The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants: Ethnopharmacology and Its Applications

Leonurus sibiricus Linnaeus


Siberian Motherwort




Labiatae (Lamiaceae) (Mint Family); Subfamily Lamioideae (= Stachyoideae), Lamieae (= Stachydeae) Tribe, Lamiinae Subtribe

Forms and Subspecies


Two varieties are said to be distinguished in East and Southeast Asia (Hasler n.d., 1).



Leonurus artemisia

Folk Names


Altamisa, amor mío (Spanish, “my love”), chinesischer löwenschwanz, chinesisches mutter-kraut, coda di leone, gras zum segen der mutter, ich-mau-thao (Vietnamese), i-mu-tsao (Chinese), mahjiki (Japanese),205 marihuanilla (Spanish, “little marijuana plant”), marijuanillo (Spanish, “little hemp”), mehajiki (Japanese), motherwort, rangadoronphul, Siberian motherwort, sibirischer löwenschwanz, sibirisches herzgespann, sibirisches mutterkraut, t’uei, yakumosos (Japanese)



Siberian motherwort appears in the ancient Chinese Shih Ching, the Book of Songs (ca. 1000–500 B.C.E.), under the name t’uei (Keng 1974, 402*). It was sometimes praised as a medicinal plant in later ancient Chinese herbals.

It is not known when the plant spread into the New World, nor is it known when it was first smoked as an inebriant.



Siberian motherwort is found in southern Siberia, China, Korea, Japan, Vietnam, and Southeast Asia. It now grows wild in Brazil (coastal regions) and Mexico (Chiapas).



Propagation occurs through the seeds. These are lightly covered with soil, moistened well, and exposed to sunlight. The seeds germinate and the plant grows surprisingly quickly. The seeds also can also be sown directly in the garden. Seedlings can be planted in pots or garden beds. The plant does not tolerate frost and should overwinter indoors in a pot. In areas free of frost, it can develop into a perennial bush. The plant can be given much water and fertilizer but will also thrive under less ideal conditions.



The plant, which grows straight up and usually has a single stem, can attain a height of over 2 meters. The stem branches in a maxilliform manner. The dark green leaves are finely pinnate. The violet flower spikes develop at the ends of all the branches and can develop into long, attractive inflorescences.

Leonurus sibiricus is easily confused with motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca L.), Leonotis quinquelobatus Gilib. [syn. Leonurus villosus Desf. ex Spreng.], and especially the East Asia and Siberian species Leonurus japonicusHoutt. [syn. Leonurus artemisia (Lour.) S.Y. Hu, Leonurus heterophyllus Sweet, Leonurus sibiricus auct. non L.] (cf. Kartnig et al. 1993, 648) and Leonurus lanatus (L.) Pers.

Psychoactive Material


—Flowering herbage

—Dried leaves


Preparation and Dosage


The leaves, collected while the plant is in bloom, are dried and smoked as a marijuana substitute (cf. Cannabis indica). Typically, 1 to 2 g of dried leaves is sufficient for one joint. No truly toxic dosage is known. In laboratory experiments with rats, even very high dosages (750 to 3,000 mg Leonurus sibiricus extract per kg body weight per os) did not result in the death of the animals (Hasler n.d., 4).

Because the effects of the pure herbage are not especially pronounced, they can be synergistically potentiated by mixing the herbage with Cannabis indica or Cannabis sativa (cf. smoking blends).

Ritual Use


The flowers are used in the pujas (devotional and offering activities) of Hindus in Assam (Boissya et al. 1981, 221*). No traditional or ritual use for psychoactive purposes is known.

In Veracruz, Mexico, the plant is used in folk magic intended to make the “groom return” (Argueta V. et al 1994, 114*).




Medicinal Use


The seeds and fruits are thought to have medicinal value. The dried herbage can be found in any Chinese herb pharmacy (Keng 1974, 402*). It is used to treat loss of potency, overly heavy menstruation, postpartum bleeding, and painful menstruation (Stark 1984, 81*). It also is used as a diuretic (Ott 1993, 411*). North American Indians are said to have used the herbage as an aid in labor (Kartnig et al. 1993, 653). In southern Mexico, the root is drunk in the form of a tea to treat women’s ailments and to induce menstruation. Leaves macerated in alcohol are applied externally to treat rheumatism (Argueta V. et al. 1994, 114*).


In Mexico, Siberian motherwort (Leonurus sibiricus) is known as marijuanillo, “little hemp.” (Photographed in Chiapas)



The Asian species Leonurus heterophyllus is very similar in appearance to Siberian motherwort. The herbage is used in traditional Chinese medicine. (Photographed in Songlisan, South Korea)


“In the first period after the influx of L.s. [= Leonurus sibiricus, 2 x 1 gram, smoked], little happened apart from the fact that I got into a basic meditative state in which all material things appeared to increase in depth and importance. Cognitive abilities and emotional experience remained largely unchanged. During the hour after the smoking, no additional increase in the effects occurred.”














The motherwort found in Germany (Leonurus cardiaca L.) is an old folk remedy for nervousness, sleeplessness, ill humor, and anxiety states. (Woodcut from Brunfels, Novi Herbarii Tomus Secundus, 1532)




Most of the active components of the plant appear to be unstable and occur in the herbage in only low concentrations. The plant has been found to contain 0.1% of the flavone glycoside rutin (cf. Psidium guajava) (Hayashi 1963). The alkaloid leonuridine has been detected in the seeds. The herbage contains 0.02 to 0.04% of the alkaloid leonurine (chemical formula C14H21O5N3), which apparently is a guanidine derivative (Hayashi 1962). A total of four guanidine derivatives (4-guanidinobutanol, arginine, 4-guanidine butyric acid, and leonurine) have been described (Reuter and Diehl 1970, 1971). Chinese researchers have described an alkaloid “A” (with the chemical formula C20H30(32)O16N6) for the leaves. Also present is L-stachydrine, which is characteristic for the Family Labiatae (Reuter and Diehl 1970), as well as glycosidic bitter substances, syringic acid, rosmarinic acid, and caffeic acid depsides. Of particular interest for the discussion of the psychoactive effects was the discovery that the essential oilcontains three new diterpenes: leosibiricin, leosiberin, and the isomer isoleosiberine (Savona et al. 1982). These diterpenes may have effects similar to those of salvinorin A. Leosibiricine and leosibirine also occur in motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca) and presumably in many other species of the genus Leonurus (Knöss and Glombitza 1993). Leonurine is also present in Leonurus japonicus (Kartnig et al. 1993, 649).

Hasler has argued that it is likely that Leonurus sibiricus also contains other substances that have not yet been detected (methoxylated phenyl bodies, amides) that may be biologically transformed into psychoactive methoxyphenylalkylamines (Hasler n.d., 8).



The effects are occasionally described as mildly narcotic or cannabis-like. They are by no means spectacular, unless the plant is combined with other substances.

In animal experiments, the administration of an extract produced distinct CNS activity. The alkaloid “A” elevates the tone of the uterus (Hasler n.d., 3).

Animal studies using an extract of the related species Leonurus quinquelobatus Gilib. [syn. Leonurus cardiaca L. ssp. villosis (Desf. ex Urv.) Hyl.] observed clear sedative and narcotic effects (Rács and Rács-Kotilla 1989).

Commercial Forms and Regulations


Both the herbage and the live plant are freely available (but usually difficult to obtain).



See also the entries for diterpenes and salvinorin A.


Hasler, Felix n.d. Leonurus sibiricus. Unpublished manuscript, Basel. (13 pp., ca. 1994.)


Hayashi, Y. 1962. Studies on the ingredients of Leonurus sibiricus L. (I). Yakugaku Zasshi 82:1020–25.


———. 1963. Studies on the ingredients of Leonurus sibiricus L. (II). Yakugaku Zasshi 83:271–74.


Kartnig, Theodor, Kerstin Hoffmann-Bohm, and Renate Seitz. 1993. Leonurus. In Hagers Handbuch der pharmazeutischen Praxis, 5th ed., 5:645–54. Berlin: Springer.


Knöss, W., and K.-W. Glombitza. 1993. Diterpenes in cultures of Leonurus cardiacaPlanta Medica 59 suppl.: A655–56.


Rács, G., and E. Rács-Kotilla. 1989. Sedative and antihypertensive activity of Leonurus quinquelobatusPlanta Medica 55:97.


Reuter, G., and H.-J. Diehl. 1970. Arzneipflanzen der Gattung Leonurus und ihre Wirkstoffe. Die Pharmazie 25 (10): 586–89.


———. 1971. Guanidinderivate in Leonurus sibiricus L. Die Pharmazie 26 (12): 777.


Savona, Giuseppe, Franco Piozzi, Maurizio Bruno, and Benjamin Rodriguez. 1982. Diterpenoids from Leonurus sibiricusPhytochemistry 21 (11): 2699–701.


Serradell, M. N., and P. Blancafort. 1977. Leonurine. Drugs of the Future 2 (9): 597–99.