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An ancient herb steeped in folklore and magic

Mugwort

Artemisia vulgaris Asteraceae

Mugwort is an ancient herb steeped in folklore and magic with an affinity to the reproductive and digestive systems.

Sustainability status

Not currently on risk lists but complete data may be missing on the status of the species. Commonly cultivated though may be sourced from the wild. Only source cultivated supplies or from certified sustainable wild collection. Read more about our sustainability guide.

Sustainability Status
Key benefits
  • Painful periods
  • Irregular periods
  • Muscular tension
  • Anxiety
  • Liver support
  • Indigestion
  • Dyspepsia
  • How does it feel?

    A pungent, aromatic, bitter taste with sharp notes. A desirable flavour, some people will struggle with the bitter tones, but remember, we need bitters in our diet!

  • What can I use it for?

    Mugwort leaves (Artemisia vulgaris)
    Mugwort leaves (Artemisia vulgaris)

    Mugwort has stimulating and toning effects on the uterus and can help bring on scanty menstruation, while also helping to regulate irregular periods. Mugwort is a powerful emmenagogue, helping to shift painful and nervous tension symptoms of PMS. It is known to move blood stagnation, used where there is an absence of menstrual bleeding (1). It can also support painful periods and lessen heavy menstrual bleeding. In Chinese Medicine Artemisia argyi (a different type of mugwort to the Western Artemisia vulgaris), is used in moxibustion, a practice of using an incense stick of condensed dried mugwort leaves applied close to specific acupuncture points to help move blocked chi.

    Mugwort is also very useful in supporting digestive complaints. As an effective bitter tonic, it can stimulate appetite, aid sluggish indigestion and reduce IBS symptoms such as wind and bloating.

    Mugwort can be used to relieve nervous system conditions such as mild depression and anxiety. Digestive and nervous system health are often interrelated, making mugwort’s ability to work both very valuable.

    Mugwort is also used as an insect repellent useful in deterring moths and other insects if burned as an incense or an addition to fires.

  • Into the heart of Mugwort

    From a western herbalism perspective, Mugwort is a complex plant energetically as it is both bitter and aromatic. It is generally regarded as a warming, drying plant that moves and tones digestion and circulation, moving stagnant blood flow and sluggish digestion.

    Mugwort is a relaxant to the nervous system, with nervine, carminative and antispasmodic actions. From a humoral perspective, Mugwort is primarily used for the cold/depression, damp, and wind/tension tissue states.

    Known as the ‘dream herb’ mugwort can also be used to help bring ‘dreamy’ people who tend to be lost in their thoughts to feel more grounded and centred. Interestingly, consuming mugwort either by ingesting or inhaling its smoke is linked with lucid dreaming.

  • Traditional uses

    Mugwort leaf (Artemisia vulgaris)
    Mugwort leaf (Artemisia vulgaris)

    Mugwort has long been used in different parts of the world, known as the ‘mother of all herbs’ in several traditional cultures. In Chinese medicine, it is used for regulating menstruation and ‘calming a restless foetus’ (2).

    Mugwort has a rich history in magic and protection, known to help shift stagnant energy and focus a restless mind. It has been used by native indigenous practices for divination. Mugwort is renowned for helping to access lucid dreaming states, used in meditation practice and before going to sleep.

    Mugwort, named for being an ingredient in a drink, was once used in brewing beer before it was replaced by hops at the end of the 15th century. Mugwort was used traditionally to treat urinary stones, dropsy (an old term for oedema, particularly linked with heart failure) and jaundice (3).

  • Traditional actions

  • What practitioners say

    Mugwort has been used traditionally and today in the treatment of gynecologic issues, primary ammenorrheoa and dysmennorrheoa. In Ayurvedic medicine, it is administered for functional ammenorrhoea (4).

    Traditionally associated with antiseptic and parasitic properties, mugwort has been used in cases of gastritis and to aid worm infestations, as a strong bitter effect on the gastrointestinal tract, which has stimulating effects on the digestive tract (5).

    Mugwort also has mild nervine action, thought to be due to its high volatile oil content, which may help ease depression, tension and convulsions (3).

  • Research

    Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris)
    Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris)

    There is a lack of modern clinical studies on mugwort, despite being a prominent herb used in both Western and Eastern herbalism.

    The essential oil of mugwort has shown very similar antimicrobial properties to that of its cousin, Wormwood (3). Other studies have found the Mugwort essential oil to have antiviral, insecticidal anti-oxidant actions (6).

    Artemisinin, one of the key sesquiterpene lactone constituents found in Mugwort, has shown promising results as an anti-malarial drug used against resistant strains of parasites (6) As for the majority of Artemisia family, Mugwort also has mild antifungal properties and is beneficial against dysentery.

    In human trials, Mugwort in combination with seven other herbs was used as an irritant following prostatectomy and effectively reduced bladder infections and bleeding without side effects (3).

  • Did you know?

    Mugwort has a long affinity with female energy, evident in its scientific name ‘Artemisia’ named after the Ancient Greek goddess ‘Artemis’, known to be a protector and patron of women, especially at key phases of life from menarche to menopause.

Additional information

  • Botanical description

    A tall erect, slightly aromatic perennial growing 60-120cm high, dying back every winter. Leaves pinnate, dark green and smooth and silver beneath.

  • Common names

    • Wild wormwood
    • Cronewort
    • Chrysanthemum weed
    • Common artemisia
    • Felon weed
    • French tobacco
    • Gypsy tobacco
    • Mugweed
    • Wild chrysanthemum
    • St. John’s Plant
  • Safety

    Mugwort pollen can agitate allergic rhinitis and/or asthma, so be cautious using in large doses with these conditions.

  • Interactions

    None known

  • Contraindications

    Mugwort is not advised to take in pregnancy. This is due to some clinical evidence suggesting mugwort can stimulate uterine activity, possibly due to its thujone content (7) and has an extensive history being used as an abortifacient.

  • Preparation

    • Dried herb (powder/ moxa / tea / decoction)
    • Ethanol / water extracts
  • Dosage

    Tincture (1:5): 2-4 ml daily

    Tea infusion of the dried or fresh herb: 0.5-2g daily

  • Plant parts used

    The flowering tops and leaves, harvest when in flower between July to September.

    Tip:

    The flowering tops of Mugwort should be collected as soon as they start to bloom, as this is the height of volatile oil concentration.

    Mugwort leaves should be harvested before the plant flowers. Spread into fan shapes so the leaves dry evenly, then tied into bundles and hung in the open air, out of direct sunlight.

  • Constituents

    • Volatile oils (Camphor up to 47%, borneol, terpine, thujone)
    • Sesquiterpenes lactones
    • Coumarins
    • Triterpenes
    • Phenolic acids
    • Cyanogenic glucoside
    • Mugwort contains niacin and vitamin C, chromium, iron, manganese phosphorus and potassium (3)
Mugwort illustration (Artemisia vulgaris)
  • Habitat

    Native to all Europe and much of Asia from the Arctic Circle to the Tropics (3). Very hardy, drought and frost resistant. Mugwort grows in the waysides, roadsides and waste ground.

  • Sustainability

    Mugwort grows abundantly in the wild.

  • Quality control

    No issues reported.

  • How to grow

    Mugwort is very hardy in pretty much any soil in full sun or partial shade.

  • Recipe

    Make a tea infusion of Mugwort

    Take 150 ml of boiled water and pour over half a teaspoon of fresh or dried Mugwort leaves and flowers. Allow to infuse in a covered teapot for 5-10 minutes before it is strained and consumed.

    Try drinking one cup about an hour before going to bed for one week consistently, leave a notepad and pen by your bedside and make a record of any dreams you remember. The more regularly this practice is carried out, the more dreams you tend to remember!

  • References

    1. Stapleford, A. (2021) The Handbook of Constitutional and Energetic Herbal Medicine: The Lotus Within, ‎ Aeon Books, London.
    2. Bruton-Seal J & M. (2008) Hedgerow Medicine: Harvest and Make your own Herbal Remedies, Merlin Unwin Books, Ludlow.
    3. Fisher, C. (2018) Materia Medica of Western Herbs, Aeon Books, London.
    4. Romm, A. (2018) Botanical Medicine for Women’s Health, Elsevier
    5. Trickey, R. (2003) Women, Hormones and the Menstrual Cycle: Herbal and Medical Solutions from Adolescence to Menopause, Allen & Unwin, Sydney.
    6. Abiri R, Silva AL, de Mesquita LS, et al. Towards a better understanding of Artemisia vulgaris : Botany, phytochemistry, pharmacological and biotechnological potential. Food Research International. 2018;109:403-415. doi:10.1016/j.foodres.2018.03.072
    7. Brinker, F. (2018) Herb Contraindications and Drug Interactions, Eclectic Medical Publications.
Aromatic
An ‘aromatic’ remedy, high in volatile essential oils, was most often associated with calming and sometimes ‘warming’ the digestion. Most kitchen spices and herbs have this quality: they were used both as flavouring and to ease the digestion of sometimes challenging pre-industrial foods. Many aromatics are classed as ‘carminatives’ and are used to reduce colic, bloating and agitated digestion. They also often feature in respiratory remedies for colds, chest and other airway infections. They are also classic calming inhalants and massage oils, and are the basis of aromatherapy for their mental benefits.
Astringent taste
The puckering taste you get with many plants (the most familiar is black tea after being stewed too long, or some red wines) is produced by complex polyphenols such as tannins. Tannins are used in concentrated form (eg from oak bark) to make leather from animal skins. The process of ‘tanning’ involves the coagulation of relatively fluid proteins in living tissues into tight clotted fibres (similar to the process of boiling an egg). Tannins in effect turn exposed surfaces on the body into leather. In the case of the lining of mouth and upper digestive tract this is only temporary as new mucosa are replenished, but in the meantime can calm inflamed or irritated surfaces. In the case of open wounds tannins can be a life-saver – when strong (as in the bark of broadleaved trees) they can seal a damaged surface. One group of tannins, the reddish-brown ‘condensed tannins’ are procyanidins, which can reduce inflammation and oxidative damage.
Bitter
Bitters are a very complex group of phytochemicals that stimulate the bitter receptors in the mouth. They were some of the most valuable remedies in ancient medicine. They were experienced as stimulating appetite and switching on a wide range of key digestive functions, including increasing bile clearance from the liver (as bile is a key factor in bowel health this can be translated into improving bowel functions and the microbiome). Many of these reputations are being supported by new research on the role of bitter receptors in the mouth and elsewhere round the body. Bitters were also seen as ‘cooling’ reducing the intensity of some fevers and inflammatory diseases.
Blue-purple colouring
Any fruits with a blue-purple colouring contain high levels of the polyphenols known as anthocyanins. These work 1) on the walls of small blood vessels, helping to maintain capillary structure to reduce a key stage in inflammation, and improving the microcirculation to the tissues; 2) to improve retinal function and vision; 3) to support connective tissue repair around the body.
Cooling
Traditional ‘cold’ or cooling’ remedies often contain bitter phytonutrients such a iridoids (gentian), sesiquterpenes (chamomile), anthraquinones (rhubarb root), mucilages (marshmallow), some alkaloids and flavonoids. They tend to influence the digestive system, liver and kidneys. Cooling herbs do just that; they diffuse, drain and clear heat from areas of inflammation, redness and irritation. Sweet, bitter and astringent herbs tend to be cooling.
Hot
Traditional ‘hot’ or ‘heating’ remedies, often containing spice ingredients like capsaicin, the gingerols (ginger), piperine (black or long pepper), curcumin (turmeric) or the sulfurous isothiocyanates from mustard, horseradich or wasabi, generate warmth when taken. In modern times this might translate as thermogenic and circulatory stimulant effects. There is evidence of improved tissue blood flow with such remedies: this would lead to a reduction in build-up of metabolites and tissue damage. Heating remedies were used to counter the impact of cold, reducing any symptoms made worse in the cold. .
Mucilaginous
Mucilages are complex carbohydrate based plant constituents with a slimy or ‘unctuous’ feel especially when chewed or macerated in water. Their effect is due simply to their physical coating exposed surfaces. From prehistory they were most often used as wound remedies for their soothing and healing effects on damaged tissues. Nowadays they are used more for these effects on the digestive lining, from the throat to the stomach, where they can relieve irritation and inflammation such as pharyngitis and gastritis. Some of the prominent mucilaginous remedies like slippery elm, aloe vera and the seaweeds can be used as physical buffers to reduce the harm and pain caused by reflux of excess stomach acid. Mucilages are also widely used to reduce dry coughing. Here the effect seems to be by reflex through embryonic nerve connections: reduced signals from the upper digestive wall appear to translate as reduced activity of airway muscles and increased activity of airway mucus cells. Some seed mucilages, such as in psyllium seed, flaxseed (linseed) or guar bean survive digestion to provide bulking laxative effects in the bowel. These can also reduce rate of absorption of sugar and cholesterol. .
New-mown hay aroma
The familiar country odour of haymaking, of drying grass and other plants, is largely produced by coumarins (originally isolated from tonka beans – in French coumarou) and widely used in perfumery. They are chemically categorised as benzopyrone lactones and are important phytochemicals, with strong antioxidant activity in the laboratory and likely effects in modulating inflammation. They were most often associated with the calming effect linked to their use in stuffing mattresses and pillows and plants, high In coumarins were commonly used for these properties.
Resinous
Resins are most familiar as tacky discharges from pine trees (and as the substance in amber, and rosin for violin bows). They were most valued however as the basis of ancient commodities like frankincense and myrrh (two of the three gifts of the Three Wise Men to the baby Jesus) and getting access to their source was one benefit to Solomon for marrying the Queen of Sheba (now Ethiopia). Resins were the original antiseptic remedies, ground and applied as powders or pastes to wounds or inflamed tissues, and were also used for mummification. With alcohol distillation it was found that they could be dissolved in 90% alcohol and in this form they remain a most powerful mouthwash and gargle, for infected sore throats and gum disease. They never attracted much early research interest because they permanently coat expensive glassware! For use in the mouth, gums and throat hey are best combined with concentrated licorice extracts to keep the resins in suspension and add extra soothing properties. It appears that they work both as local antiseptics and by stimulating white blood cell activity under the mucosal surface. They feel extremely effective!
Salty
The salty flavour is immediately distinctive. A grain dropped onto the tongue is instantly moistening and a sprinkle on food enkindles digestion. This easily recognisable flavour has its receptors right at the front of the tongue. The salty flavor creates moisture and heat, a sinking and heavy effect which is very grounding for the nervous system and encourages stability. People who are solid and reliable become known as ‘the salt of the earth'.
Sharpness
The sharp taste of some fruits, and almost all unripe fruits, as well as vinegar and fermented foods, is produced by weak acids (the taste is generated by H+ ions from acids stimulating the sour taste buds). Sour taste buds are hard-wired to generate immediate reflex responses elsewhere in the body. Anyone who likes the refreshing taste of lemon or other citrus in the morning will know that one reflex effect is increased saliva production. Other effects are subjective rather than confirmed by research but there is a consistent view that they include increased digestive activity and contraction of the gallbladder.
Sweet
In the days when most people never tasted sugar, ‘sweetness’ was associated with the taste of basic foods: that of cooked vegetables, cereals and meat. In other words sweet was the quality of nourishment, and ‘tonic’ remedies. Describing a remedy as sweet generally led to that remedy being used in convalescence or recovery from illness. Interestingly, the plant constituents most often found in classic tonics like licorice, ginseng are plant steroids including saponins, which also have a sweet taste.

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