History of Mugwort
An herb of the night, mugwort has a long mysterious and magickal history. An unassuming, weed-like plant, this herb has been used to treat issues specific to women as well as in the Chinese healing practice of moxibustion. It has long been associated with dreams and divination, and with superstitions and magic folklore. Mugwort’s psychoactive properties make it a powerful tool for magickal practitioners, when used carefully and with intention. Let’s take a look at this herb’s fantastical history and magickal uses.
Herb of the Night
Mugwort has long been associated with the night and with the sort of divine femininity of this energy. Its Latin name, Artemisia vulgaris, reinforces this association. Vulgaris simply means ‘common’, but Artemisia refers to Artemis, the Greek goddess of the moon. Artemis was known as a goddess of the earth, communing with nature, and often seen as dancing with supernatural and wild creatures in the forests. This association with night, the dark, and the mysteries that come with it, reflect mugwort’s use in dreaming and divination, as well as astral travel and psychic experiences.
Another association that comes from the Artemis connection is that of ‘women’s issues’. Artemis was not only Goddess of the moon, but also of maternity, childbirth, and other uterine things. The moon marked women’s monthly mensural cycles. We will touch on these uses later on, but mugwort was often used to treat menstrual and childbirth issues. The herbs has commonly been referred to as Miadenwort, Motherwort, and Womb Wort.
The origins of the English word ‘mugwort’ are somewhat up in the air. The herb was important in Anglo-Saxon culture, and like others we have discussed, is featured in the Nine Herbs prayer from the Lacnunga. The term mugwort may come from Old English “moughte” (moth) or “mucgwyrt” (midgewort), both of which refer to mugwort’s use in repelling flies, midges, moths, and other annoying insects. There is also the ‘folk etymology’ (basically a word sounds like a thing it is associated with) with the word “mug”, alluding to mugwort’s use as a bitter flavoring ingredient in beers/gruits before hops gained popularity. It’s also thought that the term mugwort came from “muggi”, an old Norse word meaning marsh, and the German “wuertz”, meaning root. So, whichever is the true etymology of the word, we can see reflections of how the herb has been used by these ancient cultures.
Mugwort’s common names include: Felon herb, St. John’s Herb (NOT St. John’s Wort) , and Sailor’s Tobacco.
Medicinal and Other Uses In History
Mugwort has many medicinal properties. In Ancient Rome, soldiers put mugwort in their footwear to keep their feet from feeling fatigued. It was said that a traveler could walk more than 40 miles with mugwort in their shoes and not feel tired. It was often planted on roadway for easy access for this purpose. In Germany, the herb is called Beifuß, meaning ‘by foot’.
Traditional Chinese medicine uses mugwort in moxibustion, a practice of burning cigar shaped roll of herbs near an acupuncture needle or point to clear certain energies. Mugwort is made into a Moxa, and burned to treat inflammation or even correct the position of a baby before delivery.
Throughout history and cultures, mugwort has been used to treat different conditions related to women’s reproductive organs. It was ingested to stop excessive mensural bleeding or to induce uterine contractions (and sometimes abortion). It was also used to relieve pain during and after childbirth.
In North America, Native Americans also used mugwort (although they may have used Artemis douglasiana, a a different spieces of mugwort). In the southwest, tribes rubbed it on their skin to protect them from poison oak, to get rid of intestinal parasites, and in salves and compresses to treat eczema. Mugwort was sometimes referred to as “women’s sage”, because of its use in women’s menstrual issues.
In modern herbal circles, mugwort is used as a natural insect repellent, as an anti-anxiety and sleep aid herb, and to ease menstrual cramps.
In addition, mugwort has been used to flavor beer, fish, soups and salads, and even desserts, especially in China, Japan, Taiwan, and Korea.
Psychoactive Properties & Warnings
Although mugwort is not a regulated substance in most countries, it does possess some minor psychoactive chemicals that do produce ‘trippy’ experiences for some people. Mugwort contains thujone, which can be toxic in large amounts or from long-term consistent use. (we’re talking every day, big quantity use). Mugwort’s cousin, wormwood (Artemisia absinthium), is an ingredient in Absinthe, and although it was orginally believed that thujone was a major contributor to absinthe’s —– properties, it has seen been determined that thujone only appeared in low quantities in the drink. This is important to consider when using mugwort because it means it is NOT as psychoactive as wormwood. Then there was the myth that thujone produced similar effects as cannabis. This has also been found to be incorrect.
In addition to thujone, mugwort contains eucalyptol and camphor. The first two compounds together work to stimulate contractions in a woman’s uterus and to cause damage to fetal tissue – therefore one major warning for mugwort is that it NOT be used by anybody who is pregnant, nursing, or is trying to become pregnant. Camphor can induce hallucinations, vivid dreams, and hypnotic states, depending on the amount smoked or ingested.
Here’s the thing – taken at a small dosage, the amount of these chemicals present in the dried herb are going to be fairly small, and thus produce mild effects. You most likely won’t be tripping out if you drink a cup of tea with a teaspoon-tablespoon of mugwort in it, especially if it’s combined with other ingredients. Smoking it may be another story, but as I have not tried that method, I cannot speak to the experience. I recommend doing more research before using mugwort, just to be on the safe side, but I can tell you that I’ve drank mugwort tea several times and have only felt ‘slightly highish’ once.
I recommend listening to this episode of Seeking Witchcraft for an interesting discussion on the herb. It is called: Incense, Flying Ointments, Wine & Other Ritualistic Mind Altering Substances from Aug 21, 2020.
Here are my firm warnings for mugwort (but always do your own research!)
-DO NOT INGEST IF PREGNANT, NURSING, OR WANT TO BE PREGNANT
-DO NOT DRINK ALL DAY ERRRRRYDAY
-DO NOT DRINK LARGE QUANTITIES (use 1 tbsp to at least 8 oz water) can cause liver damage, convulsions, and nausea
-DON’T MESS WITH THE ESSENTIAL OILS
-IF YOU HAVE AN ALLERGY TO CERTAIN SPICES OR CHAMOMILE, YOU MAY BE SENSITIVE TO MUGWORT
-DON’T GIVE TO CHILDREN OR PETS
-IF SMOKING, DO RESEARCH! SMOKE IN LUNGS IS ALWAYS HARMFUL
-DON’T DRIVE OR DO ANYTHING YOU SHOULDN’T DO WHEN UNDER THE INFLUENCE
-START SMALL AND SEE HOW YOUR BODY REACTS
Mugwort is an uncontrolled substance in the United States, although according to a 2011 Louisiana statute, it may be banned in that state (although I couldn’t find a similar statute for other states). So…..do your research before purchasing.
As you can imagine, mugwort is steeped in folklore. Tied to the tradition of traveling is the belief that St. John the Baptist used mugwort fibers in his famous ‘girdle’. Along with this association was the Middle Ages belief that mugwort was a protective herb – not just against weariness, but against evil spirits and animals. These two beliefs together led to the herb being called “cingulum Sancti Johannis”, and was worn on the head to prevent possession by evil spirits, and when collected on St. John’s Eve it gave extra protection against calamity.
As stated, mugwort has always been associated with the night, femininity, and intuition, and because of the actual psychoactive properties in the herb, mugwort was believed to aid in divination, prophetic dreaming, astral travel, and altered states of consciousness. People placed the herb near their bed or under their pillows, drank it in teas, smoked it, and also rubbed it onto their skin (its oils do work this way), to obtain these properties. It was used in special rituals in China and as a smudging herb by some Native American tribes, sometimes in tandem with peyote.
I wanted to include this excerpt from this site. I’m not sure who to attribute the words to, but they beautifully describe the overall mood and energies surrounding mugwort:
“Artemisia vulgaris guards the entryways of this liminal space. According to Homer, Artemis is potnia theron — mistress of wild animals. Her silvery-grey flowers, the color of moonlight, announce that this is an untamed place, which makes some people uncomfortable as easily as it makes others feel at home. She affirms what is forgotten and in shadow. Also known as mugwort or cronewort, Artemisia vulgaris walks and lives among people. As intractable and sturdy as an old hag, she prefers devastated city spaces to bucolic pastures. She is often found in highway dividers or abandoned lots. Like Artemis who cultivated her solitude, Artemisia vulgaris helps us become sure footed, helps us value being alone as a way of centering and grounding ourselves. She is referred to in Russian as Zabytko, the Herb of Forgetfulness. Her strong, camphor-like oils open up ancient memory, clear the cobwebs of forgetfulness, and help us remember ways of healing and living that attend to spirit and soul. When you’ve lost your vision, your senses are dispersed, and you need an ally to help you remember how to dream, Artemisia vulgaris can be smoked, drank, or placed on your brow.”
In Magickal Workings
The magickal properties of mugwort are both self-explanatory and steeped in mystery. That’s just the energy of this herb. Lovely, gentle, mystical, and capable of inducing altered states of consciousness, here are some types of magick you can include mugwort in.
- Divination, astral travel, prophetic or lucid dreaming, meditation, trance work
- Fertility spells or rituals (not ingested or smoked!)
- Anything relating to night magick, moon magick, or dreams
- Rituals to connect to the Goddess Artemis/Diana or any of her correspondences
- For protection, especially travel (physical or astral)
- Magick where creativity or intuitiveness is desired
As always you can put the herb into sachets or other charms to bring its energies to your workings. But since mugwort is a psychoactive herb when ‘used’, it may be more powerful to engage with it directly. Incense is one way to do this, so is smoking the herb. Mugwort tea is of course an easy way to reap the benefits of this herb and to enter into the psychic realms. There are also recipes for salves or oils that contain mugwort that can be used since mugwort can be absorbed through the skin as well. You can simply order mugwort (or wildcraft it) and keep the herb near you during divination or sleep if you prefer not to mess with the ingestion part. Whatever method you choose, do your research and never use while pregnant!
Although mugwort can be used to season foods, I personally feel that to connect to its magickal energies, this herb is best used in or on the body. I have linked below a wonderful webpage that give a simple recipe for mugwort infused oil, as well as several other mugwort recipes you may wish to try. I’ve also linked my Dream Blend Enchanted Herbal Tea. It contains mugwort and valerian root, and will help you experience that altered state of consciousness that mugwort is famous for. If you wish, you can also get ahold of mugwort at most metaphysical stores and online to make your own tea infusion as well!