article, photos, and recipes by Jessica Shepherd
First, I’d like to give a big green Thank You to my fellow Herbalist and talented friend Nicole Gagliano of Wild and Wise Herbal CSA for inspiring me to write this article–check out her amazing website full of hand-crafted herbal products featuring local ingredients at http://www.wildandwisecsa.com. Thanks Nicole!
Spring is here and the herbs are rising up with vigorous new growth. It’s a time we can envision our goals, plant seeds of our dreams, and sprout them into our reality. The opportunity is here to energize, purify, and thrive from the renewal this spring season gifts us with! To spark your dreams and visions this spring, we can turn to the wild California Mugwort known as Artemesia vulgaris var. douglasiana, to be very specific—as the genus Artemisia includes about 300 species.
Common along the coast and the west slopes of inland foothills, Mugwort thrives in well drained moist to dry sandy soil in open to shady sites, forest edges, and streambanks. Each season I happily visit certain stands of Artemisia douglasiana along the riverbed that I have come to know and love over the years. As I approach these special spots, I delight in seeing the silvery blue-gray hue glowing from the cluster of plants sprouting about from the ground. The plants have a certain magical “silver-glow” about them, almost as if charged permanently by the moonlight. Artemisia vulgaris is historically associated with the beautiful Moon Goddess and the Huntress herself Artemis, the Greek Goddess whom is credited with the ultimate inspiration for the genus. But sources say the immediate inspiration was probably Queen Artemesia of Caria (Helicarnassus), a Turkish female botanist who lived about 400B.C.E. Apparently after her husband Mausous’s death, she built a most beautiful memorial that became one of the “Seven Wonders” of the ancient world and the origin of the word “mausoleum.”
New growth spring Mugwort sprigs are soft and slightly furry to the touch—and when rubbed between the fingers just a bit they are left smelling incredibly pungent with a sage-like aroma, mixed with an earthy richness that uplifts, and sparks the spirit. I look forward to summertime when these stands of plants–which are tiny sprigs right now, will be soaring tall and will have spread far and wide. Artemisia is a colony plant, so she forms stands of several to hundreds of individuals all interconnected by underground rootstalks. During summer months as the sun begins to set and the days heat is just letting up, the Artemisia emit off their pungent sage-like aroma and it diffuses into the air. I have taken many hikes in the hillsides high up from the riverbed and when the breezes come through catching the aroma just right– I can smell the diffusing California Mugwort fumes traveling on the wind. This herb-scented breeze stops me in my tracks, and I take a deep breath becoming even more reverent and grateful to the land I care for and the plants that offer us so much.
Protection, purification, and dreamtime amplification have long been associated with Artemisia vulgaris by many cultures and native tribes. The sage-like herby aroma of Artemisia vulgaris has been used for smudging, and also as a visionary herb. Some consider it able “to give one a clearer view on life and impart a deeper sense of peace”–Herbal Tarot book. For smudging, take dried mugwort and burn it in a fire-safe receptacle such as a mini cauldron, clay vessel, or abalone shell. The smoke can be circulated around to purify oneself and the environment/space around them.
Mugwort is usually the star of any dream pillow and pairs nicely with other calming aromatic herbs like lavender and rose. Every Spring I gather a tiny bundle of California Mugwort to hang near my bed—not only is a bundle of Mugwort said to offer protection, but having it near the bed will also stimulate your dreams and connection to the dream-state. Artemisia vulgaris is well known to enhance visions in dreams and assist with dream recall—some even go as far to say it can help achieve astral projection. I’m quite fond of crafting an infused oil of Mugwort leaf and flower that can be useful for many things. As an annointing oil it can be used before any sort of ritual or rite of passage, as well as rubbed on the third eye area before bed to enhance your dreaming experience. This can be especially powerful when used with set intentions, or when seeking guidance/messages via the dreaming realm.
I will also anoint with infused Mugwort oil before I travel for protection, especially if I cannot smudge. The infused oil is additionally wonderful for massaging of stiff muscles like neck and shoulders, or over the abdomen for menstrual cramps or spasms. Mugwort is well known for its ability to warm and circulate energy throughout the body and is specific for breaking up congestion or stagnation. And of course the infused oil can be used as a base or an addition to many types of salve recipes etc. *To make mugwort infused oil simply fill a mason jar about ¾ of the way full of dried mugwort leaves and cover with olive oil or sunflower oil, seal it with a lid and put it in a cool dark place—shaking it every few days. Allow it to infuse for 3-4 weeks, the strain through cheesecloth or muslin cotton into an amber bottle and label it and its ready for use!
Because of Mugwort’s ability to circulate blood and move energy in the body it is the prime ingredient in moxibustion– an extremely useful Chinese heat therapy practiced by TCM physicians, Acupuncturists, and some Herbalists. Mugwort is valued in moxa also for its ability to burn quickly and for its deep penetrating heat. Burning moxibustion over a painful area increases blood circulation, relieves pain, and quickly heals injuries, bruises and more. Sometimes acupuncturists actually burn moxa on acupuncture points as an alternative to needles (do not try this on your own!). Moxa can be sold in the form of a smudge stick, or it can be made by rubbing aged, dried mugwort leaves, with stems removed, between your palms until a wooly consistency, then formed into balls or tiny cones that are sometimes burned in specially crafted “moxa boxes.
Medicinally Artemisia vulgaris is a well-known bitter and digestive aid. It is considered a bitter tonic and Mugwort has been used to treat stomach disorders and improve digestion, while also having antifungal and antimicrobial properties. I appreciate what the late and great beloved herbalist Michael Moore wrote about Mugwort in his book Medicinal Plants of the Pacific West: “California Mugwort is also an antioxidant for cooling fat metabolism. If you wake up in the morning with a grey sheet over your psyche, your head hurts in the front, your mouth tastes like a three day old Greek salad, your hemorrhoids are aching, and you crave things like pizza, potato chips, or fry bread take the infusion once at night for a couple of weeks.” That’s right folks, he says take the infusion once at night for a couple of weeks—the cold infusion is rather tasty in my opinion especially if you like the flavor of sage tea. Michael goes on to recommend the cold infusion for chronic gastritis and ulcers, and the hot tea more for its diaphoretic properties—to break fevers and stimulate discharge of mucus in the sinuses and the lungs. Artemisia vulgaris is also valued as a nervine having indications for shaking, nervousness, anxiousness, and insomnia. Because of its warming, blood-moving qualities mugwort can stimulate the uterus and is not to be used during pregnancy internally, nor is it recommended topically unless you are under the direct guidance and care of a trained or licensed practitioner.
A mugwort liniment can be applied to relieve itching, fungus, or other skin infections and can be applied topically for general skin healing of bug bites and stings, poison oak rash etc. The acetum (vinegar extract) tincture can also be used as a liniment for sprains, bruises, and is a mild counterirritant.
Because of the pungent aromatic compounds in mugwort (mainly cineole, and thujone) the scent is believed to repel insects, and ticks while also helping to ward off and treat poison oak. To use as a repellant simply rub the fresh leaves on your clothes, near the ankles, along the waistline, on your sleeves, and at the back of the neck. You can also rub it directly on your exposed skin. For arthritis, pain, swelling, aches etc. you can add Mugwort tea to a footbath, or a salt blend soak—the tea can also be used as a rinse for skin rashes and poison oak rash. Mugwort is a marvelous herb to include in your all-purpose herbal first aid salve and dream-time balms.
Here are some basic preparations and recipes to get crafting with the beautiful Artemesia vulgaris var. douglasiana—California Mugwort: *as with all my recipes home-grown, or locally grown/ethically wild crafted herbs are preferred to be used–otherwise–support your local herb store!
Basic Cold Infusion tea: Use approx. ½ ounce of dried leaf per 32 ounces of water. It’s helpful to moisten the dry herb first before suspending it in the water. Infuse covered overnight, then strain off the herbs.
Basic Hot Infusion tea: Use approx. ½ ounce of dried leaf per 32 ounces of water. Bring water to a boil, remove from heat and add in the dried herb. Steep covered for 20 minutes up to an hour, then strain off the herbs.
The Huntress of Healthy Hair Vinegar
Herbal vinegar hair rinses restore the natural acid of the scalp and are great for itchy scalp, dandruff and dull hair. This recipe is adaptable to your preference and what you’ve got growing in the garden!
Equal parts each of the following:
½ parts each of:
Lemon Balm leaf
Apple Cider vinegar
10 drops of Rose Geranium essential oil
Fill a quart jar with your herbal blend halfway then cover with vinegar and cap tightly. Keep the jar in a warm spot to infuse for 3-4 weeks. Shake the mixture daily. Strain the vinegar, then add to it the essential oils, bottle and label. Before you bathe, dilute the rinse with distilled/spring water—generally, a 1 part herbal vinegar to 7 parts water dilution. Make the rinse and set aside. After shampooing and rinsing, pour the vinegar rinse slowly through the hair, massaging it into the scalp. Rinse with warm water and then, if you can take it cold water—this stimulates the scalp and leaves your hair glossy and sheen!
Revitalizing Silver Moon Foot Soak
Refreshing and relaxing, stimulates circulation and reduces pain and inflammation of the feet.
¼ cup Mugwort dried leaf
2 tablespoons Rosemary, dry or a handful of fresh sprigs
2 tablespoon Peppermint leaf dried or 3 tbsp. fresh
1/2 cup of Sea Salt or Epsom Salt
6 drops of essential oil of Lavender
2 drops of essential oil of Peppermint
1 tablespoon of jojoba oil
Mix Salt, herbs, and essential oils together. This makes one foot soak.
Add to a warm footbath tub the aromatic herbal salt blend and the jojoba oil, stir things around a bit to mix– then soak those pups! *You can also brew the herbs into a strong tea in advance. Just use the above listed amounts of herbs to one quart of water, and steep for an hour, then strain into your footbath. If you do it this way be sure to add the jojoba and essential oils together before adding it to the bath to help it disperse better.
Artemesia Healing liniment
Good for bruises, sprains and strains, and skin healing. This is great to infuse in vinegar and if you do, it can later be combined with some Aloe Vera gel (1 tbsp. vinegar to 2 ounces gel) for sunburn or rash.
Combine the herbs and place in a jar that the herbs take up 2/3 the space of. Cover and fill the jar with either apple cider vinegar, or vodka, or witch hazel. Apply with a cotton ball to affected areas—dilute in water prior if needed.
The Huntress-Gatherer Salve
An all-purpose, all-healing salve. When in doubt “put some salve on it!”.
1 part Mugwort leaf
½ part Calendula flower
½ part Comfrey leaf or Plantain leaf
1 part St. John’s Wort Flowers
½ part Yarrow leaf and flower
½ part Western Red Cedar leaf tips, or Fir Needle tips, or Redwood Needle tips
Lavender essential oil 5 drops to each ounce of herbal infused oil
Eucalyptus radiata essential oil 3 drops to each ounce of herbal infused oil (optional)
Combine the herbs and infuse with olive or sunflower oil—use a pyrex filled with the herbs and oil 1 part herbs to 7 parts oil, place pyrex into simmering water in a saucepan and let it warmly infuse yet not “cook” for at least an hour—keep an eye on the water in the saucepan and add as needed. After a few hours of this low-heat infusing method strain off the herbs from the oil and store in an airtight jar with a label. *Another infusing method would be to grind the herbs a bit in a grinder, then blend the oil and ground herbs together in a blender just until warm, then jar it up and soak for 2-3 weeks, after which strain off the herbs. To make salve from this herbal infused oil: simply use 1 cup of herbal oil to approx. ¼ cup of grated beeswax—heat together the oil and beeswax in the pyrex by sitting it in a saucepan of simmering water, let it warm until the beeswax has melted into the herbal oil—stir with a chopstick to mix, remove from heat. Then add in your essential oils, stir well, and pour into jars. Label and share with your friends!
Artemis Dream’s Potpourri Blend
1 cup Mugwort leaves
½ cup Hops flowers
¼ cup Marjoram herb
1 cup Lavender flowers
½ cup Rose Petals
½ cup Lemon Verbena whole leaf (optional)
20 drops of Lavender essential oil
10 drops Ylang ylang essential oil
5 drops of Clary Sage essential oil
Combine the herbs and mix well, then add in essential oils and mix things around again. I like to let this sit in a sealed bag or jar overnight to infuse the scent throughout the herbs. Then stuff into small cotton drawstring bag(s)and keep by the bedside for fragrant dreams and peaceful sleep. You can also store the blend in a pretty glass jar and simply uncork or unscrew the lid to diffuse the fragrance whenever you choose—this is always a great gift!
California Mugwort Dreamin’ Tea
A tea blend to relax, and calm—sweet dreams to you!
You will need:
½ part California Mugwort
1 part Linden
½ part Spearmint
¼ part Orange peel
1 part Oat tops
1 part Lemon Balm
½ part Chamomile
Mix the herbs together and store in an airtight jar. Use 1 tablespoon of the blend per cup of water. You can make it as an overnight cold infusion, or steep it warm 10-20 minutes or longer if you prefer.
Sweeten with honey if you desire.
“I now grow Artemisias in tubs, borders, trimmed hedges, and as single accents. Never again will I relegate them to the sidelines. Artemesias add sparkle to every planting, enhancing neighboring bright colors, and create soothing oases during the hot days of summer and fall when they reach their peak of form. Growing artemsias is an herb lover’s dream, uniting utility and beauty.” —Jo ann Gardner (from an article she wrote for Herb Companion 2000)
*Cautions/Contraindications for Mugwort: Not for use during pregnancy. Bear caution using if you have any pre-existing allergy to the daisy family (asteraceae family). Not advised to be taken in large dosages over extended periods of time. Please consult with your local herbalist or licensed practitioner before using.
Medicinal Plants of the Pacific West by Michael Moore
Healing with the Herbs of Life by Leslie Tierra
The Herbal Tarot Book by Candice Cantin and Michael Tierra
After the First Full Moon in April by Josephine Peters and Beverly Ortiz
Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health by Rosemary Gladstar
The Encyclopedia of Herbs by Tucker and Debaggio
Other links to check out:
For Supplies and Herbs check out:
*This article is intended to be an exchange of information in hopes to keep the herbal healing traditions alive and well. It is not intended to treat, or diagnose, nor is it intended to replace the care and treatment from a licensed practitioner or health care provider. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA.