The Wise Woman’s Power Plant – Mugwort; or to give it it’s proper name Artemisia vulgaris LINN, is rightly justified in being called that.
That Mugwort is steeped in so much folklore regarding its healing properties should be of no surprise given its ancient usage. Known as the Mater Herbarum — the mother of all herbs, Mugwort has been held sacred by various cultures and is thought to be the oldest of plants.
This shrubby, herbaceous, perennial plant can be found growing in most of the temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere; it grows to a height of up to 2 metres.
The tall erect stems have a purple tint to them; the leaves are 5–20 cm long, dark green and pinnate on the upper side, the undersides are white and downy.
The individual flowers are white and downy in bud, opening to have greenish bell shaped ‘sheaves’ with yellowish bracts in the centre. Approximately 2.5mm in diameter, they form clusters of upright racemose panicles.
Mugwort grows freely in hedgerows, along waysides and on rough ground where interference from man has occurred. Growing freely in the British Isles it is found across N. Europe, Asia, Alaska & N. America.
|Family Asteraceae – Aster family|
|Genus Artemisia L. – sagebrush, wormwood, mugwort|
|Species Artemisia vulgaris L. – common mugwort|
Mugwort is very closely related to Common Wormwood (Artemisia Absinthium) but should not be confused with it. It is readily identified by its leaves being white on the under-surfaces only and by the leaf segments being pointed not blunt.
Iron age people drank ale made from Mugwort and it was one of the 9 sacred herbs of the Anglo-Saxon’s as recorded in the ‘Nine Herbs Charm’ in the C10th Lacnunga. The physicians of Myddfai in 13th century Wales recommended drinking ale based brews laced with mugwort, fennel and mint to cure hysteria 1. Mugwort was believed to be a plant that offered protection to humans and was burnt as an incense or hung over doorways to keep evil spirits away from the home.
In keeping with its botanical name, Artemesia (it is said to be named after the Hellenic goddess of the hunt, wild animals, wilderness, childbirth, and the moon), Mugwort has traditionally had a close and powerful affiliation with the moon. It was used to ease the pain of childbirth and the cramps that accompany monthly menstruation; as a uterine stimulant it was used to bring on delayed menstruation 2.
Medicinal Uses for Mugwort:
Mugworts actions on the body account for its effectiveness in childbirth and menstruation; it is warming and slightly stimulating, helping to increase circulation and remove stagnant blood. For these reasons, if you are pregnant or think that you may be pregnant, you should not use Mugwort under any circumstances.
This warming action also makes it effective when used as a poultice for stiff joints; the Japanese use it in a preparation called Moxas to treat rheumatism.
Its constituents, including an acrid resin and tannin make it a natural insect repelling/insecticidal when made into a spray and it has also been used as a natural wormer. Culpepper states “a very slight infusion is excellent for all disorders of the stomach, prevents sickness after meals and creates an appetite. The tops with the flowers on them, dried and powdcred, are good against agues, and have the same virtues with wormseed in killing worms”.
(The volatile oils found in all parts of the plant contain the psychoactive terpine Thujone3.)
Nutritional Uses for Mugwort:
Mugwort has a long history of culinary use, it has a unique musty herbal fragrance, the flavour is just as unique and slightly bitter. It is often used dried as a spice for meats. The leaves can be eaten fresh in salads, or cooked in soups. Young spring shoots can be cooked. It also has a long history of use in beverages. Leaves, flowers and roots can be used as a tea. Mugwort was commonly used as a flavouring in beer until hops became popular. Caution – do not use if pregnant – see medicinal uses above.
The plant is rich in vitamin C and unsaturated fatty acids 5.
Mugwort prefers to grow in waste areas, disturbed areas, along railroads, edges of woods, and in prairie restorations. It prefers full or partial sun and moist to slightly dry conditions. Mugwort is very tolerant of a wide range of climatic conditions and is reported to occur from the high mountainous regions of the Northern Himalayas to the warm temperate regions of South America. The only two continents where mugwort has not been documented are Africa and Antarctica.
Foraging for Mugwort can be a dicey business these days; unless you know who owns the land on which you find Mugwort growing, and how they manage that land, you may end up with a very unhealthy dose of whatever chemical has been sprayed on it.
It is safer to grow your own – be aware though that Mugwort is an aggressive and invasive plant and it will inhibit the growth of other plants around it.
Seeds are available from a company called ‘Heirloom & Perennial’
Seed information: Easily grown in a well-drained circumneutral or slightly alkaline loamy soil, preferring a sunny position and a moist soil. Plants are longer lived, more hardy and more aromatic when they are grown in a poor dry soil. Established plants are drought tolerant. Mugwort is an aggressive and invasive plant, it inhibits the growth of nearby plants by means of root secretions. Surface sow from late winter to early summer in a greenhouse and do not allow the compost to dry out. When large enough to handle, prick out the seedlings into individual pots. If growth is sufficient, they can be planted out into their permanent positions in the summer, otherwise grow them on in a cold frame for their first winter and then plant them out in the spring.
- ‘A Modern Herbal Vol I & II’, Mrs. M Grieve F.R.H.S. (1931) – Medicinal Action and Uses. “It has stimulant and slightly tonic properties, and is of value as a nervine and emmenagogue, having also diuretic and diaphoretic action”.
- Kuhnlein, HV, Turner NJ. Traditional Plant Foods of Canadian Indigenous Peoples.Nutrition, Botany and Use. Springer. London, 1991. ISBN: 78-2881244650.