Mugwort Artemisia vulgaris
Mugwort, with its herbaceous aroma and warming energy, is a really magical plant with a fascinating magical history. It was known as the “mater herbarium” or the “mother of herbs” and was sacred to many traditional cultures that burned and ingested it in rituals for its intoxicating effects. Mugwort's widespread use as a psychoactive substance is due to a variety of terpene compounds like α- and β- thujones and linalool, which are tranquillising and sedative; they act like a hypnotic, motor depressant and sleep-inducting narcotic. Together these compounds account for mugwort’s association with vivid and often psychedelic dreams, as they simultaneously sedate the user and stimulate hallucinations. One often reads about mugwort's use to induce vivid dreams, astral projections and divinations of the future.
Since humankind’s earliest records, mugwort is attributed with the power of arousing “strange ideas, magical conceptions and sacred associations” in cultures across Asia, Europe and North America. Native Americans used mugwort for smudging and prayer and as incense during ceremonies. Sometimes for rituals, mugwort was even used in conjunction with other hallucinogenic substances such as Peyote. For centuries, mugwort was dried and smoked as part of special rites in many cultures to significantly alter consciousness.
The genus name Artemisia refers to its association with Artemis the goddess incarnation of Mother Earth, in ancient Greece and the Mediterranean. Artemis’s divine presence was considered to be concentrated in mugwort. Throughout the ancient world it was thus used to worship Artemis and elicit ecstatic union with her via ingesting it during ceremonies held under the full moon.
Mugwort’s cure-all power is reflected in many of the common and unique ways it is used, from being strapped to the feet of travellers for protection and stamina on long journeys, to being hung from doorways and eves to ward off evil spirits and disease. Indeed, this herb boasts a long list of therapeutic actions and people take mugwort root as a 'tonic' for nervousness and to boost energy. It is also indicated for stomach and intestinal conditions including colic, diarrhoea, constipation, cramps, weak digestion and persistent vomiting. Mugwort is also used to stimulate gastric juice and bile secretion and the tea is helpful to encourage the elimination of worms. The herb has also been used as a part of treatment for malaria.
In traditional Chinese medicine, mugwort is the principle ingredient of moxa, used in moxibustion, in which heat from a burning cigar-shaped roll of the leaves is applied to acupuncture points.
Therapeutic properties: digestive agent, analgesic/pain killer, antibacterial/ anti-viral/ anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory, diaphoretic, expectorant, decongestant, insect repellent/insecticide, muscle relaxant, stimulant.
Mugwort has a long history of use by women and was renown in medieval times as being an abortifacient and emmenagogue with the power to stimulate menstruation during late or missed periods. 12th century texts extensively describe mugwort as a menstrual tonic and one 14th century text discusses mugwort’s use for expelling dead foetal tissue after a miscarriage. In medieval Europe, Mugwort’s ability to induce abortion created an opportunity for women who wanted to covertly terminate a pregnancy under the guise of treating menstrual irregularity. Mugwort has long served as one of the first forms of birth control and a means for women to take control of their reproductive rights.
Precaution: Pregnant women are warned to avoid taking because it contains compounds that stimulate menstruation and kill foetal tissue.
An 18th century Spanish herbalist, Diego de Torres recommended an application of a mugwort bandage below the navel as an effective method of inducing labour.