Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) is starting to flower in the hedgerows, as well growing as opportunistically all over my herb garden, so I’ll be able to gather plenty.
I was introduced to mugwort by my first Craft teacher many years ago, and after that, I noticed it grew everywhere in the hedgerows. Julia called it ‘the witch herb’ and told me it was sacred to the goddess of the moon, so we should use it in rituals dedicated to her, and because she is the protectress of women, for ‘female complaints’. We added it to incense we used when seeking visions or working on exercises of astral projection, Julia told me to put a leaf beneath my pillow when I was seeking clarity of some issue, and I would dream the answer and she further advised that I should put a sprig in my shoe to prevent tiredness on long journeys and hang some up to protect my house from lightening. This was the old cunning woman knowledge of the herb.
Though generally thought of as a fast spreading tall weed by most people in Britain and America today, the plant has been known and valued from China to the Americas, mentioned in Chinese poems as far back as 3 BCE, by the ancient Greek physician Galen as a remedy for amenorrhea (absent menstruation), and used by Roman soldiers in a salve to keep their feet from getting tired. It has been used as a food, a medicine, a spice, for flavouring beer (hence the name ‘mug’ wort), as an insect repellent, a yellow dye, as an incense, for moxibustion and of course, in magic. Once you identify mugwort, you’ll wonder why you never came across it before.
It was certainly an important plant in the British magical tradition, known as the Mother of All Herbs, and called ‘the oldest of plants…mighty against evil’ in the tenth century Anglo Saxon Lacnunga or Nine Herbs Prayer. In the Middle Ages in Europe, it was considered a protective herb particularly utilised on St John’s Eve and St John’s Day, (i.e. Midsummer, the approximation of the summer solstice) when fairies and spirits of bane were thought to be especially active. Mugwort gathered on St. John’s Eve was said to give protection against diseases and misfortunes of all kinds, and to save them from evil spirits, people wore garlands of mugwort on St John’s Day. The herb was even called cingulum Sancti Johannis (‘the girdle of St John’) or ‘St. John’s plant’, from a myth that St John wore a girdle of it while in the wilderness.
In Japan too, in Japan, there is an ancient custom of hanging mugwort and iris leaves together outside homes in order to keep evil spirits away. It is said that evil spirits dislike their smell.
Burning the herb to release both its fragrance and its virtues is an interesting facet of its properties. The herb is quite complex with over 75 unique chemicals that have been identified. It contains volatile oils, giving it a strong bitter aroma with mint undertones. I learned to use it in incense when I was a teenager, without knowing that in Korean, Japanese and Chinese medicine mugwort (Artemisia argyi) is used for moxibustion, burned to release its heat and scent in combination with acupuncture, either attached to acupuncture needles or rolled into bundles and lit to use in a similar manner to a smudge stick. Studies have shown this to be effective for joint pain and arthritis.
MUGWORT INCENSE BUNDLE
- Mugwort stems and leaves, fresh
- Cotton string (it is important you do not use synthetic materials)
Gather your herbs and loosely bunch them. Begin wrapping fairly loosely (this allow drying and also burns better when you come to use your bundle) with the string. Tie it off and trim any loose edges. Hang up to dry out for around 8 weeks.
CAUTION: Mugwort may cause an allergic reaction in individuals who are allergic to the Asteraceae/Compositae plant family.
© Anna Franklin, August 2020
 Lacnunga British Library MS. Harley 585, online at http://www.wyrtig.com/GardenFolklore/NineHerbsPrayer.htm, accessed 29.11.19