Once upon a time, I had a medicinal herb garden and there are still remnants, strays, including a nice feral crop of Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca). The Latin cardiaca derives from the Greek word for heart and Motherwort was believed to stop palpitations.

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It’s a beautiful plant, though it has a weedy quality many gardeners might not appreciate popping up among their decoratives. The name “Motherwort” comes from the old belief that it will reduce anxiety to women during childbirth, no doubt, too, during nursing for some mothers. It’s also said to help the nervous pangs of menopause. Even in scientific experiments Motherwort has shown sedative qualities. What parts of the plant are the most useful to work with, I have yet to discover. (Let me know if you know.)

Motherwort is sometimes called “Lion’s Tail” or “Lion’s Ear,” probably to do with the shape of the leaves or those flowers between each set of leaves that might resemble a fluffy tail.
motherwort illustration

The Oxford Dictionary of Plant-Lore gives us this about Motherwort from the Isle of Man: “the great magical and apotropaic herb. … It is usually known simply as ‘the herb.’ The best day to acquire [the] roots was St. John’s Eve [23 June], but they should not be asked for directly, although it is permissible to hint that you need the plant. Some people assert that, as with a spoken charm, the donor and the recipient should be of opposite sex.”*

Those years ago when I had my medicinal garden, I also planted St. John’s wort and for awhile still found it growing round about in abundance. But this year there were no volunteers. I’d counted on them.

Not quite compensation, but a nice prize was that I have found a healthy wormwood hiding under a huge garden sage, and have picked it to make the wild, addictive absinthe,”la fée verte” or the green fairy, that was said to have driven many a poet and artist mad and was made illegal for a while in France and here and there. (Mine, incidentally, is steeping in a mason jar, but is not green…)

absinthe

*Roy Vickery, ed., A Dictionary of Plant-Lore (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995). The reference is to L.S. Garrard. “Some Manx Plant-Lore,” in Plant-Lore Studies, R. Vickery, ed., 1984.

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