Mugwort, sometimes known as Felon Herb or Moxa Herb, is a aromatic, herbaceous perennial in the Compositae family often found growing in wastelands and disturbance areas such as construction sites, parking lots, train yards, ditches, and open meadows in Europe, Asia, and both North and South America. It can grow up to 6 feet in height, and has slightly downy, grooved stems that are sometimes tinged reddish or purple. It has alternate pinnate leaves that are silvery with dense white tomentose hairs on the underside and green on the tops. Each leaflet varies from linear to spatulate and are coarsely toothed. It flowers in the summer in small oval heads with cottony involucres in panicled raceme like spikes that range from greenish-yellow to reddish-brown. Each flower is radially symmetrical. The herb should be collected while it is in flower. In the garden, it is drought tolerant once established, attracts bees, birds, and other pollinators, and is relatively low maintenance. It self seeds, spreads quickly, and can tolerate almost any type of soil, earning it a place in the “noxious weed” category.
Mugwort is a bitter tonic for the liver and stomach, a cholagogue, and great digestive stimulant; it’s carminative oils can sooth sluggish digestion while increasing bile flow. It’s volatile oils also works as a great nervine tonic, easing depression and tension, so take care not to overheat mugwort when preparing it, might the oils be lost. It’s also a good emmenagogue, helping with delayed menses and in the normalization of the menstrual cycle. In Traditional Chinese Medicine and Aryuvedic medicine, mugwort is a heating herb prescribed for excessive fetal activity, threatened miscarriage, and postpartum cramping through warming of the uterus and increasing circulation; however, much of Western herbalism suggests to generally avoid mugwort during pregnancy. TCM also indicates mugwort to treat irregularities of the menstrual cycle brought on by coldness and deficiency. It can also be added to baths to help treat gout, rheumatic joint pain, and tired legs and feet. The fresh juice of the plant is useful for treating poison oak irritation and other itching. Both internally and externally, it is effective for ridding and preventing parasites and worms, and is sometimes used as a douche for yeast infections. It is used in moxibustion heat therapy, where the dried and powdered herb is rolled into essentially a tissue paper cigar, lit, and held at acupuncture points near a painful area of the body to increase blood flow, and is effective relief for bruises and other injuries.
The leaves of mugwort are often used culinarily in Asia and in Europe as flavoring for aperitifs and beers, and at one time was a common ingredient for many alcoholic beverages. It’s used as a bug repellant, and can be hung in closets to repel moths. It is also said to be a travelers’ and a gypsy’s herb, protecting against fatigue, and that placing a spring in your shoes brings good luck and safety in your journey from wild animals and evil spirits. In spiritual practice, the dried herb is often burned over a piece of charcoal in an abalone shell, alone or mixed with herbs such as sage, thuja, or osha, to purify the spiritual and physical environment, in a practice called smudging. In Aryuveda, it’s thought to open and purify the channels of the circulatory and nervous systems and relive pain. It’s also a common ingredient in dream pillows, made by stuffing a pillow with mugwort and calming herbs such as lavender, hops, and roses. Dreams brought on by mugwort are often vivid and wild, and said to reveal one’s future self. In western magic, it’s used as a love diving herb and to prevent dreams of the dead. It’s a part of the Nine Herbs Charm in pagan anglo saxon culture, which is said to have a “marvelously incantatory effect” when read aloud. It is a folk antidote to opium poisoning, but if you suspect someone is overdosing, please use Naloxone (Narcan) or call 911.
An infusion of 1-2 teaspoons of the dried herb per cup of water, covered and infused for 10-15 minutes, drunk three times daily. As a tincture, 1-4ml can be taken three times daily. It can also be prepared as an aperitif, as it is in many traditional recipes. Excessive doses can cause symptoms of poisoning, but normal dosages are safe for regular use. Combined with ginger and pennyroyal, it can normalize the menses blocked by nervous tension.
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Main image from Sea Willow Herbs