Mugwort- Artemisia vulgaris
The Mother of All Plants, an ancient herb of healing
Once known as ‘The Mother of Herbs’, most people wouldn’t take a second look at mugwort, with its humble flowers and greyish, green leaves.
But sometimes its better to stay under the radar when you have as much healing power as mugwort!
So mugwort is out and about right now (it’s August whilst I’m writing this). I see it growing everywhere in parks, on the sides of motorways, carpark, quarries (and other places that you wouldn’t want to forage!). Mugwort is a wayside herb so it’s very common and when you identify it, you will never miss it again!
Mugwort- Artemisia vulgaris
I like looking at names so let’s start with the common name: Mugwort.
There are a few theories about where this came from.
It could have been a distortion of Motherwort- given Mugwort is the mother of herbs!
Maud Grieve tells us that it was drank as a tea use by the working classes in Cornwall when black tea was too expensive.1 However, the name predates tea drinking considerably…in fact mugƿyrt appears in the 9th Century Anglo-Saxon Nine Herb Charm.
Mugwort was also drunk as beer before it was ruled that beer should only be made with sedating hops (at the end of 15th century) so it appeared in peoples mugs then too.
Then finally, Grieve tells us that mug may be derived from moughte meaning moths or maggots as it was used to keep them at bay from eating all your cashmere.
The latin name ‘Artemisia’ tells us a bit more about its healing properties. It is named after Artemis, the chaste goddess of childbirth, fertility, protector nature and women…and I would say mugwort also embodies these attributes!
We are so blessed to have these plants.
I will be writing about the many uses of mugwort including moxibustion, massage oils, steams, leaves in shoes and simply just tying the plant around the womb to facilitate labour.
There is no supplement in the world that could do that!
Let’s run through how mugwort can be used medicinally but lets start first with some of the folklore so we can get to know her better!
The Stories of Mugwort:
Beyond Mugwort’s connection with Artemis, Mugwort was also sacred to the Virgin Mary and is included in the plants that were traditionally offered on the Day of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin and consecrated in Church.
Mugwort was also known as the girdle of St John as it was believed that John the Baptist wore a girdle of it in the wilderness. Apparently, on St John’s eve a crown made of mugwort would be worn to protect against possession and it was believed, if gather on St John’s Eve, it would provide protection against diseases and misfortunes.
For more John the Baptist herb information then my article on St John’s Wort will provide.
I did find this connection between St John and another Norse god intriguing as I read in Medicine of the Earth:
‘Thor, the Thunder God, possessed the magical girdle Megingjardr that, when worn, doubled his strength and endurance for journeys and battles. It was said that even mortal humans could gain strength by wearing girdles braided from the ‘Girdle Herb’ on the year’s most powerful day- the Summer Solstice- when the life-giving sun has its greatest strength…Tradition has it that, at the end of the feast, the solstice girdle was thrown into the fire with all the evil that one wanted to banish.’2
I don’t know whether the Norse actually believed Thor’s girdle was made of mugwort…seems a bit tenuous when you look into it but I guess this tells us that Mugwort goes beyond being a herb for painful periods!
Other uses of mugwort was to burn it as incense was in stables to protect animals from disease and hang the consecrated bundles in rafters to protect from demonic forces.
The German word for mugwort is Beifuß which means by/at foot. This is likely due to mugwort’s ability to soothe weary feet and of course, provide protection from any evil that may threaten travellers.
The herbarium of Pseudo-Apuleius (which may have been written around 500 AD) also recommended that mugwort could be pounded in fat and rubbed onto the feet to take away pain3.
Top tip: Try a mugwort foot bath after spending the day on your feet.
Finally, even today on the Isle of Mann mugwort (known as Bollan Bane) is worn as a lapel on Tynwald day (their national holiday).
Artemisia is might among herbs! If you fear magic, hang four bundles in your rooms, and demons or other bad things will not harm you, your children, or the cattle.
A quote from Medicine of the Earth by Suzanne Fischer-Rizzi attributed to a 15th century manuscript.
Now let’s get into the medicine of mugwort…
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