Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca) has been on my mind so much lately. With the blooming, buzzing and bursting that comes with the month of June, this humble ally offers much medicine for the soul. Serene and contained, modest yet fierce, Motherwort acts as an anchor for our spirit, grounding us into our bodies in this season of intoxicating movement and change.
The Momentum of the Season
Here in the PNW, nature begins to rub the sleep from its eyes in early March, slowly sending upward the first shoots of the pioneering Nettle (Urtica dioica) and Horsetail (Equisiteum spp), and gracefully unfurling swollen leaf buds of Osoberry (Oemleria cerasiformis). This gentle awakening of the our green allies is most welcome after the peaceful, yet often isolating, sleep of winter.
Though they may still appear to be sleeping from an outward glance, by the end of March the deciduous trees have begun to wake. The sap has slowly begun to rise from the roots and flow within the cambium of our Garry Oaks (Quercus garryana), Red Alders (Alnus rubra), and Western Balsam Poplars (Populus trichocarpa).
If you listen closely you can hear the tree spirits waking up many weeks before they begin to leaf out. There is an immense effort needed to awake from dormancy; to send upward the energy stored in dormant roots gathered from the photosynthesis of a year left behind. This energy has to come from within, only the inner reserves can push those new leaves outward; so that once again the trees can make sugar from the sun.
Mid-April marks the transformation of the landscape as these new leaves create a comforting canopy made up of every shade of delicate green, replacing the stark browns and greys of the naked limbs of winter. Where once we could see forever the barren sleep between branches, now luminous walls of green enclose us with each exhale transforming the air.
As we move through May the Hawthorns (Crataegus spp) and Wild Roses (Rosa nutkanna) bloom and we become as swept up by nature as it is by itself. The activity of all life living begins to move toward a crescendo, taking on a momentum and force only felt at this time of year. Suddenly it is as if everything is in bloom all at once, a flurry of communication sent out in all directions. All is alive and abuzz.
During the last weeks of May and the first weeks of June an immense surge of vital essence has now risen out of the earth, moving through our green allies it has begun to mingle with that of the sun. Our green friends begin to bring this solar energy down into their cells and transmute it to be passed on to nourish all life on earth though the seasons to come.
June is a vulnerable time with so much of our vital essence sent into outward growth, before the captured light of the sun has had a chance to restore us. In June there is a constant movement away from our roots; away from ourselves. There is the mingling of our vital essence in communion with others through pollination and communication.
This month can burst at the seams with joy, but it can also call for so much adaptation, pushing us to the extremities of our selves, pulling us upward from our roots to the edges of discomfort.
A Gift of Grounding
Motherwort is a bitter herb. When I teach my students materia medica, we stand in a circle around each plant the garden. We taste a leaf and explore the flavour profile with our senses, paying attention to how it feels in our bodies. Year after year, those unaccustomed to the bitter taste seem to get repulsed by the flavour of Motherwort, immediately rejecting it with sour faces, shaking it off as the bitter causes a shiver down their spines.
But for me the bitter taste, the taste of Motherwort, is something I crave. A craving which is intensified at this time of year in particular. Bitter is energetically cooling and contracting. It sends the vital essence downward into the body, sinking it and grounding it there. A helpful action when, just like the plants, our essence is outward and untethered during this month of uninhibited full bloom.
I try not to pigeonhole herbs, but at times I find myself guilty as the next in this regard. It’s easy to fall into the pattern of thinking of a herb as being simply ‘good for that’. This is something that, until recently, I was inadvertently doing in regard to the medicine of Motherwort.
As the name suggests, Motherwort is a fantastic remedy for female reproductive issues, but its magic is not limited to that.
For certain it is my go-to herb for anything PMS. Motherwort is wonderful at relieving tension and increasing circulation to the uterus. This helps to ease the cramping that may be due to congestion and stagnation in these tissues, and as such can be a useful remedy for fibroids, cysts and endometriosis. Motherwort helps to encourage the menses, and is wonderfully pain relieving and antispasmodic for both menstrual cramps and ovulations pains as well.
The nervine action of the herb is incredible at calming nervousness and anxiety that can be related to the female-bodied persons moon time. When anger rises from a liver overwhelmed by a fresh surge of monthly hormones, the herb acts to cool down the resulting internal heat and ease the irritability that can come with it.
But Motherwort isn’t just about PMS. It is a worthy herb for all genders and bodies in Gemini season.
June always seems to be a hard month for me. There is an inherent intensity to this time of year. For all those who farm or work with the land, this is known only too well. Though they fill me with great joy with their presence, it can be daunting to try to keep up with the plants. They move so fast, and harvest windows seem to fly by at increasing speed. The energy of this time of year on the farm can be overwhelming. It takes to constant effort to adapt and stay grounded.
On top of all this natural intensity, there aways seems to be some sort of extra upheaval or change in my life at this time of year. The previous Junes for me have included house moves and break-ups, challenges and expansions that have teased my limits, unseated me from my roots. During these times I seem to be so accident prone. My lack of presence in my body leading to ankle sprains the past two years in a row.
Probably the most ungrounding of all, this June I am adapting to the possibility of having to move my farm, as the property is going up for sale next month. A transition is ahead that will potentially lead me down new and unforeseen paths; paths that are ungrounding, unknown; and perhaps filled with promise and joy.
I found a new sense of kinship with Motherwort last June, when during several weeks in a row I led different groups of students on plant walks at my farm. I kept returning to Motherwort each week, feeling called to introduce this magical ally full bloom. Each week, mid-move and ankle sprain, I returned to Motherwort and tasted its leaves along with the others. Each week I was surprised by the effect it had on me, and the striking, almost shocking way in which it returned me to my body.
Since then I no longer think of Motherwort as simply a herb for PMS.
Motherwort is a powerful ally to help us sink our vital essence back into our core. She is grounded and also courageous. Leonurus cardiaca the lion-hearted one. She is an ally for the heart in chaotic times. She sends us within and helps us to access the strength in our hearts and the courage to stay present. Like many of our herbal allies for the heart, she is both soft and strong, beautiful and fierce with her delicate velvety leaves and the needle sharp calyxes of her lilac flowers.
This year I am making a constant effort to stay present in my body and so far have successfully avoided another ankle sprain. I am spending more time basking in the sun; letting that solar energy restore me, as it restores nature all around, becoming the sugar to our cells.
Due to the bitter taste, my favourite way to take Motherwort is in tincture form. This is a herb that is best tinctured fresh to capture the full range and potency of the medicinal benefits. We have fresh-plant tincture of Motherwort available in 50ml, 100ml, 250ml, and 500ml sizes.
Motherwort is featured in several of our nervine and tonic tincture blends, including our Heart Harmony and Trauma Remedy tinctures. It is a helpful ally in our Peaceful Warrior tincture, a blend I formulated to help clients quit smoking; this blend is wonderful for maintaining calm and focus, opening the lungs and activating movement through the throat chakra. (This is also a great blend for singers and public speakers).
Growing & Harvesting Motherwort
Motherwort is a clump-forming herbaceous perennial native to Europe and central Asia. This Mint Family member grows to 4ft tall and 2ft wide. The leaves are toothed and palmate, with a light and pale downy fur on their undersides. The small pale-pink or lilac coloured flowers appear in late spring born in spiky whorls alternating up the stems.
Propagation is best done by seed; our farm grown Motherwort seeds can be found here in our shop. Seeds can be started at any point during the growing season, and are best kept moist though germination. During the first season the seedlings will look quite different than the mother plants, with their more rounded and shallowly-lobed immature leaves.
Motherwort is hardy to USDA zones 4-9, and prefers to be planted in a sunny position with well-drained soil. It will grow in partial shade, but the medicine won't be as strong. Like so many other herbs, a natural period of stress by sun and drought is needed to bring out the secondary metabolites, or medicinal compounds.
An easy plant to care for, Motherwort is extremely drought tolerant once it is established in its second year. Planted in the herb garden it is a lovely gift for our pollinators, attracting and nourishing bees and other beneficial insects. Our wild garden foragers, such as deer or bunnies, tend to leave it be, repelled by its bitter taste.
A bit of a self-seeder, it is best to remove the flower stalks after blooming to prevent seed formation and the spread of this wildflower around the garden. Come fall time the plants will begin to die down, gradually turning yellow and sending remaining nutrients down into the roots. The plants can be cut back to the ground at this time, and will sprout from dormant roots in the spring.
Motherwort is prime to harvest when the plants are in early bloom. The plants can be gathered from the time they set their first flower buds onward through their bloom time. Letting the plants reach this stage of maturity will aid greatly in the potency of the medicinal properties.
The upper stems laden with flowers can be gathered, leaving at least one or two healthy sets of leaves on the stalk below. A gentle harvest done in this way will encourage the plants to branch out and regrow for a second harvest in summer. Any woody or fibrous stems should be discarded as these will not be useful for medicine making.
Motherwort is best used fresh. It can be tinctured in alcohol or glycerine, and infused into honey or apple cider vinegar. It can also be taken fresh as a tea, though the taste is not palatable for everyone.