Mugwort: The Herb of Dreams

 

 

Mugwort is a plant famed for its effects on dreaming, but its medicinal properties and actions do so much more than that. With a distinct effect on the nervous, digestive, hepatobiliary, and reproductive systems, Mugwort navigates, regulates, and balances the highways that connect them all.

In today’s plant profile, you’ll discover:

  • Mugwort’s unique flavor profile and how this leads to its complex actions
  • How Mugwort impacts the nervous, digestive, and reproductive systems 
  • Why this is a perfect remedy for highly sensitive people
  • Its relationship to both the Moon and Venus
  • Different ways you can use and prepare Mugwort
Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris)

Mugwort is the plant for dreamers. Its scientific name is Artemesia vulgaris, named after Artemis, the Greek goddess of the moon and hunt. As the name suggests, this herb ushers you into the lucid world and wakes up the parts of your subconscious mind that have been left to settle and collect dust. In this way, it helps you process wounds past so you can experience greater closure and healing in your life. 

This herb is one of the first plants I ever worked with when I began my plant path nearly two decades ago. There is something about those first plants that stick with you and become a touchpoint throughout your herbal journey. For me, Mugwort is just that, and in today’s plant profile you will all about this treasured remedy and how it is used in traditions around the world. 

Common name: Mugwort

Latin name: Artemesia vulgaris 

Family: Asteraceae

Tastes: Bitter, Pungent, Aromatic

Affinities: Digestive, Liver, Gallbladder, Nervous, Female reproductive

Actions: Bitter Tonic, Carminative, Cholagogue/Choleretic, Nervine Sedative, Nervine Stimulant, Emmenagogue, Mild Uterine Antispasmodic, Mild Anthelmintic 

Energetics: Warming, Drying, Relaxant, Stimulant

Coastal Mugwort (Artemisia suksforfii) native to the Pacific Northwest coast

Taste

Mugwort tastes bitter, pungent, and aromatic. This combination of flavors lends it a particularly unique array of actions. While most bitters have a cooling action on the body, Mugwort’s pungent taste warms it up and categorizes it as an aromatic bitter. The bitter and aromatic qualities impact digestion, albeit in different ways. 

The pungent taste stimulates circulation and blood flow to the digestive system, which warms the region. Combined with Mugwort’s carminative and antispasmodic actions, it reduces tension in the entire digestive system. The bitter taste stimulates the production and secretion of bile through the liver and gallbladder, which acts as a natural laxative and aids your body in digesting and assimilating fats and oils. Mugwort’s cooling bitter and warming carminative actions make this plant a formula unto itself, meaning it’s like combining a bitter herb with a carminative herb.

Affinities

As you can see with its carminative and bitter tonic properties, Mugwort has an affinity for the digestive system. Likewise, with its choleretic and cholagogue actions, it supports the liver and gallbladder, albeit a little more mildly than really strong bitters like Gentian (Gentiana lutea). Mugwort has an affinity for the nervous system and is a superb remedy for nervous digestion since it acts on the highway between the nervous and digestive systems. Lastly, Mugwort is a traditional remedy for female reproductive health. It is used for every season of life, from puberty to menopause and everything in between.  

Common European Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) growing in our garden

Actions

“A very slight infusion is excellent for all disorders of the stomach, prevents sickness after meals and creates an appetite, but if made too strong, it disgusts the taste. The tops with the flowers on them, dried and powdered, are good against agues, and have the same virtues with wormseed in killing worms.”  ~ Nicholas Culpeper 

Mugwort is a medicinally rich plant with many actions that tie back to its affinities and tastes. For example, as a bitter tonic, cholagogue, and choleretic, it increases bile production in the liver and gallbladder. It is also a mild anthelmintic and can help eliminate parasites. However, it is not nearly as strong in this aspect as Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) and Sweet Annie (Artemisia annua) are. This leads to excellent digestive support and aids in clearing stagnation in the liver and slightly in the gallbaldder. 

As a nervine stimulant, Mugwort revitalizes the nervous system. Although the word “stimulant” might conjure images of coffee and other caffeine-containing plants, Mugwort does not energize the nerves in that way. Rather, it stimulates nerve activity when it lacks responsiveness because of insufficient blood supply, poor nutrition, or trauma. Although it may seem contradictory, Mugwort is also a nervine sedative and soothes nervousness, anxiety, and tension. This makes it highly indicated for both deficient or degenerative nerve conditions, as well as excessive nervous system activity such as nervousness, anxiety, and insomnia. 

This plant has a profound effect on the subconscious mind, and although you can take it to help you fall asleep, it is known to induce vivid and sometimes lucid dreams. It can stimulate dreaming so much that it can leave you tired when you wake up, so experiment with this plant to see if it’s the right herb for you to support your sleep. For some it’s incredibly helpful for sleep, and others just feel like they were busy all night dreaming.

Mugwort is an emmenagogue and stimulates menses in two distinct ways. First, it stimulates blood flow to the reproductive organs, relaxes a tense uterus, and encourages healthy blood flow with its pungent and aromatic compounds. Second, it has a draining and downward-bearing action that encourages menses through its bitter tonic properties. This makes it a highly useful remedy for both amenorrhea as well as dysmenorrhea. 

Not often talked about, a stagnant liver is often the culprit behind PMS symptoms because it is responsible for breaking down and metabolizing complex reproductive hormones. When it cannot do this efficiently, there are often hormonal side effects which can impact mood, as well as stagnating the liver in general. Through Mugwort’s bitter and aromatic qualities, it disperses and supports a stagnant liver. Combined with the plant’s nervine sedative actions and you have a formula in one for PMS complaints, of which it is generally very supportive. 

Lastly, Mugwort is indicated for hyperandrogenism, which occurs when there is an excess of androgen hormones and heightened levels of testosterone in comparison to estrogen and progesterone. It likely impacts this through its effects on the higher regulatory parts of the brain that direct hormonal production as well as its effects on liver metabolism of said hormones.

Common European Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) growing in our garden

Energetics

Mugwort is a complex plant energetically because it is both bitter and aromatic. While bitter plants are typically cooling, aromatics are warming. Although Mugwort is a bitter tonic, I think of its aromatic properties as more dominant, and therefore consider it to have a net warming effect. You can back this up further with its ability to warm the uterus and digestive system, stimulate circulation, and push stagnation up and out. Finally, it’s worth noting that the bitterness and aromatic nature will differ from region to region. Some Mugwort plants are more aromatic or bitter, and this influences its warming or cooling effects. Because Mugwort is warming and drains stagnation, I see it as a drying plant. Lastly, Mugwort is a relaxant. You can see this with its antispasmodic, nervine, and carminative actions.

Ayurvedically, Mugwort increases and aggravates pitta while decreasing and balancing vata and kapha. It raises pitta because of its warming and stimulating properties and lowers excess vata and kapha for these same reasons. In kapha it increases circulation and drains stagnation. In vata, it relaxes excess tension in the body and mind and warms up their cold nature.  However, it can lead to excess dryness over time, so keep an eye out for this. As with many herbs, Mugwort may need to be formulated with other herbs to prevent aggravating the dryness of vata.

Mugwort is primarily used for the cold/depression, damp/stagnation, and wind/tension tissue states. Mugwort balances coldness through its warming properties, stagnation with its drying energetics, and tension through its relaxant and antispasmodic actions.

Coastal Mugwort (Artemisia suksdorfii) native to the Pacific Northwest coast

Psychological and Emotional Aspects

Mugwort is a specific remedy for sensitive and dreamy people who struggle with being present. They often have one foot in both words, maybe leaning into imagination more than reality. The Mugwort individual may have heightened sensitivity not just emotionally, but to sunlight, noise, and scent. It is as if their sensory gating channels are too open, leading them to experience everything more intensely. They can also be sensitive to the energies of people and spaces around them, leaving them susceptible to these influences. In the Mugwort person, these are usually the reasons they feel anxious, nervous, and have a difficult time sleeping. Mugwort is a traditional remedy for women, especially on the complex pathways that bridge the physical, emotional, and spiritual aspects of sexual trauma. Just as it pulls out and heals stagnated and stuck patterns from the mind, it cleanses and clears trauma and hurt from the entire pelvic and reproductive region. Preparing a womb cleansing bath using Mugwort can be healing and provide feelings of spiritual protection after trauma, especially when combined with herbs like Lady’s Mantle (Alchemilla vulgaris), Rose (Rosa spp.), and Calendula (Calendula officinalis).

Common European Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) growing in our garden

Alchemical Correspondences

“What is Venus, but the Artemisia that grows in your garden?” – Paracelsus

I’ve long thought of Mugwort as a lunar plant because of its influence on dreaming, sleep, and the subconscious. However, after considering its medicinal and energetic qualities, I think Mugwort is more accurately ruled by Venus, which is indeed in agreement with Culpeper as well as Paracelsus.  

Known as “the great relaxant,” plants ruled by Venus are relaxant, antispasmodic, calm the nervous system, and have an affinity for the female reproductive system. Venus-ruled plants are often emmenagogues, and in this case even more so through Mugwort’s influence on the higher regulatory systems in the brain and the resulting hormonal cascades. 

Mugwort is ruled by the Air Element, which you can see through its effects on the nervous system and its ability to relax wind, tension, and spasm. This herb mobilizes stuck energy, similar to how the wind moves and disperses things. Lastly, you can see the Air Element correspondence in the way Mugwort grows. It starts low and bushy on the ground and then reaches up and out, dispersing its volatile oil compounds in the air as it grows. 

Mugwort has a very cardinal quality, otherwise known as the Sulfur Principle in alchemy. It is very rich in volatile oils, which you can easily distill. In the alchemical tradition, Sulfur rules the essential oils in a plant. It is this quality that grants Mugwort its warming and pitta-like qualities, driving blood flow, circulation, and providing a stimulant quality to the nerves.

Growing Mugwort

Mugwort is a widespread herb native to North America, Europe, and Asia. Although Artemesia vulgaris is the variety most often used in Western Materia Medica, you can use the coastal variety and others interchangeably. Mugwort’s ability to thrive in different ecosystems speaks to its resilience and versatility. While Artemesia vulgaris is the the common garden variety, you might consider cultivating your local species of Mugwort if you have one in your bioregion. 

It is best to plant Mugwort in the early spring after a period of cold stratification. The time to harvest it is right before it enters the flowering stage since that is when the energy will be strongest in the leaves. Although all aerial parts of Mugwort are medicinal, the leaves are used for medicine the most often. Mugwort is easy to plant and grows robustly, so find your local variety and get planting.

Common European Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) growing in our garden

Preparation

Many people do not enjoy the taste of Mugwort as a tea because of its bitterness. That said, this plant is better prepared with alcohol anyway since water does not effectively extract the volatile oils, which are behind many of its medicinal properties. It is best to use fresh Mugwort leaves when preparing a tincture and to use a higher percentage of alcohol to produce a potent Mugwort medicine. I’ve personally prepared our Mugwort spagyrics fresh in roughly 65% alcohol at a 1:2 ratio. 

Mugwort has a long traditional usage in Chinese medicine as moxibustion. In this practice, the leaves are harvested, dried, ground, sifted, and burned like incense over a specific acupuncture point to raise the chi and restore energy and vitality to that area. Mugwort moxibustion is often used over the reproductive organs to stimulate the system, remove stagnation, and encourage healthy menses. 

Another way you can use this herb medicinally is by hanging the dried leaves in a steam room or shower. As the steam rises, you inhale the volatile oils. Alternatively, you can add them to a ritual or sitz bath to stimulate menstruation. Robin Rose Bennet uses Mugwort with Ginger (Zingiber officinale) to make a topical oil, which you can apply to the pelvic area to increase warmth and circulation, alleviate menstrual cramps, relax the muscles, and disperse stagnation. 

Lastly, Mugwort has long been used to encourage lucid dreaming and to help you connect with the dreaming realm. To work with it in this way you can prepare a Mugwort sachet and place it beneath your pillow or burn the dried plants in your bedroom to stimulate dreaming. I recommend you proceed with caution here since sometimes those dreams can be so wild that you wake up tired in the morning. 

Mugwort is for the dreamers or for those who wish they were! If you tend to experience excess fantasy in your day to day, Mugwort can help you feel more grounded in your body. Alternatively, if the dreaming realm is one you want to get in touch with, Mugwort can help you explore this inner realm. 

Mugwort connects you with your subconscious and higher mind. It sweeps away the dust, shines the old and forgotten spots in your mind, and gives you a chance to heal those wounds further. Whether you smoke, drink, or bathe in it, this plant is ready to provide its medicine and be a part of your inner healing journey.

Digestive Nervine Triplet

33% Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris or your local Artemesia spp.

33% Chamomile (Matricaria recutita

33% Catnip (Nepeta cataria)

This deceptively simple triplet formula packs a punch. Each herb is nervine sedative and calms the mind, thereby soothing nervous digestion. Mugwort and Chamomile are bitter tonics and increase digestive secretions. Carminatives Catnip and Chamomile relax tension and spasms in the GI. Combined, you have a potent formula that combines nervine sedative, aromatic carminative, and bitter tonic actions in one.  

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