Mugwort’s name literally means “bug-plant” - more specifically “midge-plant,” referring to flying insects in general. This is because mugwort (and others in the genus Artemisia) is fairly good at repelling pest insects in its live plant form. It is less good at this in dried leaf form, and not preferred as part of a balm, salve, or oil used for such purposes. While it does have some effect on mosquitos, it is primarily successful in the repelling of crop pests, and it has been used for exactly that purpose for well over a thousand years. It has also been called chrysanthemum weed, felon herb, riverside wormwood, sailor's tobacco, and St. John's plant.
Folk etymology often holds that its name means “mug-plant,” as in a plant for your cup or pitcher or, more to the point, a plant for the beverage you might put in that cup or pitcher. This is due to the fact that in parts of Europe where hops were not cultivated, mugwort was one of the common bittering agents found in ales. Other traditional food uses include using it as a seasoning in fatty meats. It was also used in many traditional Chinese dishes, though it seems to have fallen out of favour in modernity. It is, however, still used in Japan in several deserts.
Common mugwort has been designated as Artemisia vulgaris, making it a cousin to the infamous wormwood (Artemisia absinthium). Like wormwood and all other members of the genus Artemisia, mugwort contains the compound thujone - it just happens to generally have a lower concentration than wormwood. It is native to Europe, Asia, northern Africa, and Alaska, and has been naturalized in North America. In some places, it is considered a noxious weed.
In the garden, mugwort, like all Artemisia, can sometimes limit the growth of neighbouring plants, which somewhat limits its use as a pest-repellant.
In medicine, it was often used to ease fatigue or prevent sleepiness. Roman soldiers used to put it in their sandals for exactly this reason. It has been used throughout the world to lower fevers, induce abortion, induce diarrhea, induce menstruation, induce sweating, induce vomiting, relieve congestion, relieve headaches, prevent nightmares, and staunch blood, as well as for general unwellness, hangovers, bruising, itching, skin complaints, and pain relief. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, mugwort was often used in the process of moxibustion, an art connected to acupuncture. It has also been used to expel parasitic worms, like its cousin wormwood, which was named for that very purpose.
WARNING: No one should be casually taking mugwort for medicinal purposes, and we do not sell mugwort for ingestion. It is a very powerful herb which can cause miscarriage, severe diarrhea & vomiting, dizziness, cardiac arrest, hallucinations, spasms, and seizures. Even in our incense bundles, it is advised that you burn it slowly in a space with open windows. It may cause contact dermatitis in some people.
Like most pest-repellant herbs, mugwort was believed to have a power of protection, especially against those evils that might make a person sick or weak. It was also believed to protect travelers from wild animals. For this reason, John the Baptist was said to have worn either a belt of its foliage or a crown of its flowers as he stayed in the wilderness. The same belief that it can repel evil is also seen as far as Japan, where it is hung outside of doors for that purpose. It is an ingredient in the Nine Herbs Charm, which was used to prevent infection, treat poisoning, and ward off evil.
Other magical uses include putting mugwort under the pillow to invoke dreams, including it in teas to induce lucid dreaming, and using it in “flying ointments” on incense bundles to invoke visions or cross boundaries. It is one of the herbs that are deeply connected with the lore of European witchcraft, likely because it was a staple of midwives. Ask a westerner if they know anything about mugwort, and more likely than not they’ll think it’s a mythical “witch thing.” Because of its nature, it’s also often connected to the moon and lunar magic, as reflected in it being named after Artemis.