Herb of the Month: Mugwort

Mugwort

Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris)

Folk Names: Una, common Artemisia, Artemis herb, Grandmother Mugwort, St. John’s plant/herb/wort, Moxa, Sailor’s tobacco, Muggons, Felon herb, Old Man.
Anglo-Saxon Name: Mugwyrt (from AS moughte-wort or moth-plant)

There are 400 different species of Artemisia, found on nearly every continent on the globe. 

Mugwort can grow up to 6ft in height (2 meters).
Parts used are the aerials (parts above ground)

Mugwort History

While many people believe Artemisias are named for the Goddess Artemis, it is more likely that they are named for skilled botanist, Queen Artemisia II of Caria. 

Remains of wreaths made from mugwort have been found in tombs and in Irish archeological sites. 

In the 10th century, the old English charm of the Nine Herbs in the Lacnunga mentions mugwort. (See the section on Mugwort Magick)

In the Middle Ages, mugwort was connected to St. John the Baptist (see the section on Mugwort Magick).

Mugwort Medicine

“Its tops, leaves, and flowers are full of virtue, they are aromatic,
and most safe and excellent in female disorders.”

~Nicholas Culpepper, 1651

!Contraindications and Dangers: Do not use if pregnant unless under the advisement of a medical professional or midwife (mugwort can be used to prevent miscarriage in some situations).
Avoid prolonged use and large doses. 
Mugwort contains thujone, listed as a narcotic poison by the FDA.

Mugwort has a strong, bitter aroma and taste due to terpenoid volatile oils and sesqueterpenes. Artemisias have some of the highest percentages of terpenoid oils in plants. 

Mugwort specifically contains linalool (like that in lavender), thujone, camphor, and eucalyptol. It also contains inulin, which can help maintain blood sugar levels in the body. 

It is Antibacterial, Antifungal, Antiparasitic, and Antihelmintic. What this means is that mugwort can fight off bacteria, fungus, parasite, and worms in the body and environs. 

Mugwort also contains artemesinin, though the lowest amount of the family of Artemisias, which has been shown to be antimalarial. 

Mugwort and Menstruation

Mugwort is an emmenagogue, meaning it can stimulate the womb and regulate periods. 

Traditionally, herbalists in more than 50 countries have used mugwort to regulate menstruation, to stimulate scanty menses, or to slow excessive bleeding. It is also used for nervous disorders around menstruation such as tension, mood swings, etc. 

Mugwort flower remedy, often considered the safest way to use this herb, is sometimes used to regulate menstruation and even to coordinate the menstrual cycle with phases of the moon. 

Moxa

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Acupuncture, mugwort is used in a process called moxabustion. 

A ball of mugwort is placed on the end of an acupression needle and lit. The smoke and eat over the pressure point aids in healing problems like rheumatism. 

And More

Traditionally, mugwort (as most artemisias) is used as a digestive aid as it is a bitter. This triggers bile in the body and helps tone the digestive organs. For this use I highly recommend taking mugwort as an oxymel (see recipes). 

Mugwort, especially in conjuction with herbs like valerian, skullcap, and lavender, is also a nervine that eases stress and tension. 

Mugwort Magick

“Grandmother Mugwort is witchy, spooky, and incredibly powerful.” 
~ Raven Kaldera, Galina Krasskova – Neolithic Shamanism. 

Associations

Gender: Feminine
Planet: Venus, Moon (specifically the Dark Moon), Earth 
Element: Scott Cunningham places it in the realm of Earth while Ann Moura considers it related to Air.
Deities: Artemis, Diana, the Crone
Saints: St. John the Baptist
Tarot: The Fool 0, The Moon
Powers: Astral Projection, Consecration, Dreams, Healing, Psychic Powers, Protection, Prophecy, Strength. 
Other Associations: Midgard, Litha, the Otherworld, Hedgecrossing, minor flying ointments.

Scott Cunningham in his Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs lists several traditional spells that use mugwort and that I see repeated across various herbal texts. I’ve listed the most commonly shared ones here. 

  • Place mugwort in the shoes to gain strength during long walks or runs. This probably has to do with the various chemical constituents that aid in relaxing muscle spasms (also good for menstrual cramps). Cunningham says for this purpose the mugwort should be harvested before dawn while saying “Tollam te artemisia, ne lassus sim in via.” This roughly translates to “I will take thee, artemisia, to not be faint along the way.” 
  • Most spells relate to dream work. Sip mugwort tea before bed, sleep on a pillow of mugwort, or burn mugwort incense before sleep to have prophetic dreams. 
  • Mugwort is burned before scrying rituals and a tea of mugwort can be drunk for aid in divination. Wash your scrying crystals and mirrors in this same mugwort infusion (or mugwort hydrosol). 
  • Mugwort can be hung in the home or worn on the person to ward against malignant spirits. 
  • Mugwort can also be carried to induce or strengthen lust and fertility. 
  • Traditionally mugwort is said to be carried to prevent madness, disease, and that the carrier cannot be harmed by poison, wild beasts, or sunstroke. All of these issues were once considered caused by evil entities, which is probably the heart of this tradition. 

The Nine Herbs Charm 

From the Lacnunga in 10th century CE. The poem contains references to Christian and English Pagan elements, including a mention of the God Odin.

The first herb mentioned in the old English charm of the nine sacred herbs is Mugwort. 
Gemyne ðu, mucgwyrt, hwæt þu ameldodest,
hwæt þu renadest æt Regenmelde.
Una þu hattest, yldost wyrta.
ðu miht wið III and wið XXX,
þu miht wiþ attre and wið onflyge,
þu miht wiþ þam laþan ðe geond lond færð.

(translation)
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.

St. John the Baptist was said to have worn a belt of mugwort in the wilderness. In his name, the herb has been used to drive out demons, exorcise evil spirits, and protect people from malignant forces and possession. 

In shamanism and related practices, mugwort is used for consecrating space for magickal use. Some may call this cleansing but the method is not like cleaning with bleach but more akin to sanctifying an area like a Catholic priest might with prayer, holy water, and frankincense. It creates an energy in a space that is sacred and conducive to working spiritually in. 

For these purposes, mugwort is often burned in bundles similar to white sage smudge sticks. The Old English term for these bundles is recels (ray-kels) and the Celtic term for using these herbal incenses is saining. Mugwort is collected, tied in bundles ranging in size from cigar-like to logs and lit and fanned to disperse the smoke. 

Mugwort is also traditionally scattered in rooms (and swept up or vacuumed later) for this purpose as well as to clean the area (remember its medicinal properties and abilities to ward of insects).