Disclaimer: For entertainment and educational purposes only. Not meant as a guide to diagnose and/or treat any condition and/or illness. Always discuss medical treatments with your doctor, and before taking any herbs, consult with your primary care physician for any conflicting drug or health complications that might occur. Mugwort is an abortifacient and therefore should never be used by pregnant women. Herbs are drugs, and although all natural, they are not necessarily safe.
I. Marvelous Mugwort
Mugwort is one of the primary herbs of the wise. One sign of a witch is that you will see this herb in his or her garden, especially near the doors, as it provides powerful protection. The lovely mugwort herb is generally safe for most people, except for use in pregnant or breast-feeding women, or when overused (unusual or allergic reactions can also occur).
I am currently growing common mugwort, Artemisia vulgaris. There are many varieties of mugwort used across the world, all in the Artemisia family. The use between them is often interchangeable, and you should feel free to substitute if you have another Artemisia. Some examples would be Chinese mugwort (Artemisia argyi), Douglas mugwort (Artemisia douglasiana), Alpine mugwort (Artemisia glacialis), Japanese mugwort (Artemisia princeps), Norwegian mugwort (Artemisia norvegica), and there are many others.
Mugwort is known by a variety of names, such as cronewort, St. John's herb, Artemis herb, old man, sagebrush, black sage, felon herb, sailor's tobacco, chrysanthemum weed, muggins, naughty man, motherwort, cabbage fly, fat hen, old Uncle Henry, gallwood, broom herb, and moxa. No matter the name, this plant and its close relatives have an ancient history of culinary, medicinal, and magical use, dating well before the time of the Roman empire, and were known throughout the British Isles during the time of the Druids.
All parts of the remarkable mugwort are used in different preparations, including leaves, roots, and flowering tops. The leaves are usually collected before the plant flowers, and the root can be dug in the autumn. Younger, rounder, brighter leaves tend to have a milder flavor and are also better for juicing. Mature plants take on the standard appearance of darker green on top of very pointed leaves, with a pale silver on the underside and a slightly more bitter flavor.
This is an easy-to-grow perennial herb that once established will last you many years. If you plant it in a sunny spot, don't be surprised if it takes over. It makes a lovely hedge, or background and border plant. It will fill in empty spaces nicely and requires little care. Mugwort likes to spread when it's happy, and it can get large and robust in the right conditions, up to about 2 meters tall. It spreads through the roots, and can become invasive.
The good news is you can harvest most of it (it has so many uses), and it'll regrow again before you know it. It's so adaptable you can even grow some in a small pot if you are concerned about it dominating the garden. It'll remain small, but still grow and produce for you. Even my mugworts in less than ideal conditions are surviving, making it a great starter plant for anyone trying to learn to use herbs.
To dry your mugwort, gather medium bundles in the morning, after the dew has dried but before the heat of the midday. Tie the ends together with string, and hang them in a cool, dry location. A place sheltered from the sun will preserve the plants better, maintaining more color and fragrance. Let them stay there until they are totally dry, and snap easily; this will take a few weeks. Then store them in an air tight jar in a cool, dark location, and they will last about a year before they begin to lose potency.
Mugwort will be a lifelong friend (and lifelong crop that needs pruning). I don't mind that some of my mugwort has taken over because when I trim it, it provides a large quantity of great material for me. I use the bulk of the leaves, flowers, and roots for essential oil making, hydrosols, infusions, tinctures and salves, while the hardy stems can be crafted into almost anything one can imagine. It's also a lovely pot and stewing herb for people and animals.
Mugwort is so versatile, it can be crafted into a variety of tools. The stems are sturdy yet flexible. They produce in various hues of green, brown, red, and even some dark purple. Mugwort can be used to make brooms, baskets, wreaths, wands, garlands, smudge sticks, garden markers, dream pillows, etc. Mugwort is a mild insect deterrent, especially of moths, and dried mugwort can be put in with clothes and linens to protect them. Mugwort essential oil or vinegar infused with mugwort both make good all purpose cleaners for your home that are natural and effective.
Mugwort has many culinary uses, including using the flowers to flavor and preserve beer before the cultivation of hops, and instead of hops for some homemade beers. Mugwort is a delightful seasoning for fatty meats and game, as well as fish. It is a traditional seasoning for Christmas goose in many countries. It is also used to flavor rice cakes in Asia and is in a number of Japanese dishes, including yōkan, and kusa mocha, which are tasty seasonal desserts, usually made from mugwort and sweet red bean paste.
Other culinary uses are as varied as one can imagine! Try mugwort leaves lightly steamed with butter and garlic. Put a few fresh, young leaves in a salad for a mildly bitter kick. Add them to meaty stews and soups. Rabbits, chickens, goats, and wild birds enjoy snacking on mugwort too, so don't forget to share!
II. Medicinal Mugwort
One of the main active chemical constitute of mugwort is thujone oil. Thujone is a powerful chemical. Wormwood, a close relative of Mugwort that also contains thujone, is historically used in Absinthe as a mind-altering alcoholic beverage. In isolation, thujone oil can be toxic, even fatal if enough is ingested. Thujone is known to act on the GABA receptors, creating an effect on the nervous system and muscle response. There is evidence to suggest some effect on the intestines, stomach, pancreas, Fallopian tubes, uterus, ovaries, testes, kidneys, urinary system, lungs, and liver. 1
Plants containing thujone are generally safe in their natural form; however, when concentrated they could pose a health risk. I would not recommend eating large quantities of even the fresh herb every day for a long period of time. A few cups of tea per week or some fresh leaves added to food should be safe for most healthy, non-pregnant adults.
Mugwort is known as a cause of hay fever, and other allergic reactions can occur in some individuals. Always exercise caution when experimenting with a new herb. Start with a small dose and only add a tiny amount each time you wish to boost the dose. Plants are profoundly powerful medicines. They should not be underestimated, for they can be deadly.
Mugwort contains several other important components, such as camphor, sabinene, pinene, cineole, artemisia oil, chrysanthenyl acetate, germacrene D, caryophyllene, borneol, quercetin, silica, antibiotic polyacetylenes, inulin, hydroxycoumarins, fiber, calcium, zinc, vitamin C, and more than 100 other constitutes.2
Cineole and camphor are useful expectorants, easing coughs and acting as cleaning agents, while borneol is anesthetic, sedative, and antispasmodic. Sabinene and pinene show great ability to eliminate bacteria, yeast, and fungi. Mugwort has been used as an anthelmintic for years (to rid the body of parasites, particularly worms), as well as treatment for general feelings of unease, tiredness, or stomach distress. The powerful essential oils it contains make it a mild topical anesthetic with good anti-bacterial, anti-microbial, and anti-fungal properties.
The plant is used in the ancient Ayurvedic medicine of India for heart problems, stress, and other ailments. In traditional Chinese medicine, mugwort is used in a form called moxa, in which the soft downy hairs are gathered from the mugwort and compressed to be burned on or near the skin. It is believed that moxibustion of mugwort is effective for many ailments, including colds, digestive problems, arthritis, and possibly even breech births. Mugwort is so ancient and widespread that you can find it in most herbal apothecaries (in some form) around the world.
Mugwort has many medicinal properties that include easing the symptoms of or helping to heal stomach and intestinal conditions such as colic, diarrhea, malaria, epilepsy, hysteria, motion sickness, constipation, kidney stones, headaches, infertility and other female problems, cramps, digestion distress, worm infestations, fungal infections, bacterial infections, arthritis, coughs, colds, flu, vomiting and more. Mugwort, along with other bitter herbs, are used to stimulate gastric juice flow and aid digestion to reduce acid reflux and other conditions. It is said to have cleansing abilities, as an antidote to opium toxicity, to help circulation, as a mild sedative, mild anti-inflammatory, nasal decongestant, and a gentle insect repellent.
Leaves and flowers can be used in a tea, tincture, or even smoked to achieve relief from nervous conditions, and for stronger relief the root can be used in the same manner. The root is often taken as a tincture in small doses for stress, depression, irritability, insomnia, and even as an energy tonic. When used in a tea it is probably best combined with sweet herbs, such as lemon balm, which is also calming, and adds a nice flavor. Hyssop, mint, holy basil, and lavender would all be good additions.
Mugwort has a duel effect, at times it can calm, at other times it can energize. Added to the bath it can help muscle pain and calm the body, as well as cleanse the skin. You can make mugwort vinegar that can be added to the bath to treat yeast infections, and dabbed on acne or other skin inflammations. The fresh leaves can be made into a soothing poultice for bug bites and other minor irritations and injuries. Mixed with honey or vinegar and applied to bruises and minor wounds it will help them heal faster and keep the area clean.
Mugwort infused oil makes a wonderful anointing and healing oil that has many cleansing uses and is simple to make. For a simple infusion method, fill a jar with either fresh or dried chopped mugwort, and cover with your favorite oil (olive oil can be used but goes rancid quicker than other oils such as canola). Let the jar sit in a cool, dark location for a few weeks. Shake the jar a few times a day for the best infusion. Once the oil has the color and smell of the mugwort, simply pour into a cheese cloth to strain the herbs. Store the oil in a tightly closed bottle in a dark, cool location. It will last about 3-6 months.
The same process can be used to infuse an 80 proof or above liquor, such as vodka, to make a mugwort tincture. When making an alcohol tincture the herbs can be left to infuse for a longer period of time, even months, before you strain them. A tincture will last longer, at least 6 months to one year, and the higher the proof the longer it will last, up to a couple of years. Always make sure the herbs are completely covered by liquid in both methods during the infusion. Extra caution should be used with all concentrated herbal solutions, as they will be stronger than fresh or dried herbs, and should be used in smaller amounts.
Mugwort has a powerful effect on the female reproductive system. Because of this, it is dangerous for pregnant women, but it also has historical use in assisting labor. A knowledgeable midwife would have used it in ancient times to strengthen contractions and quicken a difficult, long labor. It was also used to regulate menstrual cycles, increase blood flow, and reduce the pain associated with them. For women entering menopause it can make the transition easier, and help cool hot flashes and balance temperature.
Mugwort can cause uterine contractions and it has been used in ancient times to cause abortion. Due to this no one who thinks they may be pregnant should use mugwort, as it may cause a miscarriage. Even for those who are not pregnant mugwort should not be taken steadily for more than a week at a time, taking at least a week break in between uses, in order to reduce the chance of unpleasant or dangerous side effects.
III. Magical Mugwort
One of the most interesting traditional uses of mugwort is that of a dream enhancing herb. It is often used as one of the main ingredients in sleep pillows, and it said to bring the dreamer more vivid and lucid dreams. Mugwort will help you remember your dreams as well. Dried leaves and flowers should be used to stuff dream pillows. In addition to mugwort try adding some lavender, chamomile, and valerian, both to the dream sachets and tea. Drink mugwort tea before bed, and put a few fresh leaves under and around your pillow for more intense, memorable dreams. You could also bathe with an infusion of mugwort before bedtime or to cleanse yourself for a ceremony.
All varieties of Artemesia are sacred to the Goddess Artemis, lady of the moon, who gives comfort (or death) to women in labor, as well as blessings on the hunt, and fertility. Mugwort is also tied to Diana and Hecate, patron of herbalists and midwives. There is evidence of mugwort in ancient Egypt, where the smoke was an offering to Isis. Mugwort has roots that pre-date modern written history so not all of its ancient past is well known. Mugwort makes a beautiful offering placed on your altar for any of these goddesses, and others as well. Mugwort is primarily feminine in nature, connected with the elements of earth and water, along with Venus and the Moon.
Some Native American tribes believed wearing an amulet of mugwort around the neck as you slept would provide security from nightmares and angry spirits. Drink a strong infusion of tea before bed if you are seeking prophetic or vivid dreams. To make a tea infuse one cup of hot (not boiling) water with at least two teaspoons of dried herbs or three to five teaspoons of fresh herbs, with honey, for five to ten minutes.
Burned as an incense for astral projection mugwort will protect your spirit as it explores, and it will amplify the ability to relax and enter trance states. Mugwort can be used as a sacred smoking or smudging herb for protection, purification, conjuration, and divination. To make a simple mugwort smudge stick, tightly bind a small bundle of leaves and flowers with string and hang in a cool, sheltered location to dry for a couple of days or weeks. Use a wetter bundle for darker, more intensely smoldering smoke.
Roman soldiers are said to have put mugwort in their sandals to stop their feet from getting tired, and mugwort is well known as a herb for any wandering soul. The great Roman herbalist, Pliny the Elder said of mugwort, “The wayfaring man that hath the herb tied about him feeleth no weariness at all and he can never be hurt by any poisonous medicine, by any wild beast, neither yet by the sun itself”. A very impressive testament to this hardy herb. Mugwort is said not only to protect, but to reverse hexes, and if hidden near door ways, it will stop unwelcome visitors.
It acquired the name of St. John's herb because as legend has it when Saint John the Baptist took off into the wilderness, he did so wearing a girdle of mugwort. After that it was said that a crown made from mugwort leaves and stems was worn on St. John's Eve to provide safety from malicious spirits. Even now if gathered on St. John's eve mugwort will be imbued with even greater powers of protection.
This is a nice herb to decorate your home with for Beltane, as it makes attractive wreaths, dolls, and pentacles. You can also add it to a Beltane bonfire to keep it burning longer, and you'll get to enjoy the sage-like scent. Try making summer crowns with young, long sprigs of mugwort, they can be rather vine like, making it easy to twist and shape as desired.
Mugwort is one of the sacred herbs of Woden (furious God of the wild hunt) invoked in the Anglo-Saxon Nine Herbs Charm, recorded in the 10th century in the Lacnunga, "Remember, Mugwort, what you made known? What you arranged at the Great proclamation? You were called Una, the oldest of herbs, you have power against three and against thirty, you have power against poison and against infection, you have power against the loathsome foe roving through the land."
Mugwort is called Una (One) and the "oldest of herbs". There is mythology that suggests it is the mother of all herbs, and perhaps even the first cultivated medicinal and magical herb carried with man as he traveled and filled the earth (Armstrong source: Folklore, Vol. 55, No. 1, Mar., 1944). Certainly this is a herb that was even used by stone aged humans.
In Chamber's Popular Rhymes of Scotland (1870) is an old Scottish legend that says a mermaid surfaced near Port Glasgow and saw the funereal of a young girl who died of Tuberculosis and exclaimed, "If they wad (would) eat Nettles in March and Muggins (Mugwort) in May, sae mony braw (so many fine) maidens would not go to clay." Another similar legend claims a mermaid of Galloway came across a young man mourning over a very ill sweetheart, and the mermaid told the lad that mugwort flowers would be the cure, and indeed he juiced them and the maiden drank the juice, and the flowers did restore her to health (Transactions and Journal of Proceedings, Volume 19 1908). According to these tales mermaids actually relayed the virtues of mugwort to humanity. This connects to the fact that this herb is ruled by moon goddesses, who control the tides, and by extension the waterways.
Mugwort is effective at cleansing divination instruments, crystals, altars, and other sacred artifacts. Place mugwort leaves in a ceremonial bowl and allow the light of the full moon to charge this water over night. In the morning, strain the water, and this can be used to clean sacred spaces and tools. Add mugwort leaves near your tarot cards and scrying mirrors. Place mugwort around your crystal ball as you gaze, and on your third eye during mediation. You can even use long sprigs and slender branches to make a scared circle to preform spell work in.
Mugwort placed in mojo bags and carried on you will provide protection and fortify you with strength. It is said to ward off possession and the evil eye, so hang a sprig of mugwort near the doors in your home. Mugwort makes a nice strewing herb as well, especially on the summer Solstice, throw mugwort around the home for a blessed year.
Drinking a strong cup of tea, smoking, or burning mugwort is helpful before practicing any form of prophecy. This herb has a powerful magical presence and is an aid to anyone who knows of its gifts. Mugwort can be used in all protection spells, but especially for travelers (both physical and psychic), clearing energies, banishing evils, and enhancing all forms of dreaming, divination, and prophecy. Try growing Mugwort to learn from and enjoy the sacred, ancient energy.
1. Höld, K. M., Sirisoma, N. S., Ikeda, T., Narahashi, T., & Casida, J. E. (2000). Alpha-thujone (the active component of absinthe): gamma-aminobutyric acid type A receptor modulation and metabolic detoxification. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 97(8), 3826–3831.
2. Judžentienė, A., & Buzelytė, J. (2006). Chemical composition of essential oils of Artemisia vulgaris L. (mugwort) from North Lithuania. Chemija, 17(1), 12–15.