Mugwort, Artemisia vulgaris, is an herb that grows widely in the northeast. To some, it’s a pesky weed, cropping up in gardens and clogging roadsides.
But, as with most weeds, if you get to know it you’ll realize how valuable it is to have around!
Mugwort is part of the asteracea family (the same as dandelion, chamomile, and many other familiar plants…it’s a big family!). The leaves are deeply lobed, alternate, and pale as moonlight underneath. Both the undersides of the leaves and the stem are covered in a soft fuzzy down. The stems can appear reddish.
In my experience, mugwort can grow up to about 8 feet tall. It blooms from July to the end of summer, producing tiny white flowers. The whole plant has a delicious, spicy scent, and the leaves are very tasty (and a tad bitter).
Lore and Spiritual Uses
Mugwort definitely has a rich history! An herb of protection, it was said to guard travelers, keeping them safe from illness, weariness, evil spirits and wild animals. It was believed that putting it in the soles of shoes kept one’s feet from getting sore and tired. Roman soldiers reportedly used it this way, and the Mongols rubbed it into their sore feet and legs after a long day in the saddle. The Saxons considered it one of the most important healing herbs, and there is an old Polish superstition that a woman wishing to conceive should gather mugwort from nine different fields to increase her fertility. Traditionally, wreaths and garlands of it were worn on Midsummer’s eve for protection and blessings during the coming seasons.
Native Americans burned mugwort as a smudge to clear the air of bad spirits, much in the same way sage is used (in fact many of the smudge sticks sold in stores are made of a variety of Artemesia that grows in the desert out west). To make a smudge stick, simply cut a few lengths from the tallest plants, hang them to dry, and then bind them with a cotton string. The smoke is bit more acrid and earthy than sage, but very pleasing.
Traditionally, mugwort has also been used in meditation and in scrying. It can help you connect to astral planes and get in touch with your subconscious. Placing a little pouch filled with dried mugwort under your pillow at night will give you lucid, even prophetic dreams.
Here’s my own weird story about mugwort:
When I first moved into my house a couple of autumns ago, I felt a dark, shadowy sort of energy hanging around. When I burned sage it would dissipate for a while, but eventually I would feel it return (especially when I would come back to the house after a few days away). In the spring, I went through a period where I was having terrible nightmares. I would wake up in a cold sweat and feel chilled to the bone. Finally, a man came to me in one of the dreams and told me very clearly to cut a sprig of mugwort and hang it over my bed for protection. When you get a straightforward message like that in a dream, it’s a good idea to listen! So, the next day I hung a bundle of mugwort from a hook over the head of my bed. The bad dreams stopped and I felt the energy lighten considerably. I have since taken to burning mugwort almost daily, and I let it grow wherever it wants around the outside of my house, like a protective ring.
Medicinal and Practical Uses
Medicinally, mugwort is an emmetic, a cholagogue, a hemostatic, a vermifuge, a diaphoretic, an anti-spasmodic and a mild narcotic.
Because of it’s bitter taste, it makes a great digestive aid. A few leaves sprinkled in a salad can get the digestive juices going and give the liver a boost. I like to take the young plants and add them to a jar of apple cider vinegar. After letting that sit for about six weeks, I strain out the plants and use it as a delicious, mineral-rich dressing.
Mugwort is an herb of the moon and of women. Artemesia is named for Artemis, after all, a protector of women and the goddess of herbalists. Medicinally, it is indicted in cases where a woman’s menses are scanty, irregular, and painful. Mugwort can alleviate cramps and allows blood to flow. Old midwives used it to ease labor and encourage the delivery of the placenta. It can even out a woman’s cycle and bring on a period which is late (for this reason, western herbalists do not usually recommend using mugwort during pregnancy).
A tea of the leaves can be taken before bed to help with insomnia and restlessness (and like the little pouch of dried herb, may induce some interesting dreams). It can also be smoked for this purpose. Because of its calming and anti-spasmodic effects, it has also been used in the treatment of epilepsy.
In Chinese medicine, dried mugwort is rolled into downy little cones called moxa and burned over acupuncture points (this is called moxabustion) to relax muscles, increase bloodflow, and ultimately ease pain.
Mugwort is also good at keeping bugs (especially moths) away. Throwing some in a campfire, or burning smudge bundles in an outdoor area can really help with the mosquito situation. I sometimes make a big pot of mugwort tea and use it to clean my counter tops and floors in order to deter ants and other little bugs from exploring my kitchen. Dried leaves made into a powder would make a great carpet and mattress sprinkle to discourage fleas, too.
Overall, you should think yourself lucky if you have mugwort growing around your house! It’s protective, tasty, medicinally useful, and even wards off pests. Go out and make friends with mugwort!
The Way of Herbs by Michael Tierra
A Druids Herbal for the Sacred Earth Year by Ellen Evert Hopman