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Lughnasa musings - August 1st, 2019

Happy high summer! Here in the northern hemisphere we have already begun to turn from the longest light of the summer solstice back to earlier evenings and cooler nights. The meadows are ripening into the gold of dried grasses and goldenrod, hemmed with delicate Queen Anne’s lace. I always notice at this turning point in the season, that even the afternoon sun takes on a new golden glow as it dips to the kiss the trees. Lughnasa is a cross quarter holiday that falls exactly between the summer solstice and the fall equinox and is celebrated as a great harvest and feast day. These seasonal celebrations also act as place holders; they are a time to be still, to reflect on where we have come from and where we are going, and what feeds us and what needs to be fed.

"Motherwort mothers the mother"

This Lughnasa is a particularly tender and important one for me as it marks my baby’s six month birthday! Needless to say most of my energy has been devoted to learning about mothering and thinking about what it means to become a parent. So it seemed fitting to start out writing about my most important plant ally through this past season: Motherwort.

Motherwort Leonurus cardiaca is a beautiful tall bushy herb in the mint family. It has the signature square stem like other mints, and fuzzy looking sharp pink flowers in the leaf axils. The leaves are opposite, toothed and lobed.

Motherwort is native to central Europe and Scandinavia. It was introduced to North America and has become established in many areas in the wild. It is easy to grow and likes full sun and good soil. Just be warned that like other mints, it has a tendency to spread itself. Motherwort can be harvested in the summer months just as it is coming into bloom and while in full bloom. The whole top parts of the plant are used. I prefer it as a tincture, as the tea can be quite bitter.

Motherwort is a wonderful herb for the worried mind and the racing heart. This cooling bitter herb is known for its sedative and hypotensive actions. It is a beautiful nervine that helps calm the nervous system and lowers high blood pressure stemming from stress. Motherwort contains alkaloids, which are responsible for relaxing the vasculature and helping to lower elevated blood pressure, and along with volatile oils in the plant, alkaloids help to calm the nervous system. Flavonoids are another important constituent found in Motherwort, and are responsible for making this herb anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. Studies have shown that motherwort actually protects cardiac muscle from the effects of oxidation and inflammation (i.e stress).

Motherwort is also used as a uterine tonic that is helpful through so many life stages with a uterus. It is taken to ease painful periods associated with anxiety and back pain, as well as to ease the experience of PMS. Motherwort can be taken during labor and delivery to promote efficient contractions, and it is a great ally after birth to nurture a new mother through the baby blues, and help ward off postpartum depression. Finally motherwort is known for its effectiveness during menopause to decrease tension and palpitations associated with hot flashes and hormonal changes.

When we were leaving my midwives office after our final six week visit my midwife reminded me to call on motherwort, and take it many times a day if need be, saying “motherwort mothers the mother”. She was so right, and I can’t think of a new mother who doesn’t need the mothering of motherwort. Motherwort is fierce. Her puffy flowers are cheerful and pleasant looking and then they bite when you get too close. Like so many herbal allies motherwort is an amazing medicine when it comes to helping us learn the paradox of keeping an open heart while maintaining strong and healthy boundaries.

Motherwort has been my ally as I have encountered so many paradoxes in becoming a mother. The moment my son was born and his umbilical cord was cut, we were both meeting for the first time and experiencing our first separation. We buried his placenta under a rowan tree and I covered it with rose petals and rejoiced in the nutrients it would provide, and grieved the loss of this beautiful organ that made my body and my sons body one interdependent being. Holding my son in those first tender weeks I felt a love so deep and strong it felt like my heart was breaking. And I cried often; because to love something so much is also to trust in the world, which is a scary thing to do, especially these days.

Having a new baby has been the best and the hardest thing I have ever done, and yet so much of the work is unseen and difficult to even describe to people who ask what I am doing with my time. I am grateful for the birth that I had, and still mourn the birth I had imagined and didn't get to have. No one warned me that with the sheer delight of each new stage of growth and development comes a sorrow and a constant letting go. I had no idea that new motherhood would be both the most deeply rewarding and intensely lonely time of my life. I have spent so many nights feeling the most tired I ever have, yet lying wide awake, mind and heart racing, tortured by the fact that I am unable to sleep while my baby is sleeping. One night as I lay awake feverishly fretting for the world I took motherwort tincture and was inspired at the very least to turn my worries into prayers. Now as I fall asleep I try to turn my fiery mind to radiant prayers for all those parents risking everything to protect their children, and being met with cruelty and separation.

I have heard it said that motherwort grows nearby those who need it.

Whether or not you are a biological mother, this season of high summer calls on all of us to be present in our full capacity. Gardens are beginning to overflow with bounty and weeds threaten to obscure it all. Days are still long and the calendar overflows with activities and obligations. There are so many causes and fights that need our energy and voices for justice right now. And on top of it all, for many of us living in this industrialized culture there is an internalized pressure to always be doing more better and to feel that it is never enough. These cultural and seasonal pressures are enough to start to quicken the pulse and raise the anxiety and tension until we’re racing around in a state of heightened agitation. Motherwort helps to cool us down and put our feet back on the ground.

I was picking wild blueberries yesterday in our field and contemplating all of this while my baby slept. I was interrupted from my thoughts by some funny bird sounds coming from the stonewall and I looked up to see a mother turkey with three fresh chicks clucking and watching me. I stopped my busy mind and hands and sat and watched their curious movements and the hen’s watchful eye. After a few peaceful minutes they turned and disappeared back into the brush. The hen reminded me of all the mothering that is happening right now, and that when we take time, we see the fierce tender beauty of the world.

Motherwort reminds us that we are enough. It is enough. She holds us in our paradoxes, and mothers us with a fierce tenderness. In this busy season call on motherwort to help you remember your own heart, and what really matters. Thank you motherwort: for mothering us all!

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