It’s a common weed in Europe and North America and grows in hedge banks and at the sides of country lanes in Britain. It can be used in cooking and is used in Germany in a stuffing for the traditional Christmas goose (Weihnachtsgans). The stuffing recipe is given below. The young leaves can also be eaten raw in salads.
You can make an infusion from the dried leaves (15 gr of dried leaves to 500ml of boiling water) to take three times a day for painful menstruation cramps. In this way it’s rather like angelica and aak. It stimulates the menstrual flow by increasing the blood circulation to the pelvic area and the uterus. It also stimulates the appetite, and a tisane can be made of 1 or 2 tsps of the dried leaves, and 150 ml boiling water. Let this steep for 5 minutes, then strain, and drink 2 or three times a day before meals to increase appetite and aid digestion.
However you should be careful with mugwort if you are a hay fever sufferer as it can provoke severe reactions. If you are allergic to hazelnuts, don’t use it! You shouldn’t use it when you are breast-feeding or pregnant either as it acts on the uterus. It can have side effects such as a rash, itching, tightness in the chest, wheezing and hives. Don’t use it if you have been prescribed medication for thinning the blood either. In other words, consult a doctor before touching it if you have allergies to any food or ill health.
Before hops were used for brewing beer, mugwort was used for its slightly bitter aromatic flavour. In Britain in the early 20th century it was still used by people who lived in the countryside in brewing home made beer. Some people believe that this is how it got its name –from the beer mug. However there are far more plausible explanations.
One is that wyrt is the Old English word for plant or root and moughte was the word for moth or maggot and myia in Greek means fly or bug. Mugwort repels insects, such as moths (like patchouli). In the first century AD Dioscorides praised mugwort for its bug repelling abilities and he and Pliny agreed that if the leaves of mugwort were applied to the soles of the feet a traveller could walk further and faster without becoming fatigued.
There are many superstitions about mugwort, but the main ones are that it could protect people from evil spirits, could protect a traveller from sunstroke and attacks by wild beasts. In Germany it is known as St John’s Plant and the belief was that if it was gathered on St John’s Eve, it protected against misfortune and diseases until the following year. In Britain crowns were made from it and worn on St John’s Eve to prevent possession by evil spirits. Dioscorides recommended picking the flowering tops of this herb just before they came into bloom. On the Isle of Man, the leaves are worn on National day, 5th July, where they are known as Bollen Bane. It is believed that this custom is a throwback to pagan times, as July 5th was Midsummer in the Old Calendar.
Cannabis sativa and people say that you will remember your dreams and be able to steer them if you smoke mugwort before going to sleep. You could also chew a leaf or two if you don’t like smoking. It’s used to clear the nasal passages in this way too. It used to be used in Cornwall when tea was very expensive as a substitute.
To make an infusion with it, use 1 ounce of the fresh herb to 1 pint of boiling water, and take doses of ½ tsp while it’s warm. You can take this as a tonic cold in the same dosage. It has a slightly bitter, aromatic taste.
In the 17th century Gerard wrote that it cured “the shaking of the joints inclining to Palsie.” He also said that the powdered leaves were good for hysteria. The juice from the leaves and root were made into an infusion for intermittent fevers and agues, and the bruised leaves can be used for an invigorating bath. Culpeper wrote that “The juice of the large leaves which grow from the root before the stalk appears is the best against the dropsy and jaundice, in water, ale, wine or the juice only. The infusion drank morning and evening for some time helps hysteria, obstruction of the spleen and weakness of the stomach…the root should be accounted among the best stomachics.”
A volatile oil comes from the leaves and roots but this is not used in aromatherapy because of the possibility of allergic reactions to it.
It is used in Ayurvedic medicine for “women’s troubles” as it relieves stomach cramps caused by menstruation and can relieve menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes.
Dried mugwort leaves can be used along with dried lavender and chamomile flowers and a spray of the leaves over the doorway gives a room a pleasant aroma (and wards off bugs).
Some people have made extravagant claims for the benefits of using mugwort against cancer and HIV but none of these claims has been substantiated by medical science, which has tended to concentrate on the allergy enhancing properties of the herb.
MUGWORT STUFFING FOR ROAST GOOSE
500 gr cooking apples (a tart rather than sweet variety)
500 gr fresh roasted chestnuts, skins removed
4 large sprigs of mugwort, leaves shredded
4 sprigs thyme
3 sprigs rosemary
1 bay leaf
150 gr breadcrumbs
salt and pepper to taste
Peel and core the apples and roughly chop them. Chop the chestnuts. Remove the leaves from the thyme and rosemary and crumble the bay leaf.
Mix all the ingredients together with a little water and stuff the goose with the mixture.
This has Taste and is a Treat.