It's a yellow dye, an insect repellant, an ingredient in food dishes, and a possible treatment for conditions ranging from flatulence to infertility. Not bad for something many Americans consider a noxious weed. It's related to ragweed and may cause allergies similar to ragweed, which may explain why American gardeners try to kill it whenever possible. But mugwort gets more respect in other parts of the world, where it has been used for centuries.
A member of the daisy family, mugwort, or Artemisia vulgaris, is native to Asia and Europe. It can reach up to 6 feet in height and has yellow or reddish-brown flowers in the summer. Its leaves have a silvery fuzz on their underside and it has a sage-like smell and slightly bitter taste.
In the past, mugwort was revered. Roman soldiers put mugwort in their sandals before marching to ward off fatigue. It was also thought to protect people from wild animals and evil spirits. People placed it under their pillows to induce vivid dreams and planted it around their houses and gardens to repel moths.
In traditional Asian medicine, mugwort or wormwood is used in a process called moxibustion. Mugwort or wormwood leaves are formed into sticks or cones about the size and shape of a cigar, and then burned on or over an acupuncture point to release energy.
Moxibustion has been practiced for more than 3,000 years in China, and advocates claim that it can strengthen and warm your blood and life energy, and treat inflammations and cancers. This study shows how moxa smoke can improve the autonomic nervous system and induce a relaxing effect on the body.
Moxibustion is also used to treat menstrual cramping and to help a baby in the breech position turn. According to this study, the practice does appear to increase fetal movements, helping the baby turn to a normal head-down, or cephalic, position. However, the authors conclude that more research needs to be done to determine moxibustion’s real effectiveness.
Mugwort can also be used to stimulate a women's menstrual cycle. It can bring on delayed menstruation and in the past was used to induce abortions. Pregnant and breast-feeding women are advised to avoid the herb because of this potential risk.
In European and American herbal practices, mugwort is used to treat stomach and intestinal problems such as:
It's also used to ease:
- nerve problems
Some who use it also claim that it has antibacterial and antifungal properties, but these claims remain unstudied.
Mugwort can cause allergic reactions leading to sneezing and sinus-related symptoms, and it can cause contact dermatitis, or rashes, in some people.
In the United States, mugwort is sold as a dietary supplement and homeopathic preparation, and is considered safe for most people. However, people with allergies to the following should avoid it:
- several other plants
Mugwort is available as:
- dried leaves
It can also be used as a poultice, or paste. It’s also available as an herbal incense, but many U.S. cities and states have outlawed these products.
There are no proven safe or effective doses of mugwort and it’s recommended that children don’t use it.
In Europe, mugwort was used to flavor beer before hops were cultivated. It’s also used as a flavoring for fish and meats, including the traditional German Christmas goose.
Mugwort is also used as a flavoring in Chinese, Korean, and Japanese dishes. In Japan, it's used in desserts and in several types of rice cakes, and in Korea, it's an ingredient in pancakes, soups, and salads.
Mugwort has been used for its medicinal properties and in food for thousands of years. Although more research needs to be done, studies show that it’s beneficial in the process of moxibustion to treat the nervous system and to help with a breech birth. It’s also used to relieve menstrual cramps and to stimulate a woman’s menstrual cycle, and also to treat various gastrointestinal issues.
Talk to your doctor or someone trained in herbal medicine first if you want to try mugwort as a complementary health approach. Be sure to tell them about any allergies you have, as some people may be allergic to mugwort. Information on credentials and licensing of herbalists is available on the website of the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.