[Herbal Rootlets]: No. 73 – Learning About Mugwort

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Once I spoke the language of the flowers,
once I understood each word the caterpillar said,
once I smiled in secret at the gossip of the starlings,
and shared a conversation with the house fly in my bed.

Once I heard and answered all the questions of the crickets,
and joined the crying of each falling dying flake of snow,
once I spoke the language of the flowers…

        how did it go?

        how did it go? 

– Shel Silverstein

Mugwort is known by many names, sometimes dependent on the species, such as cronewort, moxa, sagebrush, white sage, silver sage, Saint John’s herb and wombwort to name a few. Botanically, Common Mugwort is known as Artemesia vulgaris. There are many other species of mugwort that can be used, such as A. lactiflora, A. douglasiana, A. frigida, A. tridentata and A. ludeviciana. Her botanical genus name, Artemesia, was named after Artemis, the goddess of the moon and the mother of nature. Mugwort is a member of the Asteraceae family.

Artemisia vulgaris

Let’s explore Mugwort’s energetics side. If you have her growing in your garden, pick a leaf for this experiment. Chew on a piece of the leaf, how does it taste? You probably want to spit it out, the taste is pungent and bitter. Does your mouth feel warm? Does chewing on a leaf leave your mouth feeling dry? Most herbalists describe Mugwort to be bitter, pungent, warming and drying.

Nutritionally, Mugwort contains vitamins A, C, K, thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pantothenic acid (B5), and folate plus the minerals calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, silicon and zinc.

Mugwort contains many constituents such as tannins, resin, flavonoids, polysaccharides as well as the bitter principle absinthin, sesquiterpene lactones (vulgarin), sitosterol and several volatile oils (linalool, cineole, thujone, borneol, and pinene).

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Medicinally, Mugwort is considered to be analgesic, anthelmintic, antibacterial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, antirheumatic, antiseptic, antispasmodic, antivenomous, aromatic, astringent, bitter, carminative, cholagogue, choleretic, diaphoretic, digestive, disinfectant, diuretic, emmenagogue, expectorant, hemostatic, nervine, oneirogen, purgative, stomachic, uterine stimulant, and a vermifuge. Let’s take a closer look at how Mugwort is used…

Typically, Mugwort is harvested right before flowering. I prefer to harvest Mugwort leaves for infused vinegars (see recipe section of this month’s issue for details) in the spring when she is only about 3-4 inches in height as this is the best time for harvesting Mugwort to be used as a food. For teas, oils and extracts, I harvest right before flowering. Mugwort is most often used as a tea, tincture, smudge or as moxa. The root of Mugwort has also been used medicinally.

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One of my favorite uses for Mugwort is gut related. Mugwort is top notch for easing intestinal cramping due to bad digestion, food allergies and spastic colon. Rely on Mugwort’s anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, aromatic, bitter, carminative, digestive and stomachic actions to soothe many digestive complaints. Those who suffer from diarrhea or constipation, cramping and spastic bowels may find relief using Mugwort. Along the same lines, her cholagogue and choleretic actions stimulate bile production, helping to purge it downward in through the liver and digestive system.

Mugwort is also a gentle anthelmintic and vermifuge, helping to expel parasites. Although not as strong as her sister Wormwood, A. absinthium, Mugwort can be quite effective in this aspect. I feed a handful of Mugwort to each of my goats every couple of weeks to keep the worms at bay.

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Mugwort is traditionally used as a women’s herb. As an emmenagogue and uterine stimulant, she can bring on delayed menses. As a hemostatic, she has the ability to arrest heavy menses. For heavy cramping, Mugwort’s antispasmodic actions can soothe the uterine muscles, especially when cramping is at the beginning of a woman’s menses.

As a diaphoretic, Mugwort was traditionally used to help sweat out a fever. Combined with her expectorant actions, Mugwort can be helpful for treating various respiratory illnesses, especially those with intermittent fevers. As an antibacterial, studies have shown Mugwort to be effective against several types of bacteria such as Bacillus dysenteriae shiga, B. subtilis, B. typhi, Escherichia coli, Pseudomonas, Staphococcus aureus and Streptococcus spp.

The root has traditionally been used for epilepsy and many types of seizures. It has been shown to reduce the number of seizures, sometimes reducing them altogether.

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Matthew Wood describes Mugwort as being an herb specifically for those who are highly intelligent, gifted and artistic who can describe complex, abstract and difficult

concepts but not able to remember the most simple words or names. In his book Seven Herbs: Plants as Teachers, he relates that A. tridentata is specific for dyslexia and learning disabilities.

Mugwort is great for those who get caught up in the daydream world. For those who are easily distracted, often off in another world, and who may have trouble falling asleep because of it, Mugwort can be helpful.

Artemisia vulgaris

As an oneirogen, Mugwort is often used as a dream herb. When you are taking Mugwort, your dreams are naturally stepped up. If you never remember dreams, you will with Mugwort! If you remember them, they will get more imaginative. Some people are able to control their dreams when taking Mugwort.

For the circulatory system, Mugwort is stimulating, especially for those who suffer from cold hands and feet. Applying an infused oil to the extremities can help to warm them up. Mugwort is also stimulating for cold stiffness, such as rheumatism.

Artemisia vulgaris

The topical oil is also great for a variety of other ailments such as achy, torn or pulled muscles, ligaments, and tendons, cramps, cuts, infections, bumps, bruises, contusions, insect stings and nerve pain.

Externally, a strong infusion or vinegar of Mugwort is great for poison ivy rashes. She helps to dry the rash while reducing inflammation from the reaction and reducing the pain.

For those who are on opiates, Mugwort can be useful for those who have paralyzed nervous systems and can be a key component when coming off of them.

Artemisia vulgaris

Historically, sprigs of Mugwort were placed in the shoes of travelers to keep their feet from becoming weary. Mugwort is soothing to tired and weary muscles and makes a great salve.

Mugwort is often made into bundles, just like her sister Sagebrush (A. tridentata) for smudging to purify the air. Not only can this clear the “energy” of a room but it can also clear the room of bacteria. This smudge can also be helpful in keeping insects away.

Mugwort is used in a unique way that other herbs are not, in the form of moxibustion or moxa. This is the use of specially prepared Mugwort (moxa) over pressure points of the body. There are two ways of using moxa, indirectly, by burning a stick of moxa above the pressure point and directly by placing the moxa on the body with the use of a barrier such as a slice of ginger or a layer of salt. Moxa is often indirectly used near the little toe of pregnant women to help turn a breech baby. Directly, salt is applied in a fine layer over the navel and a cone of moxa is burned for easing extreme diarrhea.

Artemisia vulgaris

Moxibustion has been shown to effect biochemical changes in the body such as the increase of white blood cells, the production of red blood cells and hemoglobin. Moxa is generally used in combination with other therapies on a specific condition.

Those who are allergic to plants in the Asteraceae family should use with caution as they may be sensitive to Mugwort. A small percentage of people find Mugwort to cause contact dermatitis so it’s always best to start out in small dosages to ensure this does not happen. Mugwort is a uterine stimulant and can bring on delayed menses. Because of this, women who are pregnant or may suspect they are should avoid using Mugwort. Breastfeeding women may also want to avoid Mugwort as they may find it to be too drying. Prolonged use of Mugwort may be harmful to the liver. Those with liver disease should not use Mugwort.

Do  you use Mugwort? What is your favorite way to use it? Will you be planting Mugwort in your herb garden this year?


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