FWD 2 Expanded Commission E: Motherwort herb

Herbal Medicine: Expanded Commission E

Motherwort herb

Latin Name: Leonurus cardiaca
Pharmacopeial Name: Leonuri cardiacae herba
Other Names: common motherwort


Motherwort's several species are native to temperate regions of Europe and Asia and grow wild in Canada and the United States (Foster, 1993). For therapeutic purposes, the species are generally interchangeable (Newall et al., 1996). As its name implies, motherwort was used by the people in these geographical regions as a folk remedy for female reproductive disorders. It was also used for certain types of heart conditions, as the Latin word cardiaca indicates. Today, it is recommended by herbalists and Commission E for heart palpitations occurring with anxiety attacks or other nervous disorders (Foster, 1993).

Although current clinical research is lacking, earlier studies demonstrated hypotensive and negatively chronotropic effects on laboratory animals. Sedative actions and protective effects during cerebral ischemia were reported (Bradley, 1992), and alcohol extracts of motherwort were noted to have direct myocardial actions, inhibiting the effects of calcium chloride and stimulating alpha and beta adrenoceptors (Newall et al., 1996). Alkaloids in the plant depress the central nervous system and lower blood pressure in preliminary testing, and are considered responsible for these effects (Bradley, 1992). However, these studies are exploratory. Further research may determine the usefulness of motherwort, or its possible detrimental effects. Of concern are its uterine-stimulant and myocardial effects, and how it will interact with concurrent cardiac medications.

Motherwort's uterine stimulant effects were recognized by native Americans. The Delaware, Micmac, Modheman, and Shinnecock tribes used motherwort to treat gynecological disorders (Moerman, 1998), as did the nineteenth century Eclectic physicians. Indications included difficult, painful, or absent menstruation, and especially for anxiety occurring along with it (Ellingwood, 1983). One alkaloid in particular, leonurine, is uterotonic in vitro, and another, stacydrine, may stimulate the release of oxytocin (Newall et al., 1996); both actions support the use of motherwort for menstrual disorders. The herb was also a noted antispasmodic and laxative (Hutchens, 1991). Native Americans, herbalists, and the Eclectic physicians used motherwort for delirium tremens, typhoid fever, disturbed sleep, minor gastrointestinal distress, heart palpitations (Ellingwood, 1983), rheumatism, goiter, epilepsy, and high blood pressure (Hutchens, 1991).

In the Middle Ages, motherwort was a remedy for fainting and other symptoms of nervousness or weakness due to emotional excitement or illness. It was also used to protect individuals from evil spirits. In the late sixteenth century, the English herbalist John Gerard noted its effectiveness in treating cardiac weakness, and while his successor, Nicholas Culpepper, recommended it for chest colds, intestinal worms, and aches and pains, he emphasized motherwort's ability to make the mind cheerful (Grieve, 1979).


Motherwort herb consists of the aboveground parts of Leonurus cardiaca L. [Fam. Lamiaceae], gathered during flowering season, and their preparations in effective dosage. The preparation contains alkaloids (stachydrine), glycosides of bitter principles, and bufenolide.

Chemistry and Pharmacology

Constituents include alkaloids (stachydrine, betonicine, turicin, leonurine, leonuridin, and leonurinine), flavonoids (glycosides of apigenin, kaempferol, and quercetin), iridoids (ajugol, ajugoside, galiridoside, and leonurid), tannins (pseudotannins: pyrogallol and catechins), terpenoids (volatile oil, resin, wax, ursolic acid, leocardin, and a diterpene lactone similar to marrubiin), and triterpenes (ursolic acid) (Bradley, 1992; Newall et al., 1996). Other constituents include citric acid, malic acid, oleic acid, bitter principles, carbohydrates, choline, and a phenolic glycoside (caffeic acid 4-rutinoside) (Brieskorn, 1972; Tschesche et al., 1980).

Studies have found that ursolic acid has demonstrated tumor-inhibiting, antiviral, cardioactive, and cytotoxic properties (Kuo-Hsiung et al., 1988; Tokuda et al., 1986; Yanxing, 1983). An in vitro study found that ursolic acid acted similarly to retinoic acid, a known tumor inhibitor. In mice, it inhibited the Epstein-Barr virus and tumor production (Tokuda et al., 1986). Motherwort demonstrated cytotoxicity during an in vitro study on lymphocytic leukemia, KB cells, human lung carcinoma, mammary tumors and human colon (Kuo-Hsiung et al., 1988). The alkaloids in motherwort may contribute to the activity of the herb: leonurine produces central nervous depressant and hypotensive effects in animals and stachydrine may be involved (Bradley, 1992).


The Commission E approved motherwort herb for nervous cardiac disorders and as an adjuvant for thyroid hyperfunction. It has been used as a sedative, hypotensive, cardiotonic, and antispasmodic (Bradley, 1992; Newall et al., 1996). The herb has been given to patients who have neuropathic cardiac disorders and cardiac complaints of nervous origin (Bradley, 1992). Traditionally it has been used for cardiac debility, simple tachycardia, effort syndrome, amenorrhea, and cardiac symptoms associated with neurosis.


None known.

Side Effects

None known.

Use During Pregnancy and Lactation

Not recommended during pregnancy. No restrictions known during lactation.

Interactions with Other Drugs

None known.

Dosage and Administration

Unless otherwise prescribed: 4.5 g per day of cut herb.

Infusion: 4.5 g of herb in 150 ml water.

Fluidextract 1:1 (g/ml): 4.5 ml.

Tincture 1:5 (g/ml): 22.5 ml.

Note: The Botanical Safety Handbook states, 'A dose in excess of 3.0 grams of a powdered extract may cause diarrhea, uterine bleeding, and stomach irritation' (McGuffin et al., 1997).


Bradley, P.R. (ed.). 1992. British Herbal Compendium, Vol. 1. Bournemouth: British Herbal Medicine Association.

Brieskorn, C.H. and W. Broschek. 1972. Analysis of bitter principles and furanoid compounds of Leonurus cardiaca L. Pharm Acta Helv 47(2):123132.

Ellingwood, F. 1983. American Materia Medica, Therapeutics and Pharmacognosy. Portland, OR: Eclectic Medical Publications [reprint of 1919 original].

Foster, S. 1993. Herbal Renaissance: Growing, Using and Understanding Herbs in the Modern World. Salt Lake City: Gibbs-Smith.

Grieve, M. 1979. A Modern Herbal. New York: Dover Publications, Inc.

Hutchens, A. 1991. Indian Herbology of North America. Boston: Shambala.

Kuo-Hsiung, L. et al. 1988. The cytotoxic principles of Prunella vulgaris, Psychotria serpens, and Hyptis capitata: Ursolic acid and related derivatives. Planta Med (54):308.

McGuffin, M., C. Hobbs, R. Upton, A. Goldberg. 1997. American Herbal Product Association's Botanical Safety Handbook. Boca Raton: CRC Press.

Moerman, D.E. 1998 Native American Ethnobotany. Portland, OR: Timber Press.

Newall, C.A., L.A. Anderson, J.D. Phillipson. 1996. Herbal Medicines: A Guide for Health-Care Professionals. London: The Pharmaceutical Press.

Tokuda, H., H. Ohigashi, K. Koshimizu, Y. Ito. 1986. Inhibitory effects of ursolic and oleanolic acid on skin tumor promotion by 12-O-tetradecanoylphorbol-13-acetate. Cancer Lett 33(3):279285.

Tschesche, R. et al. 1980. Caffeic acid 4-rutinoside from Leonurus cardiaca. Phytochemistry 19: 2783.

Yanxing, X. 1983. The inhibitory effect of motherwort extract on pulsating myocardial cells in vitro. J Tradit Chin Med 3(3):185188.

Additional Resources

Benigni, R., C. Capra, P.E. Cattorini. 1964. Piante MedicinaliChimica, Farmacologia e Terapia, Vol. 2. Milan: Inverni & Della Beffa.

British Herbal Pharmacopoeia (BHP).1983. Keighley, U.K.: British Herbal Medicine Association.

. 1990. Bournemouth, U.K.: British Herbal Medicine Association.

Kong, Y.C. et al. 1976. Isolation of the uterotonic principle from Leonurus cardiaca, the Chinese motherwort. Am J Chin Med 4(4):373382.

Kuang, P.G., X.F. Zhou, F.Y. Zhang, S.Y. Lang. 1988. Motherwort and cerebral ischemia. J Tradit Chin Med 8(1):3740.

Nahrstedt, A. 1985. Drogen und Phytopharmaka mit sedierender Wirkung. Z Phytotherapie (6):101109.

Reuter, G. and H.J. Diehl. 1970. Arzneipflanzen der gattung Leonurus und ihre wirkstoffe [Medicinal plants of species Leonurus and their active substances]. Pharmazie 25(10):586589.

Schultz, O.E. and M. Alhyane. 1973. Inhaltsstoffe von Leonurus cardiaca L. Sci Pharm (41):149155.

State Pharmacopoeia of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, 10th ed. 1973. [English edition]. Moscow: Ministry of Health of the U.S.S.R.

Yeung, H.W. et al. 1977. The structure and biological effect of leonurine. A uterotonic principle from the Chinese drug, I-mu Ts'ao. Planta Med 31(1):5156.

This material was adapted from The Complete German Commission E MonographsTherapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. M. Blumenthal, W.R. Busse, A. Goldberg, J. Gruenwald, T. Hall, C.W. Riggins, R.S. Rister (eds.) S. Klein and R.S. Rister (trans.). 1998. Austin: American Botanical Council; Boston: Integrative Medicine Communications.

1) The Overview section is new information.

2) Description, Chemistry and Pharmacology, Uses, Contraindications, Side Effects, Interactions with Other Drugs, and Dosage sections have been drawn from the original work. Additional information has been added in some or all of these sections, as noted with references.

3) The dosage for equivalent preparations (tea infusion, fluidextract, and tincture) have been provided based on the following example:

  • Unless otherwise prescribed: 2 g per day of [powdered, crushed, cut or whole] [plant part]
  • Infusion: 2 g in 150 ml of water
  • Fluidextract 1:1 (g/ml): 2 ml
  • Tincture 1:5 (g/ml): 10 ml

4) The References and Additional Resources sections are new sections. Additional Resources are not cited in the monograph but are included for research purposes.

This monograph, published by the Commission E in 1994, was modified based on new scientific research. It contains more extensive pharmacological and therapeutic information taken directly from the Commission E.

Excerpt from Herbal Medicine: Expanded Commission E Monographs
Copyright 2000 American Botanical Council
Published by Integrative Medicine Communications
Available from the American Botanical Council.