Mugwort, the bane of many gardeners, was used for centuries as both a medicinal and culinary herb throughout its native habitat of Eurasia, North Africa and North American. It was known by many names, such as felon herb, chrysanthemum weed, wild wormwood, old Uncle Henry, sailor’s tobacco, naughty man, old man or St. John’s plant. Common mugwort, Artemisia vulgaris, native to Europe and North America is best known here in the US.
Mugwort has many uses in both traditional Chinese medicine and in Ayurvedic medicine. In Europe it was believed to prevent fatigue so travelers lined their shoes with the leaves. It was an ingredient in the Medieval European Nine Herbs Charm which was used to treat poisoning.
Mugwort was also believed to have magical properties. Native Americans used it because they believed that it kept ghosts away. John the Baptist supposedly wore a girdle made of mugwort as protection in the wilderness. In Northern Europe it was believed that if you gathered mugwort on St. John’s Eve it gave protection against diseases and misfortunes.
Many cultures have used mugwort in teas and traditional foods. In Europe it was used to flavor beer before the introduction of hops. Only dried plants were used because it was believed that the fresh leaves did not have the same flavor properties.
Mugwort contains small amounts of thujone which is a spasmodic. In small amounts, it isn’t harmful but if eaten in large quantities, it is toxic. Pregnant women should never consume mugwort because of the danger of miscarriage.
Common mugwort is a herbaceous perennial hardy in zones 3 – 9. It grows to a height of 3’ to 6’. It prefers full sun, but will tolerate some shade. It prefers well-drained soil and is drought tolerant. Thanks to its hardiness and drought tolerance, mugwort is considered an invasive weed in many parts of the US, often found along roadsides, in ditches and unused lands.
Bloomtime is July to September. The flowers are small, yellow and arranged in panticles. Several species of moths and butterflies dine on mugwort leaves and flowers. Deadheading is a good idea to prevent the spread of seed. Better yet, cut off the flowers before they open if you have are a hayfever sufferer. Mugwort pollen is a major source of hay fever in North America, Europe and parts of Asia.
Mugwort is easy to grow from seed. You can direct sow your seed in the fall or cold stratify it for a couple of weeks. Seed should be surface sown. It needs light to germinate.
Mugwort can also be propagated by division in the spring.
Leaves can be harvested for drying starting in August. The roots should be harvested in the fall. The small rootlets must be removed prior to drying the roots to prevent mold from growing on the root.