Motherwort would take over my garden if I let it.
It self seeds with abandon. I don't mind as it is easy to pull, and, if you let it be, it looks good! The current CT data reports it attracts bumblebees like mad...34 contacts per minute...but did not mention honeybees.
My bees do like it, but not with noticeably greater than average enthusiasm. But then again, they did not show much enthusiasm for borage! (They do flock to anise hyssop, and, for one day only, covered my giant Cow Parsnip.)
A. I. Root sold motherwort seeds in his honey plant section in his 1887 seed catalog.
Back to motherwort, Root talks about it in the ABC of Bee Culture, 1882.
Motherwort (Leonurus Cardiaca) - Quite a number of the bee folks insist that
In comparing plants, it should be remembered, that those usually bear much honey may, at times, furnish none at all; and also those which usually furnish none may, under very favorable circumstances, yield largely."
This plant often flourishes about fence corners, and around the ruins of old dwellings, sheds, or even hog pens. The large leaf, taken by itself, much resembles the currant; the stalk is much like catnip; and the little flowers are in tufts, close to the stalk. It remains in blossom a long time, and may be as worthy of cultivation, as any of the plants of its class.In 1853 Moses Quinby's Mysteries of Bee-keeping Explained: Being a Complete Analysis of the Whole Subject is the first book I could find in a simple online search which mentions motherwort as a bee plant.
Catnip (Nepeta Cataria), Motherwort (Leonurus Cardiaca), and Hoarhound (Marrubium Vulgare) about the middle of June, put forth their flowers, rich in sweetness, and like the raspberry, the bees visit them at all hours and in nearly all kinds of weather. They last from four to six weeks; the catnip I have known to last twelve in a few instances, yielding honey during the whole time.After 1860 it is mentioned often. Keep in mind people tended to copy each others published opinions, so a great deal of this MIGHT be copycat behavior, not a sudden noticing that motherwort is attracting tons of bees. On the other hand the public's awareness of the economic possibilities of beekeeping was blossoming then, so folks were keeping an eye out for
Here is an 1865 report that sounds good from The Bee-keeper's Guide: Or Manual of the Apiary by Albert John Cook.
MOTHERWORT AS A HONEY PLANT.
(Leonurus cardiaca L.)
Perhaps none of our common herbs promises better, as a honey plant, than the one-in question. It is a very hardy
If it could be made to bloom about three weeks later, coming in just after basswood, it would have nearly all the desired qualities. I think that we might bring this about by mowing the plants in May. I am led to this opinion from the fact that some plants which we set back by transplanting in May, are still in bloom this August 10th, and are now alive with bees, dividing their attention with the beautiful cleome, which is now in full bloom, and fairly noisy with bees
DESCRIPTION OF THE PLANT.
The stalk is square (Fig. 114),'branching, and when cultivated, attains a height of some four feet; though, as it grows in waste places, it is seldom more than three feet.
The branches, and also the leaves, are opposite (Figs. 114 and 115), and in the axils of the latter are whorls of blossoms (Figs. 115 and 116), which succeed each other from below to the top of the branching stems.
The corolla is like that of all the mints, while the calyx has five teeth, which are sharp ands pine-like in the nutlets as they appear at the base of the leaves (Fig. 115). As they near the top, the whorls of blossoms and succeeding seeds are successively nearer together, and finally become very crowded at the apex (Fig. 116).
The leaves are long and palmately lobed (Fig. 115).
The small blossom is purple.
(My observation on the plant is that the seeds, (nutlets) are sharp!!! Use gloves when pulling a plant with dry seed heads.)