Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) is a divine lady who goes by several names, including wild wormwood, chrysanthemum weed, artemis, Old Uncle Henry, St. John’s plant, and cronewort.
As an easy-to grow perennial that self-seeds readily, mugwort easily grows to 4 feet and more. She can grow in all types of soils, including poor and alkaline soils, but she does prefer good drainage. She can tolerate drought and likes full to part sun. Her central stem is purplish like the color of a deep Bordeaux wine, while her feathery, deeply divided pinnate leaves are dark green on the upper surface, and covered with downy hairs reminiscent of the moon’s silvery sheen on the underside. Her reddish or pale yellow flowers bloom from July to October. Although nondescript, they are delicate nevertheless.
While you can easily purchase seeds and grow her yourself, chances are that mugwort might be growing in your backyard already. Truth is, she grows all over temperate Europe, Asia, Africa and even some parts of Alaska. She’s fond of growing in fields, in uncultivated soils, along waysides and waste lands. Although she is considered an invasive weed in some parts of North America, you really want to get to know this tall lady a lot better considering all of her interesting properties.
Wait a minute. Doesn’t mugwort look a lot like poison hemlock? Not really. As with any plant, you should be 100% sure of identification, however here are five major differences:
1. Hemlock plants can grow as much as 10-12 feet high, while mugwort only grows to 4 feet. While I’ve met some mugworts as tall as 5-6 feet, I’ve certainly not seen any that were 12 feet tall.
2. Hemlock has white flowers with 5 petals that are arranged in umbrella-shaped clusters, while mugwort flowers are smaller, pale yellow or reddish, and arranged in a raceme.
3. Hemlock’s central stem is green with purple splotches, while mugwort’s stem is all purplish in color.
4. Hemlock has toothed, fern-like leaves, while mugwort’s leaves are pinnately lobed with the underside of the leaves having a downy, silvery sheen.
5. When crushed, hemlock leaves have a musky odor reminiscent of mouse urine, while mugwort’s leaves have a pleasant smell reminiscent of sage and chrysanthemum.
Now let’s look at the many interesting edible and medicinal uses of mugwort, the reasons why this wonderful lady is a sure keeper.
#1 – Flavorful as a Bitter Aromatic
On the edibility scale, she’s considered a bitter aromatic, which means she helps to get the liver juices flowing. Some don’t mind her raw, so if you are keen on her taste you can add a few of her leaves and flowers to salads. Others prefer her leaves and flowers in soups and stews, much as you would flavorful herbs like cilantro, dill or parsley. Along a similar vein, you can add some of her leaves and flowers as you would other herbs to flavor rice and grain dishes, fish, meat and poultry, and even deviled eggs. If you’re into green juices and green smoothies, you can add in a small handful of leaves and flowers along with other greens and fruits.
#2 – Tea Substitute? Tea Medicine!
Interesting tidbit: back in WWII, when tea became a pricey luxury, mugwort was used as a tea substitute in some parts of England. Nowadays, we know that a pot of mugwort tea hosts several cups of medicine: excellent to help with gas, flatulence, stomach acid, bile production and overall digestion. Her root is considered a supreme stomachic. That same cup of tea can be enjoyed as a nightcap before bedtime, as mugwort also has nerve-soothing properties. She might even bring you some lucid dreams. She’s also considered an emmenagogue, antispasmodic and hemostatic, which means 1-3 cups of tea a day will ally women with menstrual cramps or those that have heavy, prolonged bleeding.
To Harvest: Cut the top 1/3 of the plant when mugwort is in flower. You can hang the plant upside down to dry (such as from an indoor clothesline), or chop her into small pieces and spread her onto newspaper or on mesh sheets in a dehydrator. Roots are dug up and collected in the fall. Use a scrub brush and a bit of water to clean the roots, then spread them out on newspaper or on mesh sheets in the dehydrator and let them dry completely. All parts of the plant are best stored away from light, such as in paper bags.
To Make Mugwort Tea: Place 1 oz dried mugwort in 4 cups of boiling water and let steep 5-10 minutes, then strain. If you let it sit for longer and make a standard infusion in a mason jar for 4 hours, the tea will be quite bitter. Feel free to halve this recipe if you want to make less tea. You can keep any unused tea in the fridge for up to 2-3 days.
To Make Mugwort Root Tea: Place 1 ounce chopped roots with 4 cups water in a glass or ceramic pot. Let come to a boil, then continue to simmer, covered, until reduced by half, about 20-30 minutes. Strain and drink.
If you’d like to benefit from mugwort’s medicine, but want to skimp on the bitter, consider taking her as tincture instead. It’s easy to make your own, too…
To Make Tincture of Mugwort: Cut off the top 1/3 of flowering mugwort plants and chop the stems, leaves, and flowers into small pieces using scissors or pruners. Place slightly packed in a mason jar. What size mason jar you use depends on how much herb you have. Fill the jar with alcohol, place on lid and screw cap, and let sit 6 weeks in a cool, dry place. Strain and store in dark amber bottles. Standard dosage is 5-20 drops. Use this tincture before meals to help with stomach acid and liver bile production, or after meals to help with gas, bloating, and distention.
#3 – Worms be Gone!
Mugwort is in the same family as wormwood (Artemisia absinthium), and both are great at ridding the body of parasites and candida, including Staphococcus aureus, Bacillus typhi, B. dysenteriae, streptococci, E. coli, B. subtilis, and pseudomonads. While you can drink the tea for this purpose, you can also try a mugwort retention enema in combination with other naturopathic treatments.
Yes, folks, you read about mugwort enemas first on the [Grow] Network!
To Make a Mugwort Enema: Put 1 liter of slightly warm, finger-hot mugwort infusion* in a 2 liter enema bag. Lie on your right side, making sure that the nozzle has been well lubed, and hold the mugwort infusion for 10-15 minutes. Candida/parasite cleanses work well on 10 days on/5 days off cycles, so use the mugwort enema for 10 days on, then take 5 days off. You can then repeat for another 10 days using the mugwort enema, or do a rotation and use other parasitic herbs for retention enemas. Commonly used herbs include pau d’arco, wormwood, and black walnut hulls. Since mugwort is in the daisy/Asteracea family, this would not be a suitable option for those with ragweed allergies.
*To Make Mugwort Infusion: place 1 oz dried mugwort and 4 cups boiling water in a 1-liter mason jar. Put on lid and screw cap, let steep for 4 hours, then strain.
#4 – Dream a Little 3rd-Eye Dream
Mugwort is said to open the third eye and to spark vivid dreaming, so let’s get to making a dream pillow! Yours can be as simple as filling a sock with dried mugwort leaves, or as fancy as stuffing the dried leaves into a silk, embroidered sachet. A cotton or organza bag works just fine, too. Simply place your dream pillow underneath your head pillow, and dream away! You can add some dried lavender in with the mugwort leaves to help ease you into peaceful slumber.
#5 – Clear the Bad Air
Science has officially recognized what folk medicine has known for centuries, that burning herbs to “clear the energy” does just that: it kills bad bacteria lingering around. Mugwort is antimicrobial, so whether you happen to be a health practitioner about to give a healing session (such as massage, reiki, reflexology, etc), or you just want to get your house purged of nasty bacteria, consider using a mugwort smudge or incense.
To Make a Mugwort Smudge: Working with the fresh herb is best for this. You can use dried branches instead, but be aware that the dried leaves will create a fine mess when you go about twining them together with string. Chop off the top 1/3 of the flowering plant. Take off the smaller branches and lay them with the flowers at the top and the cut ends at the bottom. Trim the cut ends so that the pieces are about the same length. Take some cotton string and wrap the ends together, winding several times. Make a knot to secure the string in place. Then continue wrapping the branches together, working up towards the flowery end. The string might have a zig-zag look, but don’t worry! Finish by wrapping the end bit with the flowers several times, then cut the string and secure it with a knot. Now let the smudge dry – drying will take some time.
To Use a Mugwort Smudge: While holding the end with the cut stems, light the opposite end with the flowers. Hold the smudge over an astray or non-flammable object to collect the ashes, and walk around the room, letting the smoke from mugwort bring her clean, grounding energy. Do keep an eye on the smudge while you are doing this! To put out the smudge completely, douse the lit end in a mason jar filled with baking soda. You can reuse the smudge, if you like. You can also burn mugwort as an incense by placing a small bit of a dried branch in a non-flammable object like an incense holder, and lighting the branch at the flowering tip. Smudge rooms seasonally or as needed. Try smudging before meditation, or burning mugwort as incense during meditation.
#6 – Remineralize with “Strong Bones Vinegar”
A great way to get some of the calcium and magnesium required by strong, healthy bones is by using mugwort vinegar. You can make “strong bones vinegar” at home by lightly packing a mason jar of any size with fresh mugwort leaves. Add apple cider vinegar to fill the jar, fasten the lid and screw cap, and let it sit for 6 weeks before straining. As the leaves soak up the vinegar, you can add in more vinegar as needed. You can use plastic wrap or parchment paper to keep the metal lid from coming in contact with the vinegar and rusting. The apple cider vinegar will leach out the calcium and magnesium from the mugwort’s leaves. Some people like to shake the bottle on a daily basis, checking to see if any more vinegar is needed. If you’re like me (excuses: too busy or too lazy) and you only check it occasionally, your vinegar will turn out just fine anyway, so long as you leave it in a cool, dry place out of direct light.
Pour this vinegar over salads or add it to vinaigrettes. If you use an apple cider vinegar “with mother,” you will get the benefits of gut-friendly probiotics as well. And if you like this “strong bones vinegar,” try pairing the mugwort with chickweed (Stellaria media) or nettles (Urtica dioica), or use all three together to make a potent herbal bone vinegar.
#7 – Natural Insecticide Help
You can grow mugwort as a companion plant to dissuade aphids and other bothersome insects in the garden. However, since she can inhibit the growth of nearby plants, consider keeping her in a pot. She grows very well in containers, and can easily attain 2 feet of height. Another idea you can try is to use a weak mugwort tea to spray on infected plants as a natural insecticide.
Still not sold on the uses of mugwort? You might be when you consider these other uses that you can research further on your own (especially that last one):
• Use mugwort stalks or leaves for kindling.
• Adding dried mugwort to a fire will help to keep it smoldering.
• Rub mugwort leaves on skin as an antidote to poison oak.
• Since mugwort is an insect repellent, try adding essential oil of mugwort with other essential oils (such as neem, thyme, fennel, lemon eucalyptus and others) to a carrier oil (such as coconut oil) to make your own natural insect repellent. Try using 20 drops total essential oils to 1 ounce oil.
• Infused mugwort oil can be used to aid in circulation, such as on varicose veins.
• If you’re an acupuncturist/acupressurist, consider making your own moxa sticks from mugwort (“how to” instructions can be found on the internet).
• Make mugwort beer. Mugwort was used in beer recipes before hops became the standard. Look for recipes for “gruit ale” on the internet.
Note: Large amounts and prolonged use of mugwort can cause nervous and liver damage. While some midwives might use mugwort to help induce labor, mugwort is not suitable for pregnant or lactating women. Mugwort’s flowers contain pollen which can trigger hay fever symptoms in those susceptible. Contact dermatitis has been reported by some.
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