Motherwort is a herb that just like stinging nettle can be considered a weed. It grows wild in many areas, particularly near streams and rivers. But it can spread anywhere, from abandoned gardens to deep in the woods. If you find it in your area you can always forage the plant where no chemicals or pesticides are applied. Otherwise you can opt to include it in your medicinal herb garden.
The scientific name of this herb is Leonurus Cardiaca. While there are other varieties of motherwort, this is the preferred one for herbalists. Gardeners love it because it attracts all kinds of pollinators, including bees. This perennial (grows more than one year) can reach up to 5 feet in height. It has pretty pink or purple clustered flowers. Lower leaves have 5 cleft cloves, as it goes up the stem it reduces to 3, with only 1 at the top.
Stratify Motherwort Seeds
Some seeds require stratification in order to germinate, including those of motherwort. If you live in a cold area you can sow the seeds outside in the late fall and winter will do the job for you. Otherwise you need to trick the seeds into thinking they have been stratified. I did have done this successfully with lavender, since I am in a hot country.
To manually stratify seeds you need to give them a cold treatment for a few weeks. Soak the seeds in water for 12-24 hours. Put them in a a zip-lock plastic bag with equal amounts of sand and peat. Place the bag in the refrigerator for at least 10 days making sure the mixture is always moist. Most likely they will sprout in the bag to be transplanted immediately after. If they don’t sprout leave them up to a month in the refrigerator and plant them in soil immediately.
Seeds can be started inside a few weeks before the final frost and then transplanted outside. You can also start the seeds directly in the garden. Placed stratified seeds about 1/8 inch deep in prepared soil. Make sure to keep the soil moist and they will sprout in about a week. Soil temperature should not be too hot (around 65-75℉). Once sprouted, thin plants 2-3 feet apart.
Motherwort can also be grown via rhizomes (roots). Just dig up establish plants, divide them and relocate them. To replant them, did a hole twice the width of the roots and cover it with soil. It is best to divide rhizomes in early spring or fall.
Where Can it Grow?
Motherwort can grow in USDA zones 4-9. Since it is related to the mint, it can grow pretty much anywhere, which can be a good and a bad thing. This plant is very good at self-seeding so you should pay attention to that if you do not want it to spread everywhere. Pick a spot where it is easy to keep it contained or plant it in pots to keep it corralled. Trim the flower tops to stop seeding since flowers can produce thousands of seeds.
This laid back plant can tolerate sun or live in densely shade areas. It is also not picky with soil. Ideally, it likes rich and moist soils with drainage. Add sand to improve circulation if your soil has a lot of clay. Compost will also add nutrients and help with drainage. The ideal pH is 7.7, but this is not a detriment.
New plants require watering every 2-3 days until they are larger. After they can resist drier conditions and can even be drought tolerant. However, this will reduce the nutrients of the plant, which is important to note for those wanting to take advantage of the medicinal properties of motherwort.
Fertilizer is not really needed, but a general one can be applied. Luckily, this herb does not have any significant issues with diseases or pests. Spider mites can rarely damage the leaves of plants after a drought. Just use soapy water to control this problem. Prune plants if they get over crowded to improve circulation in order to prevent powdery mildew. If it does occur then remove and destroy the affected part of the plants.
Harvesting should be done when the plant is blooming. You can take the entire herb after it starts flowering because this is when the active ingredients of the plant are at their highest. It blooms for up to a couple of months, so you have time to use it. Leaf harvesting can be done when it is in bloom or just after. Make sure to use gardening gloves and pruner since the plant has thorns.
Motherwort is usually brewed in tea or made into a tincture. For both you will need to use a herb drier or a dehydrator. Those letting the plant air dry should keep it in an airy and dark place. After it is best to store it in an airtight container or sealed plastic bags. It can also be used fresh for better quality. Tea can be made by steeping the leaves in hot water between 10-15 minutes. Some people mix it with peppermint or lemon balm for a better taste.
Tinctures require steeping in high proof alcohol. Fill a jar 1/2 or 2/3 with crushed fresh or dry herb and cover it with 100- proof vodka or vegetable glycerine (has no alcohol and a sweeter taste). Let it sit between 4-6 weeks in a dark space. Strain the herb before consuming. You can dilute it in tea or water for consumption if the flavor is a problem.
Motherwort’s flavor is quite bitter, so it is seldom used in cooking but it can be added to soups. Some people even add it as a beer flavoring!