The common and botanical name of this plant are key indicators of its modern and traditional usage. Motherwort (= ‘mother plant’) is an indicator of its traditional usage to support female health, particularly menstrual and uterine based conditions affecting fertility and conception. The Latin specific ‘cardiaca’ (and the German common name Herzgespann) is indicative of the plants affinity for treating heart based disorders, particularly where the condition may be exacerbated by emotional stress. The botanical name, Leonurus, given to the plant by the leading plant taxonomist Linnaeus, reflected an early common association and name: ‘Lion’s tail’.
Interestingly in both Europe and China (which has a similar species Leonurus heterophyllus) the use of motherwort is to regulate periods and to treat associated menstrual conditions. They also have similar meaning to their names; known as ‘yi mu cao’ in Chinese, also meaning ‘healing mother herb’. It has a persistent reputation to improve mood. The mediaeval English herbalist Nicholas Culpeper considered motherwort useful for removing melancholy vapours from the heart and improving cheerfulness.
Motherwort is associated with calming anxiety symptoms, especially those felt in the chest. The key to understanding this reputation is to see it as the herbal accompaniment to a good breathing exercise and with a focus on reducing tension in the diaphragm. This large muscle is our breathing bellows, and should move smoothly and expansively with each breath. So think of this herb as a tea if you are prone to heart palpitations, hyperventilation, hiatus hernia and swallowing difficulties, if any of these seem to have anxiety as an origin.
In women, motherwort is classed as a uterine tonic and can help regulate the menstrual cycle, again especially where this has been influenced by anxiety and/or tension. Similarly, it can relax excess tension and stress during the menopause.