Common Names: Siberian Motherwort, Honeyweed, Mahjiki (Japanese), Marihuanilla/Marijuanillo (Spanish), Ich-mau-thao (Vietnamese), I-mu-isa (Chinese), Amor Mio (Spanish, ‘my love’), Mehajiki (Japanese), Yakumosos (Japanese)
Leonurus sibiricus grows upright and has only a single stem; it usually grows to be 20cm to 80cm tall, though it can reach a height of over 2 meters. It has long petioled (leafstalk) basal leaves, which grow from the stem in a maxilliform manner and are ovate-cordate in shape. The flowers are reddish violet in color, with an oblong upper lip, and can develop into long, beautiful inflorescences. The lower leaves are deciduous and wither when the plant begins to bloom. Blooming occurs in July and can continue into late September, though in climates without a winter season it can flower year round (Hofmann et al. 1992, 47).
Siberian motherwort is native to Asia, including southern Siberia, China, Korea, Japan, and Vietnam. It grows wild in the coastal regions of Brazil as well as Chiapas, the southern-most state of Mexico. It has become naturalized in various other parts of the world, such as North America (Hofmann et al. 1992, 47).
Siberian motherwort is propagated by seed, which when lightly covered in soil and moistened well germinate and grow quickly in full sunlight. The plant is intolerant to frost and should be brought indoors during the winter months. In areas without a winter season or overbearing frost, it can develop into a perennial bush. Despite its aversion to cold, it can thrive in less than ideal conditions but should be well watered and fertilized. It grows well both in full garden beds and in pots (USDA n.d.). Both seeds and sprouts are freely available, though good quality dried plant material can be difficult to obtain. Fortunately, it is possible to purchase good quality dried Leonurus sibiricus.
TRADITIONAL USE: Siberian motherwort appears in the ancient Chinese “Book of Songs,” or Shih Ching, circa 1000-500 BCE under the moniker T’uei, but it is unknown when the plant was first brought to the New World. Similarly, it is unknown when it was first smoked for its inebriating effects. Traditionally the flowers are used in devotional and offering rites, called pujas, of Hindus in Assam. No traditional or ritual psychoactive usage is documented. In Veracruz, Mexico, Marihuanilla is used in folk magic to make the “groom return” and in Chiapas, Mexico it is used as a marijuana substitute. In traditional Chinese medicine it is used as a remedy for female menstruation issues, helping circulation and preventing excessive clotting. It is considered pungent and bitter in energy, and has an affinity for the heart and liver meridians (Keng 1974).
TRADITIONAL PREPARATION: Leaves from the Marihuanilla plant are collected while the plant is in bloom, and are dried and smoked in a pipe or as a rolled cigarette. No toxic dosage is known and typically 1 to 2 grams of the dried leaf is enough for one rolled cigarette. The plant is often mixed with other herbal smoking blends. To prepare a topical medication, L. sibiricus herbage may be steeped in alcohol. The roots and leaves may also be taken as a tea. In 15-60 gram concotions the herb is used to help circulation, disperse phlegm, and break up clots. 500mg of dried, powdered leaves may be consumed with fruit juice to bring mildly psychotropic effects for up to three hours. Consuming L. sibiricus along with Cannabis or Tagetes lucida herbage is said to enhance the effects (Voogelbreinder 2009, 214).
MEDICINAL USES: The seeds, fruits, and leaves of Marihuanilla are all considered to be of medicinal value in various cultures. In traditional Chinese medicine, the herb is used to treat loss of potency in men, postpartum bleeding or painful menstruation in women, and as a diuretic (Keng 1974). In Chiapas, Mexico, native cultures drink the root steeped in tea to aid in menstruation and to calm other female reproductive system ailments. The leaves are alcohol soluble; when macerated in alcohol, the tincture may be applied externally to treat rheumatism or arthritis (Argueta et al. 1994).
TRADITIONAL EFFECTS: Alkaloids isolated from Siberian motherwort include cycloleonurinine, leoheterin, leonurine, leosibiricin, leosiberin, leuronurine, prehispanolone, preleoheterin, and stachydrine (Savona et al. 1982).
In animal studies, narcotic and sedative effects have been observed. When discussing the psychoactive effects of L. sibiricus, it is interesting to note the alkaloids detected in the plant. The essential oil of Siberian motherwort contains the diterpenes leosibiricin, leosiberin, and the isomer isoleosibrine. These alkaloids provide effects similar to those of Salvinorin A, the main active psychotropic molecule in Salvia divinorum (Savona et al. 1982). Siberian motherwort is said to mix well with Cannabis indica and Cannabis sativa and its effects are cannabis-like, although, since Cannabis is illegal in most parts of the world, we must emphasise that these are only reports and we would never advocate such mixtures for any reason.
The effects of Marihuanilla may be described as mildly narcotic, though not particularly pronounced; thus the herbage is sometimes mixed with other herbs and smoking blends to heighten potency. Potentiators such as B. caapi leaves and Wild Dagga are popular for this purpose.
One scholar suggests that motherworts are the best herbs to remove melancholy, to strengthen the heart, and to make one cheerful. Early herbals also recommended motherworts as a tool for removing evil spirits (Racs & Racs-Kotilla 1989).
Argueta Villamar, Arturo, Leticia M. Cano Asseleih, and Maria Elena Rodarte, eds. 1994. Atlas de las plantas de la medicina tradicional mexicana. 3 vols. Mexico City: INI.
Keng, Hsuan. 1974. Economic plants of ancient north China as mentioned in Shih Ching (Book of Poetry). Economic Botany. 28:391-410.
Plants Profile for Leonurus Sibiricus. plants.usda.gov. http://plants.usda.gov/java/profile?symbol=LESI
Racs, G., and E. Racs-Kotilla. 1989. Sedative and antihypertensive activity of Leonurus quinquelobatus. Planta Medica. 55:97.
Savona, Giuseppe, Franco Piozzi, Maurizio Bruno, and Benjamin Rodriguez. 1982. Diterpenoids from Leonurus sibiricus. Phytochemistry 21 (11): 2699-701.