Motherwort Nervine: Herb for the Heart and Mind

Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca) is an herbaceous perennial plant that has been used for centuries in traditional folk medicine across Europe, Asia, and North America. Also known as lion’s tail and lion’s ear, this mint family plant gets its common name from its traditional use as a healing tonic for women, especially mothers.

In recent decades, modern research has started to confirm many of the traditional therapeutic uses of motherwort. It turns out this unassuming weed that grows wild along roadsides has powerful effects on the nervous and circulatory systems.

Motherwort contains a unique combination of bioactive compounds that make it a potent nervine and heart tonic. From easing anxiety and calming the mind to regulating the female reproductive cycle and strengthening the heart, motherwort has far-reaching benefits throughout the body.

Key Active Compounds in Motherwort

The healing properties of motherwort can be attributed to its unique mix of bioactive compounds and antioxidants, including:

Leonurine: This alkaloid compound is only found in motherwort (Leonurus species) and is considered the main active ingredient. Leonurine has been shown in studies to have a calming, anti-anxiety effect by regulating the stress hormone cortisol. It also relaxes uterine muscles to relieve menstrual cramps.

Flavonoids: Motherwort contains high levels of antioxidant flavonoids like quercetin and rutin. These protect cells from oxidative damage and may account for some of motherwort’s anti-inflammatory and circulatory benefits.

Triterpenes: Ursolic acid, oleanolic acid and other triterpenes found in motherwort have hepatoprotective effects for the liver and may inhibit tumor growth.

Volatile oils: The essential oil components of motherwort, including n-hexadecanolide, have antispasmodic and sedative effects that can help relieve muscle tension.

This rich phytochemical profile gives motherwort a multifaceted influence over many bodily systems. But it’s most valued for its nervine and cardio-protective effects.

Motherwort as a Nervine: Calming Effects on the Mind and Nervous System

Herbalists classify motherwort as a nervine, meaning it has beneficial effects on the nervous system. In particular, motherwort has natural sedative and anxiolytic properties that calm the body and mind.

The main active ingredient responsible for motherwort’s nerve-soothing benefits is leonurine. Animal studies have found this unique alkaloid compound can have the following psycoactive effects:

  • Reduces levels of stress hormones like cortisol
  • Increases GABA, a calming neurotransmitter
  • Stabilizes mood-regulating serotonin levels
  • Has anti-anxiety effects similar to diazepam but without sedation

For this reason, motherwort has traditionally been used as a mild sedative and relaxing nervine for conditions like:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder and anxiousness
  • Insomnia
  • Nervous palpitations
  • Muscle tension, spasms or tics
  • Trauma/PTSD
  • Depression

Motherwort is also thought to have neuroprotective benefits; leonurine was observed to reduce neuroinflammation and oxidative damage in one animal study.

The herb’s anti-stress and antidepressant-like qualities can also help modulate the nervous system during withdrawal from medications, alcohol or narcotics. However, supervised medical detox is still recommended for serious addictions.

Motherwort for Women’s Health and Hormone Balance

Another major traditional use of motherwort is as a women’s herb to treat gynecological and menstrual disorders. It has the following female-specific benefits:

Regulating Menstruation

Motherwort acts as an emmenagogue – an herb that stimulates menstrual flow and activity. The alkaloid leonurine causes uterine contractions while also helping the uterus relax.

This makes motherwort useful for treating:

  • Amenorrhea (absence of menstruation)
  • Dysmenorrhea (painful periods)
  • Irregular menstrual cycles
  • Uterine cramps or pelvic pain
  • Recovery after childbirth

However, it should be avoided by pregnant women as it can potentially cause uterine stimulation.

Menopausal Support

Motherwort has been used traditionally to support women through hormonal shifts during perimenopause and menopause.

It may help minimize hot flashes, mood swings, irritability, anxiety, insomnia and other menopausal symptoms. This is thought to be due in part to its estrogen-like activity.

However, individuals with estrogen-receptor positive cancers or on hormone therapy should exercise caution with motherwort. Those on thyroid medication should also consult their doctor, as motherwort may interfere with thyroid hormones.

Potential Fertility Aid

Some herbalists recommend motherwort to treat infertility and recurrent miscarriages in women. It tones the uterus while also helping manage stress – two factors that can inhibit conception and pregnancy.

There is limited research on motherwort’s fertility effects so far. But its ability to strengthen uterine muscle and increase blood flow to the pelvis may improve conditions for implantation. As always, speak to your doctor about fertility treatment options.

In summary, motherwort can provide holistic gynecological and hormonal support throughout a woman’s life. But special considerations are needed during pregnancy, breastfeeding and for those undergoing cancer treatment.

Cardiovascular Benefits of Motherwort

With the Latin name Leonurus cardiaca, it’s no surprise this plant has a strong affinity for the heart. Motherwort contains antioxidant flavonoids that are beneficial for heart health.

  • Strengthens heart muscle
  • Improves circulation and blood flow
  • Reduces artery plaque
  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Protects against damage from restricted blood flow

Motherwort is used as a heart tonic for symptoms like:

  • Palpitations
  • Tachycardia (rapid heart rate)
  • Arrhythmia
  • High/low blood pressure
  • Stress-related heart issues
  • Recovery after heart attack or surgery
  • Mild heart failure

The herb’s antispasmodic effect helps relax the heart muscle and its sedative properties reduce anxiety that can trigger cardiac symptoms.

However, due to its effect on heart rate and blood pressure, it’s important to avoid motherwort with certain heart medications. Always speak to your cardiologist before using herbal supplements.

Other Potential Benefits and Uses of Motherwort

Beyond its most well-known effects on the nervous system and heart, motherwort has been used traditionally for various other conditions:

  • May have anti-tumor effects according to animal research
  • Antioxidant content offers liver protection; used for liver disorders
  • Promotes bile flow as a mild bitter digestive tonic
  • Anti-inflammatory effects may ease arthritis pain when applied topically
  • Diuretic properties help flush out toxins and excess fluids
  • Antispasmodic effect relaxes muscles; used for muscle spasms or tics
  • Mild vasodilating effect may help remedy cold hands/feet
  • Sedative qualities aid opiate withdrawal symptoms
  • Used topically for itchy skin conditions

These diverse benefits illustrate how motherwort is a balancing, restorative herb for many body systems. It’s especially strengthening during times of stress or major hormonal shifts in life.

How to Take Motherwort: Dosage Guidelines

Motherwort can be taken as a tea, liquid extract, capsule or powder supplement. It’s also used topically as an infused oil. Here are some dosage tips:


  • Use 2-4 grams dried herb per 1 cup water
  • Steep covered for 10 minutes
  • Drink 2-3 cups daily


  • Standard dose is 2-5 mL (40-150 drops) taken 2-3 times per day
  • Use a lower 1 mL dose if taking for heart palpitations
  • Add drops to water or directly into mouth


  • Take 300-600 mg daily of a standardized extract
  • Look for a product standardized to at least 0.8% leonurine
  • Take capsules with food to increase absorption

It may take 2-6 weeks of consistent use to feel the full effects of motherwort. Larger doses around 500-1000 mg may be used short-term for acute anxiety but are not recommended long-term.

Is Motherwort Safe? Side Effects and Precautions

For most people, motherwort is very safe when used appropriately. Side effects are mild but may include:

  • Diarrhea or loose stools
  • Contact dermatitis with topical use
  • Uterine bleeding if taken in very high doses
  • Potential thyroid effects

Motherwort should be avoided by:

  • Pregnant or breastfeeding women
  • Those trying to conceive due to possible uterine stimulation
  • People undergoing hormone therapy or with estrogen receptor positive cancers
  • Those taking thyroid medication due to potential interference
  • Individuals taking blood pressure or heart medications should consult their doctor before using

While motherwort is very safe in moderation, high doses may cause rapid heart rate or arrhythmia in some very sensitive individuals. Start with low doses and discontinue use if palpitations develop.

Always consult your physician before starting any herbal supplements, especially if you have an underlying medical condition or take any medications.

A Nerve and Hormone-Balancing Herb

While it may not yet be a mainstream herbal remedy, motherwort has a long history of traditional use across many cultures. Modern research is now confirming its unique health benefits, especially as a soothing nervine and women’s herb.

With antispasmodic, sedative and hormone-regulating properties, motherwort can provide natural relief for many conditions related to anxiety, female reproductive issues and heart health. Its ability to bring calm during times of stress and transition makes it especially beneficial for today’s fast-paced world.

Yet, motherwort is potent so should still be treated with care and respect. Follow dosage guidelines carefully and consult your doctor before using if you have any medical conditions or take medications.

When used appropriately by the right individuals, motherwort may just become your new favorite herb for soothing frazzled nerves, quieting racing thoughts and supporting graceful transitions through life’s phases as a woman. This humble wildflower has earned its name as a loving botanical ally to mothers and women of all ages.