Table of Contents
Mugwort (Artemesia vulgaris) is a perennial plant belonging to the Asteraceae family. It is native to Northern Europe and grows throughout Asia and the British Isles.
Mugwort has a long history of various uses in many countries. It was popular as a ‘magical herb’ during the Middle Ages, and also as an alternative to tobacco or cannabis by sailors who called it ‘sailor’s tobacco’. Other names throughout its history have included felon herb, naughty man, chrysanthemum weed, old uncle henry, and wild wormwood.
Mugwort is a close relative of wormwood—the “flavouring agent” of absinthe. Today, it continues to be popular as a smokeable herb and for inducing ‘weird’ dreams.
Mugwort is one of the nine sacred herbs of Anglo-Saxon England. Its early uses date back to Roman times when soldiers placed mugwort leaves in their sandals to prevent their feet from fatigue 1.
Native Americans used mugwort in their witchcraft and believed that rubbing it on their bodies would protect them from ghosts. They also wore necklaces of the leaves of this herb to prevent themselves from dreaming about the dead. Mugwort was also used in pagan rituals, and by travelers who sought to protect themselves both from evil spirits and dangerous animals 2.
Mugwort has also been used for beer-making, as an insect repellent, in herbal medicine, food, and as a smoking herb.
Mugwort is a complex herb, comprising over 75 unique chemicals.
Mugwort’s edible parts include its leaves and roots and is often used as an ingredient in many Asian dishes. Its bitter leaves make it suitable for seasoning meats such as fish, fat, and even the roasted goose at Christmas.
In China and Japan, mugwort is often used in juices and rice cakes.
Mugwort also harbors carminative properties and can help to relieve gastrointestinal problems such as colic, gas, constipation and diarrhea. It’s also believed to help kill intestinal parasites such as pinworms, and can be used as an antibacterial, purgative, and anthelmintic.
One of Mugwort’s most-known uses is in the practice of moxibustion. This is a traditional practice of Korean, Japanese and Chinese cultures and involves rolling the leaves of the herb into a stick or cone, igniting it, then waving it over an area to be treated. The leaves may also be burned over an acupuncture point to release energy.
Mugwort contains a sesquiterpene that appears to work through a serotonergic mechanism and may be beneficial for women. It is an emmenagogue, which means it can stimulate menstruation and promote regular menstrual cycles. It was even once used to induce abortions 3. (please refer to side effects and avoid this plant if you are pregnant)
Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) holds that mugwort has healing properties that are released through heat. This technique is even used to help breech babies change their cephalic position during delivery 4.
Mugwort comprises several essential oils including thujone, wormwood, and cineole, as well as various triterpenes and flavonoids. It is useful as an insect repellent to keep moths from the garden.
Mugwort is considered to have mild psychoactive properties that can produce sedation and euphoria 5. It is often taken for its hallucinogenic effects.
Smoking mugwort is believed to be the most effective way to enjoy the benefits of its active components. It is usually smoked as a hand-rolled cigarette, in much the same way as tobacco.
Mugwort is also said to enhance dreaming, with many users reporting astral travel and wild, prophetic dreams 6. It can be taken on its own or with Calea zacatechichi for “hardcore dreams”. Although there is a lack of scientific research to support this, anecdotal evidence dates back centuries. Users suggest smoking mugwort shortly before going to bed in order to experience these hallucinogenic effects in dreams 7.
There are many reports about the hallucinogenic properties mugwort produces when smoked. The effect is said to be soft on the throat and ‘fluffy’, similar to mullein. Users say it produces a calm and mellow feeling rather than the intoxicated or ‘stoned’ effects of smoking marijuana. It produces a light smoke with a pleasant, slightly sweet flavor.
Unlike some hallucinogenic herbs, there is some scientific evidence behind the species Artemisia that mugwort belongs to. Several peer-reviewed scientific journals, including the Journal of Life and Environmental Sciences, have noted that Artemisia harbors various psychoactive properties.
Researchers say Artemisia’s phytochemical constituents in wormwood (Artemisia spp.) are due to a monoterpenoid called thujone, which has been shown to antagonizes the main inhibitory neurotransmitter, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). This produces stimulant effects almost to the point of being convulsant 8.
Other research suggests that the great diversity of sesquiterpene lactones prevalent in Artemisia is likely to be responsible for its hallucinogenic and aphrodisiac effects 9.
There is some debate over the difference between mugwort and wormwood. The scientific name for wormwood is Artemisia absinthium, while mugwort is Artemisia vulgaris. Although the two plants are closely related, “mugwort” refers to all 200 aromatic plants belonging to the Artemisia genus. wormwood is only one of these.
Pregnant or lactating women should never use mugwort due to its ability to increase blood flow to the pelvic area. This can lead to uterine contractions and even miscarriage.
Mugwort may cause allergic reactions in some people, which can involve sneezing and sinus-related symptoms. Some people have also reported contact dermatitis or rashes.
In the U.S, mugwort is available both as a dietary supplement and homeopathic preparation and is generally considered safe for most people.
Mugwort is not controlled in the U.S, so it is legal to grow, process, sell, or trade.
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1. Artemisia. [book] Accessed April 28, 2020. https://books.google.co.nz/books?id=t0MtnKDvLLwC&pg=PA144&lpg=PA144&dq=roman+soldiers+mugwort&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=roman%20soldiers%20mugwort&f=false
2. Native American Uses of California Plants – Ethnobotany. [research paper]. Accessed April 30, 2020. https://arboretum.ucsc.edu/pdfs/ethnobotany-webversion.pdf
3. Mugwort ( Artemisia vulgaris) in the Treatment of Menopause, Premenstrual Syndrome, Dysmenorrhea and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder [pdf] Accessed April 30, 2020.
7. Meet the Foragers Getting High on Mugwort. [magazine article]. Accessed April 29, 2020.
8. α-Thujone (the active component of absinthe): γ-Aminobutyric acid type A receptor modulation and metabolic detoxification. [research article]. Accessed April 30, 2020. https://www.pnas.org/content/97/8/3826.short
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