Mugwort, Moxa, St. John’s Herb
Compositae – wormwood family
Aerial parts – leaves, flowering stalks; or root
Warming and bitter – digestive stimulant, liver stimulant, carminative, anti-depressant, nerve tonic, emmenagogue, anti-rheumatic, anti-bilious. Also, mugwort is known to promote highly vivid dreaming, which I can confirm through personal experience – I normally have pretty active dreams, but the ones I had after taking mugwort right before bedtime were off the charts. On that note, if you have trouble getting a good night’s restful sleep, try to avoid taking this late in the day.
Stagnant digestion, irregular menstruation, menstrual cramps or pain, depression, rheumatism, sciatica, gout, tension – both physical and nervous, diuretic, colds, bronchitis, and other cold or damp conditions.
Volatile oils: cineole and thujone, absinthin (bitter), flavonoids, tannins, resin, insulin
Appearing in early spring and lasting right up until the first frosts of fall, mugwort is a small-town kind of plant friend: once you get to know it, you’ll be running into it everywhere, and yes, in urban areas, too! It seems to thrive in borderlands and “waste” places, the edges of constructions sites, on the border between field and forest, along roadsides (although I don’t recommend you collect anything that grows close to roadsides). We learned about drying mugwort a couple weeks ago, and the very next day found a lovely patch along the field near my house in Richmond, VA. Mugwort will grow anywhere between two and twelve feet tall and seems to have a communal energy, growing in large clusters – a soft, bushy, wonderfully scented patch of feathery herb that is very enticing for those inclined toward napping outdoors. Apparently many consider it to be an invasive weed, as it spreads easily, “aggressively displacing other species, even secreting an herbicide from its roots to create a monoculture,” but I’m with Steve Brill on this one: “I appreciate any vigorous plant that thrives in the city,” (Brill 240).
Collect leaves and stalks just when the blossoms begin to appear, “which is between mid-summer and early Fall,” (Hoffman 65).
Artmesia vulgaris is the herb used in moxabustion, practiced by many acupuncturists, a therapy in which moxa is burnt on or close to the skin along acupuncture points. Mugwort is often used in infusions (steep covered so as not to lose the volatile oils – 15 minutes) or use an infusion in a bath, especially for menstrual cramps, arthritis, etc. It can also be tinctured in alcohol or vinegar. And since I’m only somewhat food-obsessed, “In mid-spring, when it’s only 6 inches tall, Asian people collect it to deep-fry. Other people use it like parsley,” (Brill 240). Yum.
The name mugwort comes from the old English word “wort” meaning plant and “mug” indicating how the herb was used to flavor a mug of beer. “Hippocrates noticed mugwort’s ability to stimulate uterine contractions,” (Brill 240). “Used by women since ancient times… to provoke delayed or absent periods, and is therefore said to be contra-indicated during pregnancy. In China however, it has been used to prevent miscarriage… like wormwood was used externally as a compress to speed up the birth process and to help expel the afterbirth,” (Mabey 44).
Contra-indicated while pregnant, prolonged use and/or high doses are not recommended. Thujone is known to be toxic in exceedingly high doses, but I would be impressed if anyone were capable to take enough at one time for this to become an issue. Apparently sage, a common culinary herb and commonly used for smudging, has higher concentration of thujone, if that gives you an idea (Duke II, 15).