Mugwort grows wild on muddy riverbanks and verges, sending up spikes of small flowers in the summer. You might have seen it without really noticing – it’s a common, anonymous-looking herb. In fact I spotted some on my way home this evening - Mugwort growing on the towpath by the Working Men's Social Club in Todmorden. Seems to have come out of nowhere. Few people who see it in the wild would guess what a rich heritage it has in the food, medicine and folklore of this country.
In Anglo-Saxon times, mugwort was used as a seasoning for fatty meats like duck and pork, and was often added to beer instead of hops. Its medicinal use was recognised in the Lacnunga, the Anglo-Saxon charm of the nine herbs which is one of the oldest British medical manuscripts in existence. Mugwort remained a popular flavouring throughout the medieval period and well into Tudor times. Culpeper, in his famous Complete Herbal of 1652, wrote that a light infusion of mugwort is “excellent for all disorders of the stomach, prevents sickness after meals and creates an appetite”: like many of the herbs we use as flavourings, mugwort not only adds flavour but also aids digestion.
In modern herbal medicine, mugwort is an excellent emmenagogue, helping to stimulate and regulate menstruation. It also helps to relieve cramping, as well as the nausea that can accompany period pains. Try drinking an infusion of mugwort mixed with ginger to soothe painful and difficult menstruation.
But at night, this mysterious herb comes into its own. Mugwort gets its botanical name, Artemisia, from the Green goddess of the moon, Artemis. Drinking mugwort tea at night can induce colourful dreams, and the dried leaves are traditionally used to make dream pillows to aid lucid dreaming. You can make a mugwort dream pillow by filling a small sachet with dried mugwort herb, adding a few drops of essential oils such as sandalwood or clary sage, if you like, to help clear your mind and sharpen your focus. Slip this dream pillow underneath your real pillow and spend a few moments before sleep focusing on your intention to have a lucid dream. You might be surprised at the results.
Drinking mugwort before sleep, or before tarot readings and other forms of divination, is also a traditional way to open the psychic pathways. You can drink it either as a tincture, adding drops to water, or by making an infusion of the dried leaves. Sunlight Apothecary stock both the tincture and the dried leaves, supplied by Indigo Herbs.
Note: mugwort should not be used by pregnant women.