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Tips for the Compleat Gardener: Mugwort manifests


When the mugwort looked up from the side of my driveway and asked to be introduced to the reading public I had it in my mind as mainly an invasive weed that spreads with long roots underground.

It establishes a local colony while later in the season sending seeds aloft, causing sneezes all around. As gardeners we call it “mum weed” because the early foliage resembles that of chrysanthemums though rougher and fuzzy white underneath.

Technically it is Artemisia vulgaris, a member of the Asteraceae family, native to Northeast Asia and Alaska and considered invasive almost everywhere else. It gets to be up to five feet tall with branched, purplish stems covered with yellowish disk flowers.

The first time I really saw it, it was completely swamping a small house and my sense of eradication involved complete removal of the soil down at least eight inches and replacement with fertile soil. I am not a user of herbicides; they always poison more than one expects.

I still see mugwort as an invasive with my gardener’s eyes but my inner eyes have been opened by reading about what is also known as St. John’s plant because John the Baptist purportedly wore a belt woven of mugwort around his waist, the plant having a reputation for invigorating the wayfarer while repelling wild beasts and evil spirits. I have heard that a small bag of dried leaves can repel moths in your sweater drawer.

The first time I was aware of mugwort its scent drifted into a meeting wrapped around the local acupuncturist who explained that aroma of the burning plant enhances relaxation and opens the door to lucid dreaming.

A historical use of mugwort involves fire also, apparently a rolled bud lit, will keep smoldering for hours and became a way to transport fire from place to place before matches were common. Dried mugwort is very good kindling.

Amanda of Locust Light Farm calls mugwort of the Divine Feminine, connected to the moon and lunar cycles to be used to address menstrual issues and digestive problems. Mugwort has been used as a flavoring, a tea, tincture, tonic, infusion and even incense. Check out for workshops in herbology and more.

The best time to harvest Artemisia vulgaris is right before bloom, cutting the plant down by half and storing the branches in a dry space until they crunch freely in your fingers. It is said that harvesting mugwort on the eve of St. John’s Day will provide protection from evil possession. In Holland and Germany the reaper also gains protection from disease and misfortune.

St. John’s Day is June 24 in case you are in need of protection. With this in mind I now see the patch of mugwort at the turn of my drive as a magical protection from bad stuff.

In its medicinal history A. vulgaris has been used as a stimulant, a diuretic and a way to fend off an emerging cold with sweating (diaphoresis) . It has been used to quiet seizures in epilepsy and palsy. Allegedly a bath in which mugwort has steeped is invigorating and yet a bag of dried leaves nestled in your pillow can bring lucid dreaming to your experience.

I have to admit I now see mugwort through new eyes, even welcoming the wild patch though I will continue to weed it out of garden beds lest it take over.

Stay out of saturated gardens.