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Lessons in Magical Herbalism: Mugwort (Aremesia Vulgaris)

After 20 years of growing and using herbs for remedies, crafts, and magic, this freelance writer and kitchen Witch loves talking shop.

Mugwort has been used in many ways throughout history, but it should be used with caution.

Mugwort has been used in many ways throughout history, but it should be used with caution.

The Basics About Mugwort

Mugwort is one of those plants you find almost exclusively associated with Witches. Besides Witches and people very interested in herbalism and folk remedies, you don’t find a lot of people keeping mugwort on the old spice shelf. Just say “mugwort,” and for most people it conjures up an image of an old woman bent over a bubbling cauldron.

The name literally translates to “drink plant.” Mugwort is native to Africa, Asia, and parts of Europe. It’s quite tall and sprawling, with dark green leaves on top and lighter leaves on the bottom, purplish-green stems, and tiny white-silver flowers. It’s aromatic, very delicate looking, and has a strong, spicy scent that is quite unique.

It’s probably not the most common or useful herb you can find to make space for. If you’re interested, though, it can be quite a fun addition to the garden and the magical cabinet.

Mugwort is a genus with many different species, and they can’t all be grown and used exactly the same—particularly if you ever plan to ingest them because some can be toxic. In this article, I’m focusing on Aremesia vulgaris, which is common mugwort. Please check your own species of mugwort before applying any of this info.

How to Grow Mugwort

A Few Warnings Before You Decide to Grow Mugwort

Allergy Alert: If you have ragweed allergies, mugwort might stir them up.

Invasive Species/Weed: Many species of mugwort are invasive and considered a noxious weed in some places. If you live in prime growing conditions, you may be very happy with it for a year or two—and then by year three or four you’ll begin to panic because you’ll realize it’s taking over your garden! It spreads both by seed and by roots. Make sure to call your local gardening extension office and check to see if it’s a problem in your area and if it's legal to plant it.

If you really had your heart set on growing mugwort, but are worried about how invasive it gets, the best option would be putting it in pots. You can then prune frequently to prevent it from going to seed.

Propagation

Mugwort is propagated by seed or cuttings. You can also just leave the prior year's plants to die and reseed.

Growing Preferences

  • Mugwort prefers full sun. In very hot climates, partial sun is better.
  • It’s not picky about water, except it doesn’t like its ‘feet’ to be wet for too long.
  • It’s not picky about soil or fertilizer.

In many places, mugwort grows amply in the wild with no care at all. So when I am growing it, I just try not to let it get dry for too long—that’s about the extent of care it needs. If you prefer not to grow mugwort yourself, you can purchase dried mugwort.

Young mugwort plant.

Young mugwort plant.

Ways to Use Mugwort

Bouquets and Arrangements

Harvest the plant to keep it from getting too big and wild. Mugwort makes really nice additions to bouquets, wreaths or any kind of floral crafts.

For fresh bouquets, submerge the plant branches in a tub of cold water for a half hour or so. If it floats, put something on top of it to hold it down. After soaking, simply put the mugwort in your water-filled vase with other cut flowers and plants. It will last nicely.

Drying Mugwort

Mugwort can be dried easily by laying the branches or leaves on a tray and putting them in a very low oven for a few hours. Chop it up and store it in a clean jar in a dry area. Alternatively, you can dry mugwort by wrapping up entire branches in newspaper or paper towels and then hanging them somewhere until you’re ready to use them.

Artemisia vulgaris has a bitter flavor and has been added to roasting meats and stews for millennia. However, it's not an herb you'll normally find in most kitchens.

Mugwort Tea: Natural Antiseptic Cleaner and Insect Repellant

If you’re looking for an all-natural cleaning solution for your home, use mugwort tea!

Instructions

  1. Put the leaves in a bowl and cover with boiling water.
  2. Cover with a plate.
  3. Steep for 45 minutes.
  4. Strain and put liquid in a spray bottle for use. This should keep for a couple of weeks in the fridge.

Use the tea as a general cleaning solution to spray and wipe counters, cabinets, tables and more. If you are having problems with insects, spray mugwort tea where they enter or where they commonly crawl around to repel them.

Medicinal Uses of Mugwort

Safety Issues

Using mugwort internally is controversial. Many sources consider it unsafe, regardless of species. Other sources regard certain species, such as Artemisia Vulgaris, safe to ingest. PREGNANT WOMEN SHOULD NEVER RISK taking mugwort for any reason—it’s an abortifacient.

Internal Use

Some have used mugwort tea internally to help ease heavy menstruation or to address kidney stones, gout and bowel problems. It has also been used to expel parasites and worms.

Though its effectiveness has not been verified, some people consider it an alternative remedy for certain kinds of cancer or a means to help lower blood sugar for those with diabetes. Make sure to consult an herbal health care expert before using mugwort to address any of these health concerns.

External Use

External use is generally considered safe, though you should make sure to do some research before you use mugwort as many of the claims about its health benefits have not yet been verified. So, you don’t have to take mugwort internally to reap its medicinal benefits. It’s actually an excellent plant for making infusions to go into baths or wash water. Here are some ways to use mugwort externally:

  • Soak in a mugwort bath to relax.
  • In the past, people have put mugwort in their shoes during long journeys. The walking, sweat and body oils would break the mugwort down into a poultice of sorts, which would be soothing to the feet.
  • If you have acne, some people might recommend washing your face with mugwort because of its antiseptic properties. Make sure to do some research first as these claims have not been verified by medical professionals.
  • If you have a bruise, a mugwort salve or poultice will help reduce the inflammation and discoloration.
  • For general aches and pains after a hard day, make a mugwort massage oil to rub onto your sore muscles and aches.

Comforting Mugwort Oil Rub

Ingredients

  • Carrier oil. Use a vegetable-based oil, such as olive, jojoba, grapeseed, or safflower.
  • Fresh or dried mugwort.

For every 1/2 cup of oil, you'll need about 2 tablespoons of crushed mugwort.

Instructions

  1. Heat the oil, but do not allow it to simmer.
  2. Add the mugwort. Let it steep overnight.
  3. Strain the oil and put it in a clean jar.
Mugwort herbal print.

Mugwort herbal print.

How to Perform the "9 Herbs Charm"

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 contagion,
you have power against the loathsome foe roving through the land.


This is only the first verse from a Christo-Pagan Anglo-saxon manuscript from the 10th century. It tells us of a poison healing charm that was quite popular. It is known as the 9 Herbs Charm. The herbs involved were mugwort, plantain, lamb's cress, water cress, chamomile, nettle, crab apple, chervil and fennel.

Each of the nine herbs had a chant (like the one above for mugwort). You were to sing the herb's chant three times over it before engaging with it in preparation. You would also sing a chant to the apple being used in the charm.

After chanting, you would pound the herbs into a powder and then mix them with old soap and the juice from the apple. The mixture would then be made into a paste with water, ash and beaten egg. Finally, you would sing the charm into the mouth and both ears of the person you want to cure and you'd apply the mixture as a salve.

Magical Uses

Mugwort makes a wonderful potion to induce trances and to aid in both divination and prophetic dreams. I like to make a mixture of mugwort and valerian root for this purpose, particularly around Samhain—it’s quite the potent concoction.

See warnings above about taking mugwort internally before drinking any mugwort potions. Also, remember to NEVER USE WHEN PREGNANT OR NURSING under any circumstance.

If you prefer to abstain from any internal use of mugwort out of caution, there are many other ways to engage with it magically. For example, you can put mugwort into your incense mixed with sandalwood powder and burn it while channeling or scrying. You could also use this mugwort-infused incense to fill a room with the scent of it before going to sleep. You can also make a mugwort-stuffed pillow for prophetic dreams, but don’t use it every night—sometimes you do need to let your mind just rest. Below are more ways to use mugwort in your magical practice.

  • A mugwort infusion is ideal for occasionally cleaning divination tools like scrying mirrors, crystals and pendulums. It doesn't hurt to keep a spring of mugwort in storage with these items.
  • If performing herbal magic, throw in a bit of mugwort to give an energy boost to the other herbs you’re using.
  • In Northern Europe, girdles of mugwort were worn for protection against nature (particularly poisons) and evil. It was strewn about the home or hung in doors and windows to ward off demons and other evil spirits. Sometimes sprigs were carried because they were thought to neutralize the effects of poison, but I wouldn’t put that one to the test.
  • And of course (as indicated by its name Artemisia), this plant is considered sacred to the Goddess Artemis. Put some mugwort sachets or bouquets on Her altar, or mix it into incense burned to the Goddess.

Details About Mugwort

Scientific Name: Artemisia vulgaris

Common Names: Mugwort, cronewort, felon herb, St. John's plant, Artemis herb, sailor's tobacco, southern wormwood*.

Type: Hardy perennial

USDA Hardiness Zone: 4-8

Gender: Feminine

Planet: Venus

*Please do not confuse this with wormwood (Artemisia absinthium), the plant used to produce absinthe, the famous hallucinogenic drink.

References

The Wicca Garden: A Modern Witch's Book of Magickal and Enchanted Herbs and Plants by Gerina Dunwich

Medicinenet.com

Botanical.com

WebMD.com

Southern Herb Growing by Madalene Hill & Gwen Barclay

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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

Comments

Mackenzie Sage Wright (author) on April 04, 2014:

Thanks CyberShelly, I must admit I do have an affinity for herbs that have a rich history in folklore, for that reason alone I get into growing some of the more unusual ones. I appreciate your comments and your votes!

Shelley Watson on April 04, 2014:

How very interesting - and useful to the modern witch! Loved your article, voted up, interesting and very useful!

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