Family / Subfamily: Asteraceae / Asteroideae
Species: Artemisia vulgaris
Names and Myth: Mugwort has been drunk in concoctions since the early Iron Age. The common English name mugwort consists of ‘mug’, a cup, and ‘wort’, meaning a herb or root. In Ukraine it is called chornobylnik, lending its name to the abandoned town of Chernobyl, literally the “place where mugwort grows”. Mugwort was known as a remedy against fatigue and protected wanderers on their journey. E.g. Roman soldiers placed mugwort leaves in their sandals to protect their feet. In Germany it is thus also called Beifuß, since according to folk-believe the herb bound around the ankle or placed under the feet would lend a wanderer preseverance and speed. Other names are Besenkraut, Fliegenkraut, Gänsekraut, Johannesgürtelkraut, Jungfernkraut, Sonnenwendkraut, Weiberkraut, Werzwisch, Wilder Wermut and Wisch. On summer solstice Germanic tribes wore a girdle of mugwort around the belly to ward off hexes and malign spirits. Mugwort was further the first herb mentioned in 10th century Anglo-Saxon Nine Herbs Charm. In medieval magic it was also a strong protector and insect repellent, e.g. against moths. Mugwort boughs hung upside down on the barn or house protected against lightning bolts and pests. Another German folk-believe tells Narrenkohle or Thorellensteine could be found by its roots on St. John’s. Hence it is also called St. John’s Plant and Cingulum Sancti Johannis. Another English name is Felonwort. Today mugwort is used ritually for purification and divination, e.g. mirrors, crystal balls and other scrying tools are washed with mugwort infusions. It is also a main ingredient in oneiric incenses, teas etc. Mugwort oil is further used in perfumery. In cooking mugwort is added to fatty food, meat, and fish as as a bitter flavouring agent and it is used as a substitute for hops for flavouring beer. In Germany it is common to season goose with, particularly the Christmas goose. From the German, ancient use of a sprig of mugwort inserted into the goose cavity, comes the saying “goosed” or “is goosed”.
Medicinal: Mugwort contains essential oils (such as cineole, or wormwood oil, and thujone), flavonoids, triterpenes, and coumarin derivatives. It was also used as an anthelminthic. Called nagadamni in Sanskrit, used in Ayurveda for cardiac complaints as well as feelings of unease, unwellness and general malaise. In Traditional Japanese, Korean and Chinese Medicine, Chinese mugwort (Folium Artemisiae argyi) is used for moxibustion, for a wide variety of health issues. The herb can be placed directly on the skin, attached to acupuncture needles, or rolled into sticks and waved gently over the area to be treated. In all instances, the herb is ignited and releases heat. Not only is it the herb which is believed to have healing properties in this manner, but it is also the heat released from the herb in a precise area that heals. There is significant technique involved when the herb is rolled into tiny pieces the size of a rice grain and lit with an incense stick directly on the skin. The little herbal fire is extinguished just before the lit herb actually touches the skin.
Mugwort pollen is one of the main sources of hay fever and allergic asthma, in North Europe, North America and in parts of Asia. Cooking is known to decrease the allergenicity of mugwort.
Photos by Wiebke Rost