Friday, March 11, 2011

Artemisia vulgaris - Mugwort

Artemisia vulgaris - Mugwort or Common Wormwood, is one of several species in the genus Artemisia which have common names that include the word mugwort. This species is also occasionally known as Felon Herb, Chrysanthemum Weed, Wild Wormwood, Old Uncle Henry, Sailor's Tobacco, Naughty Man, Old Man or St. John's Plant (not to be confused with St John's wort).  Some sourses say that Mugwort is derived from the word "mug," as it has been used in flavoring drinks since the early Iron Age.  However, this may only be folklore based on coincidental sounds.

Artemisia vulgaris is a tall herbaceous perennial plant growing 3-4 feet tall, with an angular, purplish, grooved stem and a woody root. Leaves are dark green on top and pale green with downy hairs on the bottom. Flowers are button-like and yellowish-brown, blooming from July to September..

It is native to Europe, Asia, northern Africa and Alaska and is naturalized in North America, where some consider it an invasive weed. It is a very common plant growing on weedy and uncultivated areas, such as waste places and roadsides. 

In the tenth-century herbal Lacnunga, ('Remedies', a collection of Anglo-Saxon medical texts and prayers), the "Nine Herbs Charm" includes the following address to mugwort: "Remember mugwort, what you revealed, what you established at the mighty denunciation? Una is your name, oldest of the herbs. You are strong against three and thirty. You are strong against venom and against the onflight. You are strong against that evil sidhe that goes throughout the land."

In the Middle Ages, the plant was known as Cingulum Sancti Johannis, for the belief that John the Baptist wore a girdle of it in the wilderness. It was believed to preserve the wayfarer from fatigue, sunstroke, wild beasts and evil spirits. A crown made from its sprays was worn on St. John's Eve to protect against evil possession, and in Holland and Germany one of its names is St. John's Plant, because of the belief, that if gathered on St. John's Eve it gave protection against diseases and misfortunes.  Bankes' Herbal of 1525 advised it be hung on the house to keep out ghosts and ill spirits.

In England and Germany, various folk rituals were practiced on St. John's Eve or Midsummer Eve to protect one's eyesight, such as looking at the bonfire through a bunch of the mugwort.  In the UK it was sacred to the Druids and poppets were stuffed with mugwort and tossed into the Midsummer fire to clear away sin.  The indigenous Ainu culture of Japan, believe it to be the oldest herb in the world and demons are brushed out of a possessed person using bunches of mugwort.  In Sicily, women would make crosses of mugwort and put them on their roof on the eve of Ascension Day so that they might be blessed.

Consumption of Artemisia vulgaris or a tincture of it, prior to sleeping is said to increase the intensity of dreams, the level of control, and aids in recall of dreams upon waking. It is also said to enhance dreams, especially prophetic ones. It can be stuffed into dream pillows or drunk as a tea for this purpose. Some people rub a sprig on their third eye (middle of brow) before sleeping for interesting effects.  One common method of ingestion is to smoke the plant.

Neopagans use mugwort in consecration, especially of instruments for divination, like crystal balls and scrying mirrors, and so finds use in both witchcraft and ritual magic

According to the Herbarium of Apuleius Platonicus, it was the goddess Diana who found this plant and gave it to Chiron, the centaur responsible for teaching human beings medicine.  Artemisia vulgaris is cleansing to the liver and promotes digestion. It is an emmenagogue, especially when combined with pennyroyal, blue cohosh, or angelica root. 

CAUTION: Risk if more than 1 oz is taken at one time or if smaller doses are taken daily for months. Use for specific occasions only.  MUST NOT BE TAKEN BY PREGNANT WOMEN

It is helpful in epilepsy, palsy, and hysteria and is useful for fevers.  Used in a tea or a bath for premenstrual symptoms, it also makes a good bath for relieving rheumatism and gout along with tired feet and legs.  Homeopaths use it for petit mal epilepsy, somnambulism, and dizziness caused by colored lights.  It is especially effective when given with wine and can be smoked for pain. It can also be applied externally as a poultice for pain relief, boils, carbuncles, abscesses or tropical ulcers. 

Seeds should be sown in planting mix by sprinkling over wet soil and lightly pressing them. They need light to germinate.  Cover with plastic and refrigerate at 40-50F for 2 weeks to break down germination inhibitors, then bring into warmer temps to germinate.

Transplant in fall or spring and space 1 ft apart. Or sow on Winter Solstice (December 21). Once they are established, they are easy to propagate by dividing the rhizomes in the early spring, before the plant leafs out. This plant likes full sun and rich, moist soil. This is tall (5-7 ft), bushy perennial that grows from a creeping rhizome and tolerates cold well. Harvest the roots before the first frost and dry in the shade or hang in the house to dry.  Collect the leaves before the plant flowers to get the highest oil content.

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