Scientific name- Artemisia Vulagris (Named after Artemis the moon goddess, protector of women, goddess of childbirth and vulgaris meant – of the people)
Other common names- moonwort, womb wort, lunar weed, gypsy weed, cronewort, dream plant, black sage.
Family- Asteraceae (daisy)
Throughout Europe it was said that you knew where the herbalist lived because Mugwort grew around her house, this was the mark of the herbalist, the mark of the midwife and the healer. The wise woman of the community.
To me Mugwort is akin to a lunar witch that breathes life into my dreams, relaxes my soul and reminds me of the power of the moon, a hedge witch who’s eyes see the past the future and the present. A magical being that has no time for gadabouts and fools, instead loving children and wise women. She is everywhere and yet will only appear to those who are ready. Mugwort’s leaves are a beautiful shape that changes as she grows, the underside of the leaf is covered in silvery hairs like a cobweb, a crones wild hair and the moon beams on a dark night. When I pick, crush and rub the leaf between my fingers the heady scent of sage, forest, earth and warmth fills my being and drops my shoulders.
I remember when I first became aware of Mugwort I was told about this magical plant that enhanced your dreams and smelt of wild sage. I was immediately drawn in and wanted to find her. I searched and I searched, where was this illusive plant?! I got very frustrated and almost gave up. It was later that day as I was walking out of The Sharpham Estate gateway that I felt to stop and look and there to my right amongst so many other plants was a tiny Mugwort. I knew it was Mugwort straight away by her silvery undersides and sage green colouring. I was transfixed, her smell was all consuming and her leaf shape a beautiful mystery.
So what does this beautiful and magical plant do for the body, mind and soul.
Mugwort is bitter, pungent, warming and drying. Mugwort is full of a whole host of vitamins and minerals such as vitamins A, C, K, B1, B2, B3,B5, calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, silicon and zinc. When she is under a foot high Mugwort is great for eating and it used to be a traditional plant to use to make stuffing with. I met a man on one of my foraging walks recently, he was in his 70’s and he vividly remembered being sent out to gather Mugwort to stuff the Sunday roast chicken with. I’ve put it in loads of other meals and recipes and always enjoyed the sagey earthy taste.
Mugwort was also used to make beer with along with many other rather wondrous plants before the church decided that all beers had to be made with hops. It’s worth looking at Stephen Harrod Buhner’s book Sacred and Healing Herbal Beers for a wonderful insight into how brewing used to be and to use some of the wonderful recipes he has discovered. Alcohol was once a very different thing to what it is now, it was ceremonial, mind opening and healing…not at all the sort of thing encouraged during the reformation nor since.
Mugwort is an antibacterial (active against bacteria), anti fungal (destroys or prevents the growth of fungi), anti-inflammatory (used to reduce inflammation), aromatic (having a pleasant and distinctive smell), astringent (causing the contraction of skin cells and other body tissues), bitter (having a sharp, pungent taste or smell; not sweet), digestive (herbs which can help the body to digest food and absorb nutrients), emmenagogue ( are herbs which stimulate blood flow in the pelvic area and uterus; some stimulate menstruation).
Mugwort has been used a a women’s herb for many many years and helps with balancing the cycle. Mugwort is a uterine tonic and emmenagogue, which can be used to encourage menstruation (which is why pregnant women should not take this plant). The uterus (womb) depends on healthy circulation (blood flow) to the pelvic region and strong uterine muscles to function properly. A toned uterus that is receiving adequate circulation allows for a healthy monthly menstrual flow. Mugwort can also relax the muscles and help with heavy cramping, Mugwort’s antispasmodic actions can really help to soothe cramping at the beginning of a woman’s bleed. A wonderful way to use mugwort is through making a womb oil containing castor oil infused with mugwort which will help to bring on a bleed and shift any stagnation. This can also be a great thing to use after birth.
One of the things I love this plant for and how I know her the best, is Mugwort’s ability to enhance dreams. My own experience of a mugwort dreaming night is of something like a relaxation of a part of my psyche that allows the dream channel to be opened or widened and the dreams I have become much more vivid, intense, deeply sensory, very real and quite wonderful. I sometimes make a dreaming tea which has Mugwort (for dreaming), Rosemary (for remembering) and Lavender (for relaxation). It really depends on who you are as a person as to how you use this plant for this purpose. Some people find just having some of it by their bed or under their pillow enough to bring their dreams to life, others find a tea with about a teaspoon of herb per cup enough, for me I find a strong brew in a pot that has infused for a while to be my way of working with this plant and sometimes I take it for a few nights before it kicks in. It can depend on the health of the mugwort that you are using too. It is worth knowing that Mugwort can make you feel foggy and a little sleepy the next day so it’s a good plant to take when you don’t have to do lots of things early the next morning. A good tip is to keep a dream journal next to your bed to write down anything that may come to light as soon as you realise you have been dreaming. Re read when properly awake to gain whatever insights you may be given.
Because this plant can affect the dreaming state it means people are drawn to her like moths to a lightbulb, greedily bashing their heads against her, over and over longing for the promised connection she is said to offer. I see this in people time and again and it makes me feel protective of her, it makes me want to hide her and not reveal her whereabouts, but perhaps I am learning to introduce her with more reverence, to remind people of the sacred nature that is in all life, and that you must learn to respect what is being given before taking it for your own needs.
Another wonderful thing to do with Mugwort is to use her for smudging, this is a way of clearing the air by setting alight to some of the plant when in dried form, then waving the smoke around the room or over a person. This is meant to clear a space energetically and bacterially and the ancient smell connects us instantly to our senses. As an antibacterial mugwort is great for this, along with her protective and clearing energy she works wonders. Californian white sage is used for smudging in America and is shipped around the world for the same purpose, though unfortunately, because of this demand, white sage is becoming endangered. Like many ritual objects, smudges/californian white sage is grown, made and encased in plastic then shipped, without an understanding of where it has come from or whether or not the plants were grown or harvested in a sustainable way. If the sage has been chemical sprayed or intensively grown it will have damaged the land, and will carry that energy. Often, ceremonies held to honor the land here in the UK use sage that is actually harming the land somewhere else. Using hedge foraged mugwort is a way to move forward and introduce old local wisdom back into our modern disposable culture. I believe it is better to use plants native to the land you are living on, they will have the energetics and association with the land around you and won’t feel so disconnected or inauthentic. We in this country were once rich with medicinal knowledge, had a deep understanding of the land and possessed strong plant lore. Let’s try to remember what is here, what has been lost, and re claim that for all those wise herbal healing women (witches) that have been burnt at the stake, for all the lost shamans, medicine women, healers, birth companions and keepers of the wisdom. For wisdom itself lest it be buried under piles of information.
When making wonderful smudge sticks with mugwort you can combine the herb with cedar, rosemary, lavender, pine, yarrow and thyme to name a few.
May you get to know and love this plant as much as I do. She is a magical one for sure. Be careful though and only pick and use her if you absolutely know it’s her, I have known people confuse her with hemlock because of the shape of her leaves, get to know her smell, her characteristics, what she looks like through the season and where she grows and only then start to use her.
To harvest Mugwort for food take her when she is under a foot high and for dreaming and medicine take her when in bud before she flowers (July-September)