Other Names: Artemisia vulgaris, Moxa, Old Man, St. John”s Plant, Sailor”s Tobacco, Felon Herb.
Element: Air (for dreams/scrying), Earth (for grounding)
Protection, scrying, dreaming, flying ointment.
This herb is native to Africa, Europe, Asia and has spread to most parts of the world. It prefers nitrogenous soils and is commonly found on waste ground, roadside verges, embankments and uncultivated areas. Many consider it an invasive weed. It can grow up to 2m tall and spread quickly if grown in gardens. It is relatively easy to grow in any herb garden from seed.
Pregnant women should avoid using mugwort for fear of miscarriage. Mugwort is not the same as wormwood even though they lookalike. Mugwort can be distinguished by the leaves being pointed and not blunt and the underside of the leaves are white/cottony.
|Mugwort. Picture courtesy of Christian Fischer, Wikipedia.|
The plant has been used the world over since ancient times for healing, flavouring and protection. In medieval times, the herb was used to protect against evil spirits and prevent fatigue, particularly for travellers. It”s widespread nature may have contributed to one of its common names, ”travellers herb.”It was also known as Cingulum Sancti Johannis as it was believed John the Baptist wore a girdle of it when in the wilderness to protect against evil spirits. In Germany and some northern European countries, it was thought that gathering the herb on St. John”s Eve gave protection against misfortune and sickness.
The herb can be used to flavour beer instead of hops. It is also used to season meat and fish. The saying “goosed” comes from Germany where a sprig of mugwort inserted into the goose means it is ”goosed”. Young mugwort leaves can be boiled and used in salads although they will have a bitter taste. Parts of the plant are used in herbal smoking blends and it is a common ingredient in commercial herbal teas.
Mugwort is widely used in traditional Chinese medicine for moxibustion, where the herb is commonly known as moxa. The herb is burnt to heat a specific area of the body. The herb is either placed directly on the skin, at the tip of a needle or rolled into a stick and held near the required area. In all cases, the moxa is then lit. Most often, the burning herb is removed from the patient before the smouldering part reaches the skin. In traditional Chinese medicine, the part used most often is the downy leaves – heat the leaves and then rub until only the cottony fibres are left. Infused as a tea or used in a tincture, it can be used to relieve stress, fatigue, painful menstruation, cramps and loss of appetite.
Mugwort has long been associated with witchcraft. Native Americans believed rubbing the leaves on the body would keep ghosts away. Even its name is derived from the Goddess Artemis. Because of the plants association with Artemis, dreaming and astral travel, it is associated with the Moon. European witches believed the herb could produce or enhance dreams and visions and so was placed in the pillow or drunk as a tea before going to bed. Along those lines, mugwort is also used for scrying, astral travels and ”flying ointments.” The herb has a mildly stimulating effect, but in enough dosage can lead to a europhic feeling with effects similar to cannabis. In Mexico, the herb is smoked as a substitute for marijuana.
When harvesting mugwort, pick the leaves when dry to avoid mould growing later on. Remove the dirt if harvesting for culinary uses. Tie in bundles and hang upside down until the leaves are dry. They can then be crumbled and placed in airtight containers. Smudge sticks can be made by rolling the leaves (and stems) into sticks.
Mugwort tea can be made by soaking the leaves in hot water. Sweeten with sugar or honey. Make a mugwort tincture by soaking the herb in alcohol. Approximately 50g of mugwort to half a litre of vodka should be sufficient.