Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) is a common plant that has a wide natural habitat covering much of the northern hemisphere’s temperate regions. The plant is considered a weed in most US states and many European countries, and gardeners have little love for it.
Mugwort – also called Wild Wormwood, Chrysanthemum Weed, Old uncle Henry, Sailor’s Tobacco and Naughty Man – is a perennial plant that grows to around six feet in height and produces small flowers.
The English name Mugwort is believed to derive from the Old English ‘mycg’ (midge) and ‘wyrt’ (root or plant). One of Mugwort’s more traditional uses was as an insect repellent, and it seems likely that its main name comes from this use.
Mugworts have been used for several medicinal and culinary purposes through the ages. As well as being used as insect repellents, Mugworts were frequently used as anthelminthics (parasitic worm removers), to abort pregnancies (in traditional Chinese medicine, using a large dose), to correct breech presentations (also in Chinese medicine, using smaller doses) and as a general purpose remedy for minor heart conditions (in Ayurveda).
Because the plant contains mildly psychoactive compounds called ‘thujones’ it is often used today in herbal smoking mixtures (legal weeds). Thujones produce a similar effect to tetrahydrocannabinol (THC – the active ingredient of cannabis) although the effect is generally considered to be less pronounced. Mugwort is rarely used on its own as a legal weed but is usually blended with other herbs such as Lion’s tail.
Mugwort was also an important herb in the practice of medieval witchcraft, because of its mildly psychoactive action and because it was believed to be lucky. The plant has also been used to aid lucid dreaming and remains an important herb for those who believe these dreams to be astral projections. It is said that sleeping with a sprig of Mugwort beside or within your pillow enhances dreaming, giving the sleeper greater control over their dreams and aiding recollection upon awakening.
Because thujones can be toxic in large enough quantities it is strongly recommended that expecting or lactating mothers avoid using the plant in order to avoid any potential harm to their unborn or newborn babies.