Here’s a very tall, sturdy member of the mint family–Motherwort! Note the reddish, square stems covered in fine hair, and the variety of leaf shapes from the bottom of the plant (5 lobes) to the top of the plant (2-3 lobes). All the leaves are opposite and the venation is strongly defined.
The tubular, pinkish flowers occur in whorls in the leaf axils along the middle and upper stems. The flowers are covered in fine hair, which makes them appear very fuzzy. Each flower has an upper lip and a lower lip; the lower lip is divided into three parts and speckled with purple dots. Bumblebees and honeybees visit the flowers often to feed on the nectar.
Motherwort, as the name implies, is a medicinal plant historically used to treat ailments of the uterus in women. It originated in Asia and Europe but was introduced to North America as an herbal medicine. It thrives on disturbed sites like roads and paths through wooded areas, although it can grow in yards just as well. The large clump of Motherwort pictured below was found growing at the base of a tree on my property in Blacksburg in late May. The plant can spread by seeds or by rhizomes, and can form large colonies.
For centuries, Motherwort has been used to treat heart disease, high blood pressure, menstrual cramps, stress, anxiety, heart palpitations, etc.; it was also recommended as a diuretic, a sedative, an astringent, and for tissue healing. Despite its variety of uses in herbal medicine, the plant is said to taste bitter and smell bad, so I don’t recommend eating it! There are also reports of contact dermatitis in some people, so be careful touching it too!
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