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Background & General Info

Motherwort, or Leonurus cardiaca, is a perennial plant indigenous to central Europe and Scandinavia. However, it has been productively introduced to North America and has become widespread in areas spanning from temperate Russia to central Asia, where it has established itself locally in well-drained gardens, ruins, roadsides, waste ground, and rubbish dumps. Both the common and scientific names of this plant connote its ethnobotanical relevance as a medicinal herb with connection to “Motherhood” or the labor process and the heart: the English name “Motherwort” designates its role as an efficacious womb remedy and facilitator of childbirth owing to its relaxant and uterotonic effects attributed to its alkaloids. [1] The genus name Leonurus from the plant’s binomial, Leonurus cardiaca, derives from the Greek terms “leon” and “ouros,” meaning “lion” and “tail,” respectively, because of motherwort’s somehow resemblance to the lion’s tail, whereas the species name cardiaca relates to motherwort’s well-researched impact on heart function, blood pressure, and palpitation. [2]


Motherwort is an upright prickly bush that reaches a height of up to 30–120 cm. The plant blooms from late June to August when hairy, pale pink to purple flowers form in whorls of 6 to 12, alternating up the squarish stems with leaves. The irregular zygomorphic corolla is fused, bilabiate, and long-tubed, whereas the bell-shaped calyx is five-veined and five-lobed. The wedge-shaped three-point basal leaves and five-point upper leaves are opposite, stalked, and with serrated margins; the sparsely haired top of ovate–cordate leaf blades is dark green, whereas the underside is light gray. [3]

History & Traditional Use

The first description of motherwort in medicinal literature as a remedy for healing nervous ailments and functional cardiac disorders dates back to the 10th century. [4] Since the glorious period of the early Greeks, motherwort is prescribed to overly anxious pregnant women. [2] Motherwort preparations are used in the treatment of cardiac symptoms of neurosis, hypertension, and cardiac failure in Germany, France, Russia, Hungary, Lithuania and other European countries where motherwort is common. [5] In Indian traditional medicinal systems, motherwort is prevalently advised for weaknesses, for alleviating nervous irritability and inducing calmness and passivity of the entire nervous system, as an anti-pyretic, and as a heart-strengthening remedy against heart palpitations, especially on a weak heart. [6] In ancient China, motherwort could allegedly lengthen one’s lifespan; an old wives’ tale even mentions townspeople living for over 130 years in a municipality whose stream flowed through banks of motherwort. [2] The Ayurvedic system of medicine expressly specifies motherwort as a tonic, laxative, anti-pyretic, astringent, febrifuge, and strong purgative that can be incredibly helpful in the management of heart diseases, migraine, skin conditions, jaundice, piles, rheumatism, ulcers, asthma, diabetes, inflammations, and chest and liver complaints. [6]

General Herbal Uses

Taken internally, motherwort extracts are conventionally used as treatment of nervous heart conditions and digestive disorders, as well as bronchial asthma, climacteric symptoms, and amenorrhea. It can also be applied externally on wounds and skin inflammations. Mild negative chronotropic, hypotonic, and sedative effects have also been attributed to motherwort and its preparations, [7] as well as a number of other interesting biological activities, for example, hypotensive, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial activities. [8]

As an infusion, 1–2 teaspoons of dried motherwort is mixed with a cup of boiling water, plus sugar or honey to mask the bitter taste. Two cups of this infusion can be consumed daily. One can also try half or one teaspoonful of motherwort tincture twice a day. [2]

Constituents/Active Components

According to the 7th edition of European Pharmacopoeia, the aerial parts of motherwort harvested and collected during the flowering period and dried at 35 °C contain at least 0.2% flavonoids, expressed as hyperoside. Monoterpenes, diterpenes, triterpenes, nitrogen-containing compounds, phenylpropanoids, flavonoids, and phenolic acids, as well as volatile oils, sterols, and tannins, are among the compounds detected in motherwort. [7]

Agnihotri et al. (2008) detected three new labdane-type diterpenes, namely, 15-O-ethylleopersin C, 15-O-methylleopersin C, and 15-EPI-O-methylleopersin C, from the ethanol extract of motherwort leaves. [9] Analysis by gas chromatography and gas chromatography–mass spectrometry identified forty-one components in the essential oil from the dried aerial parts of motherwort, which include, as the major constituents, epi-cedrol (9.7%), α-humulene (9.2%), dehydro-1,8-cineole (8.9%), germacrene D (8.9%), and spathulenol (8.8%). [10] Mazooji et al. (2012) similarly analyzed the composition of essential oil from the aerial parts of a motherwort endemic to Iran and recognized forty-six compounds representing 90.03 % of the essential oil, the chief ones being thymol (35.25%), germacrene D (7.62%), borneol (6.69%), trans-caryophyllene (4.83%), γ-guaiol acetate (4.43%), phytol (4.10%), and β-phellandrene (2.85%), as depicted in the table below: [4]

Motherwort Compounds

Medicinal/Scientific Research

Several of motherwort’s putative health-promoting benefits are backed up by scientific evidence from a number of pharmacological studies, including its antibacterial, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and analgesic properties as well as its cardiovascular effects, with sedative and hypotensive activity having been revealed in clinical trials. [7]


Motherwort can be utilized as a complementary tonic to boost cardiovascular function and blood circulation and has been used traditionally for its sedative, hypotensive, and cardiotonic effects. Lavandulifolioside, a glycoside first isolated from the butanolic extract of aerial parts of motherwort by Miłkowska-Leyck, Filipek, and Strzelecka (2002), has pharmacological properties related to cardiac health, such as significant negative chronotropism, prolongation of the P–Q and Q-T intervals and QRS complex, and reduction of blood pressure. [11] The results of Bernatoniene et al. (2014) demonstrated the utility of motherwort extract in protecting heart muscles from the harmful effects of pathogenic processes. Quantitatively determined polyphenols and constituents (chlorogenic acid, orientin, quercetin, hyperoside, and rutin) of an herb extract prepared from motherwort aerial parts in ethanol uncouple mitochondrial oxidation from phosphorylation by 20–90 %, partially suppress the mitochondrial respiratory chain by approximately 40 % during pyruvate, malate, and succinate oxidation, and efficiently attenuate free radical generation in the mitochondria, which are the main producers of ATP in cardiac muscle cells. The study suggests partial uncoupling of mitochondria, respiratory inhibition, and decreased ROS production as possible cardioprotective mechanisms. [5]

Aqueous extracts from the aerial parts of motherwort have long been remedially used against tachyarrhythmia and other cardiac disorders, which of late, has been of great pharmacological relevance because numerous antiarrhythmic drugs of chemical origin often come along with adverse effects and inherited proarrhythmic risk. A bioassay-guided fractionation procedure was performed by Ritter et al. (2010) to augment the active components from the primary extract tested (aqueous Soxhlet extract) and to get rid of unwanted substances such as the dichloromethanic fraction or potassium. This procedure led to the development of motherwort refined extract, which was then intracoronarily applied in isolated hearts of rabbits that were perfused following the Langendorff method. As revealed in mapping experiments using 256 electrodes on the heart surface, left ventricular pressure decreased and relative coronary flow increased at concentrations of 1.0 and 2.0 mg/mL of motherwort refined extract, and prolonged PQ-interval and an increase in both basic cycle length and activation recovery interval were observed. In voltage-clamp measurements conducted to describe the electrophysiological profile of the refined extract, a calcium-antagonistic activity was found for motherwort refined extract by I(Ca.L) blockade, reduced repolarizing current I(K.r), and prolonged AP duration. The extract had also lengthened the activation time constant of I(f), although it had demonstrated only weak effects on the I(f) amplitude and voltage dependence. Overall, these findings illustrated that motherwort refined extract operates on various electrophysiological targets, specifically I(Ca.L), I(K.r), and I(f), at both whole organ and single cell levels. [12]

Shikov et al. (2011) validated the cardiovascular efficacy of motherwort oil extract as a potential therapeutic agent in patients clinically diagnosed with arterial hypertension and concurrent psychoneurological disorders. Motherwort oil extract, at a dose of 1200 mg, was administered to 50 patients with arterial hypertension at stages 1 and 2 as well as anxiety and sleep disorders on a daily basis for 28 days. In this study, the stage 1 hypertension patients presented positive effects as regards psycho-emotional status and arterial blood pressure 1 week earlier than stage 2 hypertension patients and based on the Clinical Global Impression (CGI) scale, 32%, 48%, and 8% of patients exhibited significant, moderate, and weak improvement, respectively, in terms of anxiety and depression symptoms, with the remaining 12% showing no response to therapy. All groups however shared minimal side effects. [13]

Through instrumental high-performance thin layer chromatography and 1H-qNMR analyses, 0.6 to 1.5 % of stachydrine has been detected and quantified from the aerial parts of motherwort, and 6.7% from the antiarrhythmic refined extract of motherwort. Stachydrine is potentially pharmacologically valuable because of its cardiovascular, hypotensive, and tissue-protective effects [14] and ameliorates the injury of human umbilical vein endothelial cells triggered by anoxia–reoxygenation through a mechanism related to the inhibition of tissue factor expression. [15]


Motherwort herbal preparations can prove helpful as an effective preventive means and remedy against diseases associated with oxidative stress. Bernatoniene et al. (2009) had quantitatively analyzed the fluid extracts of maidenhair tree, motherwort, and hawthorn and explored their antioxidant activity and ability to inactivate free radicals. In the DPPH* radical scavenging reaction system, the fluid extract of motherwort exhibited the highest antioxidant activity among the three studied medicinal plants, with a radical scavenging capacity manifestation of 84.89 ± 0.18%. [16] In a 2008 Czech study that investigated and compared the antioxidant activities of two tinctures derived from hawthorn fruits and motherwort herb, the results demonstrated ability to quench radicals and oxygen and nitrogen reactive forms by both tinctures screened, although motherwort herb tincture was considered more effective. The total polyphenol content of motherwort herb tincture was higher by 163 % than the hawthorn fruit tincture. [17]


Todkari, Sawadadkar, Chaware, and Biyani (2014) evinced the anticonvulsant activity of a methanol extract acquired from the dried and powdered leaves of motherwort against convulsions in Swiss albino mice induced by pentylenetetrazol (PTZ). In this study, all mice were segregated into four groups comprising six mice each and were intraperitoneally injected with PTZ at a dose of 65mg/kg: group 1 acted as a toxic control, with the PTZ given intraperitoneally at 65mg/kg; group 2 was orally pretreated with 4mg/kg of diazepam; and groups 3 and 4 were orally pretreated with the methanol extract of motherwort leaves at a dose of 100 mg/kg and 200mg/kg, respectively, for 7 days. A marked reduction in the duration of clonic convulsions and a delayed onset of PTZ-induced convulsions were observed in the groups receiving the methanol extract of motherwort leaves, the results having been expressed as mean ± SEM. The methanol extract of motherwort leaves produced a protective effect in all mice examined, indicating that this methanol extract exerts its depressant action in the central nervous system (CNS) as a result of its involvement in GABAAergic transmission, since PTZ is a selective GABA receptor antagonist. Some biomolecules in motherwort seem to cause CNS depression and anticonvulsant action after blocking D1 and D2 receptors or facilitating GABA transmission. Due to the antagonistic effect of motherwort extract against PTZ-induced seizures, which is comparable with the reference drug diazepam, the study extends the value of motherwort to the management of human generalized myoclonic seizures. [6]


The research data of Flemmig et al. (2015) somewhat clarifies the anti-inflammatory properties of motherwort extracts, which were characterized through ascertainment of their polyphenolic contents using reversed phase-HPLC separation and quantification. Hypothiocyanite, the bactericidal product formed in this study, contributes to the humoral immune defense against pathogens and its production may regulate inflammatory reactions. The study demonstrated that motherwort extracts encourage the production of hypothiocyanite by lactoperoxidase, a natural antibacterial enzyme, and motherwort’s phenolic compounds such as caffeic acid derivatives and phenylethanoids serve as efficient lactoperoxidase activity regenerators. [18]


Infective endocarditis, an often fatal disease causing inflammation of the inner heart tissues, is typically caused by Staphylococcus aureus. Since motherwort exhibits antimicrobial, antiplatelet, immunomodulatory, and other activities beneficial to the heart and cardiovascular system, Micota et al. (2014) objectively evaluated the impact of motherwort extract and one of its constituents, ursolic acid, on the adhesive properties of S. aureus NCTC 8325 strain. The study demonstrated the inhibitory effects of motherwort extract and ursolic acid on staphylococcal adherence to both types of surface, as shown in microplate Alamar Blue assay, which, in the case of ursolic acid, led to markedly decreased biofilm formation. As specified by a standard microdilution broth assay, the MICs of motherwort extract and ursolic acid were 6 mg/mL and 0.25 mg/mL, respectively, against the studied S. aureus strain. The percentage of inhibition of adherence to uncoated wells of polystyrene plates ranged from 14.2% to 72.4%, and there was a diminished specific adherence of the tested bacteria to the microplate wells holding immobilized extracellular matrix (ECM) proteins such that, in a concentration of ¾ MIC, ursolic acid restricted the adhesion of the bacteria to collagen-coated wells, fibronectin-coated wells, and fibrinogen-coated surface by 73.2%, 58.8%, and 65.9%, respectively. Aside from their anti-staphylococcal activity, motherwort extract and ursolic acid may also modulate platelet functions and change properties of fibrinogen, which is a key protein in blood coagulation. The destabilized adherence of S. aureus as a result of motherwort in culture medium beneficially leads to a statistically significant decrease in the metabolic potency of bacterial mass (biofilm) occurring after one day of incubation. [19]

Pain Relief

The study results of Rezaee-Asl, Sabour, Nikoui, Ostadhadi, and Bakhtiarian (2014) indicated the central and peripheral antinociceptive actions or analgesic activity of an alcoholic extract prepared from the aerial parts of motherwort. Using formalin, tail flick, and hot plate tests in mice, the acute treatment of mice with an intraperitoneally administered motherwort ethanol extract at doses of 500 and 250 mg/kg resulted in marked antinociception during the first and second phases of formalin test, respectively. In addition, the hot plate and tail flick tests demonstrated an increase in antinociceptive effect at a dose of 500 mg/kg. [8]

Postpartum Hemorrhage

A 2009 randomized, single-blind multicenter study verified the safety and effectiveness of motherwort injection and oxytocin for preventing postpartum hemorrhage after a cesarean section. This prospective study enrolled 440 Chinese women from 15 teaching hospitals into three groups: The first group comprised 147 cases who received 40 mg of motherwort uterine injection during a cesarean section and 20 mg of motherwort given intramuscularly. The second group on the other hand included 144 cases that were provided with 40 mg of motherwort and 10 U of oxytocin uterine injection during a cesarean section and intramuscularly injected 20 mg of motherwort. The last group involved 149 cases who had been administered with 10 U of oxytocin uterine injection and 10 U of oxytocin + 500 mL of 5% glucose intravenously injected during operation and 10 U of oxytocin intramuscular injection. All treatments for these three groups were given every 12 hours for three times after a cesarean section. The results indicated a significant difference (p < 0.01) among three groups in terms of mean amount of blood loss during operation, with 368 ± 258 mL, 255 ± 114 mL, and 269 ± 141 mL for the first, second, and third groups, respectively. Additionally, a significant difference (p < 0.01) with respect to the amount of postpartum blood loss at 24 hours was observed, with 480 ± 276 mL, 361 ± 179 mL, and 381 ± 179 mL for the first, second, and third groups, respectively. There is also a statistical difference (p < 0.01) between the lowest incidence rate of postpartum hemorrhage (11.1%) in the group receiving both motherwort and oxytocin and the highest rate (32.0%) in the group administered with motherwort alone. A comparison of different RBC and Hb values between the groups treated with oxytocin alone and motherwort and oxytocin revealed a significant difference (p < 0.05). Two cases of allergic reaction to treatment were also reported by this study. [20]

Contraindications, Interactions, And Safety

Motherwort is generally safe for most people, especially when taken at appropriate doses. Consumption of over 3 grams of a powdered extract of motherwort has been said to possibly lead to diarrhea, uterine bleeding, and stomach irritation, [21] so it has been highly suggested that the tea or infusion should be administered at the right dosage since large quantities can be poisonous. [3] Sensitive individuals with known allergy to motherwort leaves may occasionally experience skin dermatitis upon touching the plant, and as the ingestion of motherwort may ensue a possible anti-clotting effect, those diagnosed with clotting disorders should best avoid it. [2] Pregnant women are also cautioned against taking motherwort due to the possibility of stimulation of the uterus, leading to a miscarriage. Very little is known about how motherwort can likely affect lactation, so breastfeeding women should still stay on the safe side and avoid using it.


[1] D. Mockutë, G. Bernotienë and A. Judþentienë, "Storage-induced changes in essential oil composition of Leonurus cardiaca L. plants growing wild in Vilnius and of commercial herbs," Chemija, vol. 16, no. 2, p. 29–32, 2005.

[2] Herbalpedia, "Motherwort," The Herb Growing & Marketing Network, 2000.

[3] "Motherwort: Leonurus cardiaca," NatureGate, 2016.

[4] A. Mazooji, F. Salimpour, M. Danaei, S. Darzikolaei and K. Shirmohammadi, "The quantitative comparison of essential oil composition of an Iranian endemic plant [Leonurus cardiaca L. subsp. persicus (Boiss.) Rech. F.] vs. previous studied population," Annals of Biological Research, vol. 3, no. 2, p. 1117–1124, 2012.

[5] J. Bernatoniene, D. Kopustinskiene, V. Jakstas, D. Majiene, et al., "The effect of Leonurus cardiaca herb extract and some of its flavonoids on mitochondrial oxidative phosphorylation in the heart," Planta Medica, vol. 80, no. 7, p. 525–532, 2014.

[6] P. Todkari, N. Sawadadkar, V. Chaware and K. Biyani, "Evaluation of anti-convulsant activity of methanolic extract of leaves of Leonurus cardiaca against pentylenetetrazole induced convulsions in mice," World Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences, vol. 2, no. 10, p. 1350–1352, 2014.

[7] K. Wojtyniak, M. Szymański and I. Matławska, "Leonurus cardiaca L. (motherwort): a review of its phytochemistry and pharmacology," Phytotherapy Research, vol. 27, no. 8, p. 1115–1120, 2013.

[8] M. Rezaee-Asl, M. Sabour, V. Nikoui, S. Ostadhadi and A. Bakhtiarian, "The study of analgesic effects of Leonurus cardiaca L. in mice by formalin, tail flick and hot plate tests," International Scholarly Research Notices, vol. 2014, p. 687697, 2014.

[9] V. Agnihotri, H. Elsohly, T. Smillie, I. Khan and L. Walker, "New labdane diterpenes from Leonurus cardiaca," Planta Medica, vol. 74, no. 10, p. 1288–1290, 2008.

[10] K. Morteza-Semnani, M. Saeedi and M. Akbarzad, "The essential oil composition of Leonurus cardiaca L.," Journal of Essential Oil Research, vol. 20, no. 2, p. 107–109, 2008.

[11] K. Miłkowska-Leyck, B. Filipek and H. Strzelecka, "Pharmacological effects of lavandulifolioside from Leonurus cardiaca," Journal of Ethnopharmacology, vol. 80, no. 1, p. 85–90, 2002.

[12] M. Ritter, K. Melichar, S. Strahler, K. Kuchta, et al., "Cardiac and electrophysiological effects of primary and refined extracts from Leonurus cardiaca L. (Ph.Eur.)," Planta Medica, vol. 76, no. 6, p. 572–582, 2010.

[13] A. Shikov, O. Pozharitskaya, V. Makarov, D. Demchenko and E. Shikh, "Effect of Leonurus cardiaca oil extract in patients with arterial hypertension accompanied by anxiety and sleep disorders," Phytotherapy Research, vol. 25, no. 4, p. 540–543, 2011.

[14] K. Kuchta, R. Volk and H. Rauwald, "Stachydrine in Leonurus cardiaca, Leonurus japonicus, Leonotis leonurus: detection and quantification by instrumenttal HPTLC and 1H-qNMR analyses," Pharmazie, vol. 68, no. 7, p. 534–540, 2013.

[15] J. Yin, Z. Zhang, W. Yu, et al., "Stachydrine, a major constituent of the Chinese herb leonurus heterophyllus sweet, ameliorates human umbilical vein endothelial cells injury induced by anoxia-reoxygenation," American Journal of Chinese Medicine, vol. 38, no. 1, p. 157–171, 2010.

[16] J. Bernatoniene, A. Kucinskaite, R. Masteikova, Z. Kalveniene, G. Kasparaviciene and A. Savickas, "The comparison of anti-oxidative kinetics in vitro of the fluid extract from maidenhair tree, motherwort and hawthorn," Acta Poloniae Pharmaceutica – Drug Research, vol. 66, no. 4, p. 415–421, 2009.

[17] R. Masteiková, J. Muselík, et al., "Antioxidant activity of tinctures prepared from hawthorn fruits and motherwort herb," Ceská a Slovenská Farmacie, vol. 57, no. 1, p. 35–38, 2008.

[18] J. Flemmig, I. Noetzel, J. Arnhold and H.-W. Rauwald, "Leonurus cardiaca L. herb extracts and their constituents promote lactoperoxidase activity," Journal of Functional Foods, vol. 17, p. 328–339, 2015.

[19] B. Micota, B. Sadowska, A. Podsędek, M. Redzynia and B. Różalska, "Leonurus cardiaca L. herb--a derived extract and an ursolic acid as the factors affecting the adhesion capacity of Staphylococcus aureus in the context of infective endocarditis," Acta Biochimica Polonica, vol. 61, no. 2, p. 385–388, 2014.

[20] J. Lin, Q. Lin, X. Liu, J. Yan, J. He, et al., "Multi-center study of motherwort injection to prevent postpartum hemorrhage after caesarian section," Zhonghua Fu Chan Ke Za Zhi, vol. 44, no. 3, p. 175–178, 2009.

[21] M. McGuffin, Botanical Safety Handbook, Boca Raton, Florida: CRC Press, 1997, p. 68–69.

Article researched and created by Dan Albir for © 2018

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