As its Latin name
suggests, motherwort has traditionally been used to treat heart conditions. The ancient Greeks and Romans employed motherwort to treat heart palpitations as well as depression, which they considered a problem of the heart. Centuries later, Europeans would believe motherwort helpful for "infirmities of the heart" but also considered the herb to have strengthening and stimulating effects on the uterus, using it to bring on a delayed menstrual period, as an aid during labor, and to relax a woman's womb after childbirth.
These uses of motherwort correspond well with those in traditional Chinese medicine, which employs the Asian variety,
Leonurus artemisia, to treat menstrual disorders or to help a woman expel a dead fetus and placenta from her womb.1 In eastern China, women still drink a syrup made from motherwort to promote the recovery of the uterus after childbirth; the herb has a strong bitter taste, so visitors to a recovering mother often bring along sugar as a gift.2
has authorized motherwort for the treatment of rapid or
stress, as well as part of an overall treatment plan for an overactive thyroid (
hyperthyroidism, a condition that also causes irregualr heartbeat).3
However, as yet there is no real evidence to support these uses of the herb. The best that can be said is that in one
test tube study motherwort slowed the beating of normal rat heart cells and inhibited the effects of substances that usually speed up heart cell contractions.4
Two other test tube studies suggest that leonurine, a compound found in some species of motherwort, may affect the uterus.5,6 One of these studies found that low concentrations of leonurine induced uterine contractions, but that higher concentrations inhibited contractions.7
These opposing effects might explain how motherwort could induce both labor and menstruation, and yet could also relax the uterus after childbirth (as it is traditionally said to do). However, until properly designed human studies are performed, we won't have any clear idea whether motherwort is actually safe or effective for these traditional uses.
One poorly designed study suggests that motherwort might improve blood circulation.8
Another study of equally low quality hints that motherwort might protect brain tissue in people who have had a
One component of motherwort, ursolic acid, has been found to possess possible antiviral and antitumor properties; however, this extremely preliminary preliminary information should not be taken to mean that motherwort can fight viral infections or help treat cancer.10,11
The Commission E recommends a dose of 4.5 g of dried herb daily, or the equivalent.
Note: Irregular or rapid heartbeat can be a sign of serious medical illness. Do not self-treat these conditions with motherwort except under medical supervision. Also, do not combine motherwort with other heart medications, as they might interact unpredictably.
The safety of motherwort has not been well studied; however, obvious side effects appear to be rare, except for occasional allergic reactions and gastrointestinal distress.
Because of the herb's traditional use for uterine stimulation and the corroborating results of some test tube studies,13,14
motherwort should not be used by pregnant women until further scientific investigation has been performed.
In addition, preliminary animal evidence suggests that women with a history of breast cancer, or those at high risk for developing it, should avoid motherwort.15
Safety in young children, nursing women, or people with severe liver or kidney disease has not been established.
Kong YC, Yeung HW, Cheung YM, et al
Isolation of the uterotonic principle from
Leonurus artemisia, the Chinese motherwort.
Am J Chin Med. 1976;4:373–382.
Blumenthal M, ed.
The Complete German Commission E Monographs, Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines.
Austin TX: American Botanical Council; Boston, Ma: Integrative Medicine Communications; 1998: 172.
Xia YX. The inhibitory effect of motherwort extract on pulsating myocardial cells in vitro.
J Tradit Chin Med. 1983;3:185–188.
Yeung HW, Kong YC, Lay WP, et al
The structure and biological effect of leonurine. A uterotonic principle from the Chinese drug, I-mu Ts'ao.
Planta Med. 1977;31:51–56.
Zou QZ, Bi RG, Li JM, et al
Effect of motherwort on blood hyperviscosity.
Am J Chin Med. 1989;17:65–70.
Kuang P, Zhou X, Zhang F, et al
Motherwort and cerebral ischemia.
J Tradit Chin Med. 1988;8:37–40.
Lee KH, Lin YM, Wu TS, et al. The cytotoxic principles of
Psychotria serpens, and
ursolic acid and related derivatives.
Planta Med. 1988;54:308–311.
Tokuda H, Ohigashi H, Koshimizu K, et al. Inhibitory effects of ursolic and oleanolic acid on skin tumor promotion by 12-O-tetradecanoylphorbol-13-acetate.
Cancer Lett. 1986;33:279–285.
Nagasawa H, Inatomi H, Suzuki M, et al
Further study on the effects of motherwort (
Leonurus sibiricus L) on preneoplastic and neoplastic mammary gland growth in multiparous GR/A mice.
Anticancer Res. 1992;12:141–144.
Last reviewed September 2014 by EBSCO CAM Review Board
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