactly as you should. I love feedback, and thank you for it. On your other question, motherwort is an emmenagogue. That means that is will induce menstruation, and is contraindicated in pregnancy until the final 4 weeks. The upside is, you are taking a low dose, 5-10 drops 3 times daily, and you will probably be fine until you get pregnant. Most practitioners recommend 35-45 drops 3-4 times daily. My motto is find the lowest therapeutic dose possible- it saves resources. This works our advantage with most contraindications. I have had other clients successfully use this plant until they got pregnant on the low dose. It stabilizes mood, which is essential during change. Thanks for writing, and keeping me posted. Warm wishes, Kathy

  • Heaseba

    Hi Kathy
    I have serious issues with menopause. My only real symptom is hot flashes, but they are constant and intense… please email me. I need advice from an Herbalist who really IS

  • Kathy

    Hello, and thanks for writing. Hot flashes, eh? I will email you sometime next week. I’m catching up with clients and classes after the holidays. Warm wishes, Kathy

  • stephanie

    can u take motherwort with st johns wort? i have pvc’s, bad anxiety, fibromyalgia, and cfs…was wondering what mixture woul be best. i heard of grapeseed oil for fibromyalgia, but i dont know how to use it.. aslo i have the herb in plant form, how do i dose that for a tea.. ty

  • Kathy

    Hello! You can take motherwort with St. Johns wort. And they are an excellent nervine tonic and antianxiety combo. I would actually use the tinctures of both plants if you are interested in taking them, and begin with very low doses, about 1-3 drops of each 2-3 times daily. You may also look into a plant called blue vervain. St. Johns wort is excellent for the nerve pain that accompanies fibromyalgia, but is contraindicated if you are on immune suppressing drugs. Warm wishes to you on your healing journey.

  • Shelly

    Hello Kathy I am a long time anxiety sufferer who is now having hypnic jerks and rapid heart rate when trying to fall asleep. This has now caused massive insomnia. I went to gp and he put me on a beta blocker atenolol and muscle relaxant cyclobenzaprine in which I have been on for almost 2 weeks and have not had much relief of symptoms. Today I have another appt to see the gp to be put on anxiety meds. I came across your website and saw mother wort, what can I take to relieve anxiety and insomnia? I am willing to try alternative meds but have no clue the best herbs for me and dosage

  • Kathy

    Hello. Thanks for writing, and I’m sorry to hear about your insomnia. It is unnerving. The herbs that you may need do not combine well with beta blockers. So you will need to be off the drugs for about a week before trying herbs. I hope others see this comment, too. Because this is a comment that doesn’t get made enough. Now, onto herbs that can help. Motherwort is an excellent plant to try. But an even more specific one for you is skullcap. Skullcap calms tics, tremors and jerks in the body. These jerks come from the Autonomic Nervous System. Skullcap is an ANS anti-spasmodic. It will take a couple of weeks to work, so patience is key. Begin in this dosage range, 10-15 drops 2-4 times daily. Another plant to consider is passionflower. It is more sedative, and has the same action skullcap does. You will find it helpful at bedtime. Take 20 drops 30 min. before bed with your 10 drops of skullcap. I’m saying drops because I recommend you use a tincture. Tea would be fine too, drinking 3 cups of skullcap daily. Tea before bed is not a good idea, though, because it will make you have to use the bathroom. On brands- order the tinctures from Herbalist and Alchemist. I haven’t found the skullcap tincture from Herb Pharm to be effective. I will also email you my reply. Warm wishes, Kathy

  • Migs

    KAthy, a 38 year old male and I suffer from Anxiety and panic attacks. almost everyday, I feel a combo of heart racing, palpitations, nervous, anxious , scared, my chest just feels so exhausted, shortness of breath, you know butterflys in my chest feeling, etc. ive been to the E.R. a hand full of times, they have checked my heart and done blood test, chest xray etc. and they say my heart is Good. my dr. is no help, he just keeps giving me Xanax, but I don’t wanna take meds for my Anxiety. The only meds I am on are Metoprolol and lisinapril. What advice can you give me? Motherwort for me? if so, how much of a dose? will it interact with my other meds? Kathy, can you please email me back at Thank you Kathy and I hope to hear from you.

  • Kathy

    Hello, and Thanks for writing. I’m sorry to hear that your anxiety is having such a negative impact on your life. It can be frustrating to contend with. I’ll write you an email this week. But I have to say, the medications you are on do not do well with motherwort. They, in fact, don’t do well with quite a few nervine herbs. I have heard from people who have tried to take motherwort, blue vervain, and other meds to manage their nerves while on high blood pressure meds such as yourself. They often try the plant without consulting a practitioner. I hear from them when they are in dire straights, because the plants with the drugs causes their blood pressure to spike. The matrix that is formed with these drugs is complex, and plants that try to relax the heart and nervous system seem to elicit the opposite effect as the body cannot process the information from both the plants and the drugs. I’ll send an email with this information, but I want others to see it, too. There is one plant that I use to manage the nerves along with the drugs. It is milky oat tincture. It seems to work okay. Aromatherapy is another option. Warm wishes, Kathy

  • jaina

    There are so many issues with menopause :( not only do we go through the hormone issues but dry mouth, throat, when Doctors prescribe medicines and don’t realize that it can make your problems worse. I am not happy with what is happening just because of menopause and learning this by reading blogs- this one is written so good, it makes me happy :) I going to try the motherwort, since nothing helps not even the natural menopause meds… thanks

  • Kathy

    Thank you for your comment. I do appreciate your supportive words. Menopause is tricky. And the hot flashes and emotional component are maddening, at times. Motherwort is a good one to add to a regime. You may also want to look at blue vervain (Verbena hastata), kava kava, agrimony, and black cohosh, to name just a few. And remember that it takes time. Once you begin taking a plant, expect to have to wait a few weeks to see measurable results, with even more improvement over time. I wish you the best. Warmly, Kathy

  • Neil Roberts

    Hey Migs, I suffered from anxiety and panic attacks for almost three years and I also spent a few times in A&E (E.R) hooked up to an ECG. But as we know, there’s nothing wrong with us except it’s all in the mind. The anxiety we get is from our own thinking and the panic attack is caused by the ‘flight or fight’ reaction. All we need is a little push while we are feeling anxious and we trigger the ‘flight or fight’ mechanism and we end up in panic mode.

    There is a few things we can do to prevent this and these are what I did two years ago and I haven’t had one panic attack since – not even the odd anxiety….nothing. Without going to deeply into how I figure this out, here is what I did.

    1. Start taking magnesium supplements daily ( Google Dr Carolyn Dean on magnesium deficiency)
    2. Eat a banana and nuts, such as Brazil and Almonds.
    3. Meditate each day.
    4. Turn the damn TV off!
    5. Exercise more

    It took me around three to four weeks and I felt great and I have felt great since. I never used to drink as that would trigger me off, but now I can and do, but only once and a while.

    Hope that helps!

  • Kathy

    Thanks for your comment. It is always sound advice. And it’s great to hear you implemented so many lifestyle changes and were successful. Warm wishes, Kathy