Mugwort (Artemesia vulgaris)

There’s something earthy about a plant with the ending –wort; in Old English it indicated a tuber or root. In fact, mugwort actually means “marsh root” which tells you all you need to know about where it could be found. For many years it was used to keep the midges found near stagnant water at bay – so how’s that for sympathetic medicine?
It’s an old plant with a long history although little used in traditional herbalism these days for one reason or another. It was well known to Shakespeare – he has the witches mention it in Act 4 of Macbeth. Aside from its uses as an insecticide, it was primarily used as a female herb. Midwives would use it to help labour along and also to promote lactation. Because of its effects on the uterus, it is known to cause miscarriage in early pregnancy and was probably one of the many herbs used by medieval women to rid themselves of unwanted pregnancies. The oil produced by the mugwort plant is, however, highly toxic and this is another reason why mugwort is little used today.
That said, Traditional Chinese Medicine does make use of mugwort, although I believe a slightly different species, by using the dried leaves in moxibustion. This is a process where a tiny amount of dried herb is burned on or close to the skin at meridian points to promote the flow of ch’i.
It is best known, however, for its magical uses – and yes, we’re back to the witches again. It was an ingredient of the Anglo-Saxon Nine Herb Charm mentioned in Bard’s Leechbook, used in spells to protect travellers and rumoured to be part of the fabled “flying ointment”. But its main use was in moon magic. Long associated with Artemis, the lunar twin of the solar Apollo, because of the silvery underside to its leaves, mugwort was said to enhance grounding whilst allowing the psyche to fly.
And alongside all this, it still has the most wonderful, earthy sounding name.