Mugwort, Artemisia vulgaris, is an herb that grows widely in the northeast. To some, it's a pesky weed, cropping up in gardens and lawns, spreading faster than a jack rabbit across a hot iron skillet. In fact, mugwort is easily one of the most prevalent weeds growing along the roadsides here in the Northeast.
But, as with most weeds, if you get to know her you'll realize how valuable she is to have around.
Mugwort is part of the asteracea family (the same as dandelion, chamomile, artichoke, 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 about 6-8 feet tall. Its tiny greenish-white flowers bloom from July to the end of summer. The whole plant has a delicious, spicy scent, and the leaves are very tasty (though possibly a tad bitter for some).
Lore and Spiritual Uses
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.
- The Nine Herbs Charm
Mugwort has a long, rich history - she is one of the most ancient and revered plants. She is a dreaming herb, an herb of protection, and the first herb mentioned in the Nine Herbs Charm, part of an Old English medical text called the Lacnunga.
Mugwort 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.
Mugwort is often burned 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). Toward the end of each summer, I harvest the tallest stalks of mugwort, the ones closest to the sky, and bind them with string to make smudge bundles. 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 is believed that it can help you connect to astral planes and get in touch with your subconscious. For this purpose, I make a Dreaming Balm from mugwort-infused oil and put a little on my third eye before meditation. Placing a little pouch filled with dried mugwort under your pillow at night may give you lucid, even prophetic dreams.
A few years ago, before I knew very much about mugwort or its spiritual uses, I had a strange experience with it.
When I first moved into my house late one autumn, I felt a definite 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, chilled to the bone and convinced that there was an intruder in the house. Finally, a man came to me in one of these dreams and told me very clearly to cut a sprig of mugwort and hang it over my bed for protection.
All skepticism aside, 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 frequently, 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 very 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 support healthy liver function. I like to take the young plants and add them to a jar of apple cider vinegar (this was an idea I got from Susun Weed). 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 indicated in cases where a woman's menses are scanty, irregular, and painful. Mugwort can alleviate cramps and allows the blood to flow. Old midwives used it to ease labor and encourage the delivery of the placenta. It was also used to even out a woman's cycle and bring on a period which is late (for this reason, herbalists do not 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.
In Traditional 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 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 makes a great carpet 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