Artemesia vulgaris (Mugwort)


Remember, Mugwort, what you revealed,

what you established at the mighty proclamation
“Una” you are called, oldest of herbs.
you may avail against 3 and against 30,
you may avail against poison and against contagion,
you may avail against the loathsome one who travels through the land.
(Woden’s Nine Herbs Charm from Lacnunga LXXIX-LXXXII, trans. B. Slade 2002, ll. 1–6)

In the Middle Ages, the plant was known as Cingulum Sancti Johannis, it being believed that John the Baptist wore a girdle of it in the wilderness. There were many superstitions connected with it: it was believed to preserve the wayfarer from fatigue, sunstroke, wild beasts and evil spirits generally: a crown made from its sprays was worn on St. John’s Eve to gain security from evil possession, and in Holland and Germany one of its names is St. John’s Plant, because of the belief, that if gathered on St. John’s Eve it gave protection against diseases and misfortunes. (Grieve 1931)

I have a soft spot in my heart for mugwort. As a kid, a friend and I would gather armfuls of it by the roadside, in the shade of the hemlocks that loomed at the edge of her property. We’d strip the leaves off of the stalks that were almost as tall as we were, then crush them between rocks and cover them in water, leaving them in the sun to make “tea” or “stew” or a “potion.” We called that plant sagebrush, because well, it smelled a little like sage and grew in the brush. Oddly enough, we weren’t that far off.

So, the scent of mugwort has always brought my back to a happy childhood place. More recently, I’ve found it to be a good herb to aid in journeying—I’m some what sensitive to it, as just weeding the stuff from under my deck will put me into a light trance if I don’t have gloves. In my personal experience, Grandmother Mugwort is a little too random to be used alone for dream work, but produces very interesting results when combined with either agrimony or lavender. Though Cunningham associates her with Earth (2003, 178) she has always felt much more watery to me; additionally, he associates her with Venus, while I find her better matched with the Moon. Hopman agrees that the little Grandmother aids in visions and prophecy, adding that a wash of mugwort tea applied to crystal balls or mirrors aids their clarity (1995, 72). She will protect homes, friends, and possessions, and can consecrate and purify tools (Beyerl 1984, 135).

But lately I’ve found myself in a somewhat awkward situation with this tenacious little plant, as it’s become an invasive pest on our property. Many folks find her to be a noxious respiratory irritant (since she’s also related to ragweed), and one of my neighbors as been on a holy crusade to get her “under control.”

Good luck with that.

The more likely story is that we continue to give the little Grandmother the perfect growing conditions. The neighborhood here is quite new, the soil poor, and the fields broad and sunny. Moreover, we have conscientious folk who keep said fields nicely trimmed. My guess, and it’s only a guess mind you, is that mugwort is one of those pioneer plants, much like the birch, growing at the edge of things and making the way for others. So by cutting her down again and again, we are actually giving her exactly what she needs to thrive.

And more than a little part of me rejoices at seeing her thwart our attempts to control her wildness.

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