“Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca) is one of those powerful, essential herbs that inspires fierce devotion in so many herbalists and herb enthusiasts. Those of us who love it agree; this herb works its magic in the realm of the heart—emotionally, energetically, and physically. A special friend to mothers and anyone in need of the strength and protection of a matriarchal figure, Motherwort supports us, nourishes us, and helps us to heal the hurts we may encounter on our winding ways.” ~Micaela Foley

Motherwort in bloom in the garden. Photo: Leela Ehrhart

Leonurus cardiaca, commonly known as Motherwort, is coming into bloom in my garden, and I have been waiting all year for her return. She is just so near and dear to my heart, and she is one of my most leaned on and trusted plant friends.

This plant is sometimes referred to as “the lion-hearted one” or “the herb that mothers the mother” or “the herb for when you want your mother” (or depending on your relationship with your mother, the herb for when you are longing to feel connected with a nurturing and protective mother-like figure as mentioned in the quote above). She has the capacity to support us in so very many ways.

I always think of Motherwort when I am feeling that particular kind of hurt, sad, scared, or overwhelmed where I just want a loving adult who makes me feel safe to come along and fix it… to tell me that I am not alone, that I don’t have to worry, that they will walk with me through whatever it is, that we’ll figure it out together, and that everything will be okay. You know the feeling I mean, I think it’s a pretty universal experience no matter how old we are. Motherwort is an herb I turn to when the ancient wounds we all carry deep within us begin to ache, leaving me feeling fragile and small. And Motherwort never fails to help support me in those moments.

One of the first experiences I had with Motherwort was so powerful that I will never forget it. It was as if the plant herself wanted me to know her, and have the impetus to get to know her better. I was feeling totally overwhelmed and on the edge of panic. This was one of those moments when I would have probably reached for one of my “emergency” Valium tablets, but instead I reached for my new bottle of Motherwort tincture. I took about a dropperful, which is approximately 1 milliliter of tincture, and within 15 minutes I realized that I felt as calm as I would have if I had taken the Valium–except I hadn’t. I was astonished, and humbled, and so grateful! (Note: with all the terrible (S)SRI drug stuff I have been through I thank the powers that be every single day that I knew how dangerous Benzodiazepine drugs can be, and that I only ever used that Valium extremely sparingly. I dodged a bullet, and I consider myself very lucky). 

I don’t generally like comparing plants to drugs because I think it’s a really reductionistic, problematic, and even a potentially dangerous way of thinking. Plants are living beings as dynamic and nuanced as you and I are. Just like the essence of each human being cannot be quantified or measured or reduced to active ingredients or constituents, I believe the same is true of plants. (I also believe that when we try to isolate, quantify, synthesize, and whatever else we often do more harm than good all around). I like the little saying that “drugs are for symptoms, plants are for people” because we are a lot more than our symptoms of dis-ease, and because our relationships with the plants are as complex and personal as our relationships with other people. It’s not a matter of “what is this plant good for?” It’s a matter of “who is this plant, and how can we be in relationship with each other?” But I share this story because I wanted to illustrate–especially for anyone newer to the world of working with plants as a means of support–that they can be just as powerful and in some cases they can also work just as quickly as our drugs can.

In the northeast US where I live Motherwort is considered a weed. She is a member of the mint family and she grows wild and in abundance. She is readily available to help us if we know where and how to find her. One of the things I find most beautiful about my plant work is that time and time again I am reminded that so much of the support I need I can get from cultivating relationships with the plants that are literally right outside my door. They are the “weeds” I never thought twice about until I knew to pay attention. And they have always been here for me, patiently waiting until I was ready, willing, and able to start taking notice. Another thing that I find profound and compelling is that don’t need a doctor as an intermediary, or any special degree, or any unique tools even, in order to access these plants and co-create relationships with them. I can get to know them all on my own and in my own time, and I can work with them in my life however makes the most sense for me. As someone who, for such a long time, was operating from a paradigm that left me really dependent on allopathic doctors and their pharmaceuticals, it is so empowering to find myself in the ever-unfolding process of recognizing that so much of what I need has always been right here for me.

It is for me a return to that long-forgotten sense of belonging to “something bigger.” It is a remembering of what it means to be connected with all things, and a knowing that these opportunities for connection and the healing they bring are always available to me anytime I choose to turn towards them. (The plants are always just outside my door, after all). I have learned that for me, symptoms of dis-ease tend to manifest when I have lost sight of these truths. Today when dis-ease surfaces it serves as a reminder to me to plug in and pay attention to the present in whatever ways feel manageable. And when I pay attention to the plants that are showing up around me in those moments I always feel better in some small way, and sometimes in big ways. Life happens in the present, connection happens in the present, and if I don’t tune in and turn towards the opportunities… I might miss the Motherwort in bloom and my chance to make my Motherwort medicine for the year. What are your tells–the signs that you are feeling disconnected? What might the present moment be inviting you to attend to?

Freshly tinctured flowering Motherwort tops. Photo: Leela Ehrhart

As always I am not making medical claims or giving medical advice here, just sharing my own lived experience. Keep in mind that lived experiences vary. Please do your own research about any herbs you might want to work with, and check in with a qualified provider especially if you have any medical conditions or are taking any pharmaceutical drugs. Spend some time not just reading about the plants you are interested in, but also meeting them on their terms–where they grow–if possible. Or see about growing them in your garden, in a pot on your front stoop, or even on a sunny windowsill. Get to know them and they will get to know you, too… and they just might change your life.

Below are links to a few additional resources as a place to start if you would like to learn more about Motherwort: