Mugwort. Surprisingly cheeky and brazen, like the very old withered little bent over woman who suddenly reaches up to you and plants a big juicy smacker of a kiss on your cheek. She has the vitality of somebody a quarter of her age. Wise and direct, yet joyful. She's soft without molly-coddling. She delivers her message swiftly, with mirror-like clarity yet without judgement or harshness.
Perhaps this is why she is also known as the herb for new initiates to the plant spirit path. She is so easy to talk to. She welcomes you with open, soft, silvery hands. All you have to do is open up the conversation by saying "hello". And when you do, she will gently invite you in to realms of deeper perception, where a new way of communing with plants and integrating the healing process is possible.
In my communications with her I'm always amazed at how quick and clear she is in her conversing. She is so chatty (at least, relative to other plants I've spoken with) that I often doubt myself - "did she really just say that?" - although that is becoming less of an issue with time. More about that soon.
Mugwort's genus name Artemisia hints at the moon goddess that it it's namesake. Every image I've seen of the greek goddess Artemis (or Diana, her Roman equivalent) depicts her as huntress and protector of the wild creatures of the forest. She doesn't kill indiscriminately; she brings death only when it is timely and appropriate. And she also brings life, as is evident in her traditional use by herbal midwives in labour and birth.
Edit on 14 June 2020: Since writing this article I've learnt more about mugwort and the many different species growing around the Sunshine Coast Hinterlands, where I live. I believe one of the species naturalised to this area (and pictured below) may be Chinese mugwort (Artemisia verlotiorum) which is more aromatic than common mugwort (A. vulgaris) and grows 1-3 m high.
"As the village midwife once nurtured the heart of the community with compassion, knowledge, common sense, and magic, cronewort has soothed the pain of childbirth, eased the tenderness of aching joints, comforted bellies, and instilled vision among human beings for centuries with her knowing medicine."
- Judith Berger, Herbal Rituals
If you've ever popped a leaf of mugwort into your mouth and had a chew, you'll know the striking but somehow comforting bitterness that emanates from her tissues.
Bitter is a taste most of us don't get enough of, despite it's wonderful health benefits. Mugwort's bitterness makes it an all-round star herb for digestive health, as well as improving overall immune function. It is particularly excellent for supporting the stomach, pancreas and liver. Mugwort is an appetite stimulant, and a balm for anyone with weak digestion and nervous dyspepsia. Like many of the other Artemisia family has traditionally been used for intestinal parasites such as worms.
A women's herb (and in particular an emmenagogue), mugwort initiates and promotes menstrual flow, making it helpful for women with amenorrhoea (as long as those periods aren't missing because of malnutrition as in most cases of hypothalamic amenorrhoea, in which case only nutritional rehabilitation will address the root cause). As Judith Berger describes so poetically in her book Herbal Rituals, it has been traditionally used to increase the efficiency of labour and birth.
Mugwort is used in Chinese medicine as the herb burnt in moxabustion. For this reason it has a particular resonance with me as my mother is Chinese and although I can't know for certain, I intuitively feel that there is a lineage of healers on that side of my family. I imagine my ancestors were very familiar with the smell of moxa as it wafted through their healing spaces.
How I USE Mugwort
Herbal body oiling is a sensuous and safe way to receive the benefits of these medicinal plants through the largest organ in your body - your skin - all whilst building body familiarity and self-intimacy through the ritual of mindful self-massage and self-touch. I personally think that body oiling is a must for all women as a way to get to know their bodies and improve body acceptance.
I have made infused mugwort oil on a new moon and on a full moon, and am currently experimenting with what works best as I plan to bottle and sell a limited volume of mugwort infused body oil in the coming months!
I also make smudge sticks and use them in ceremonial and ritual work, both personally and during bodywork with clients. On the rare occasion I'm feeling extremely tense or nervous about something, I have smoked dried mugwort and experienced the pleasant after effect it offers; a subtle wave of the kind of relaxation and okay-ness that makes you sigh out loud.
I also regularly chop up small amounts of mugwort and add it to stirfries, soups and omelettes. Herbal tea infusions of mugwort, although bitter, are an enlivening way to start the day!
"...known to many as a herb of magic, cronewort allows us to live in several worlds at once, expanding and nourishing the habit of drawing our gaze before us to that which is visible, and behind us to that which is invisible. Regular use of cronewort in tea or extract strengthens our ability to absorb intuitive information as we preserve an aspect of sharpness in our interaction with the complex, topside world."
- Judith Berger, Herbal Rituals
Also, mugwort breathes life into my dreams. Mugwort is well-known for her capacity to induce more vivid dreams and better dream recall. I find that some of these dreams are direct messages from the depths of my soul, or from my higher self, or whatever it is that watches over and animates us at our core.
For really intense dreams and memory recall, try sleeping with a few sprigs of fresh mugwort under your pillow. Be warned - the dreams you receive may have a powerful message for you!
And after a few nights you may need to back off as it really does bring your dreams to life! I find body oiling with infused mugwort oil is gentler than sleeping with a bunch of it in my bed, because whilst vivid, with body oiling my dreams don't become sagas that could fill pages and pages the next morning like they do when mugwort is right there under my head!
Judith Berger is spot on about mugwort strengthening your capacity to pick up on intuitive messages (such as those in those BIG, important dreams) whilst staying anchored to the "topside" world (i.e. not becoming so floaty you can't stay connected to waking life, as is the tendency for some constituents of some other medicinal plants).
I've had some BIG and impactful dreams with mugwort that have changed the way I am in the world, one of which I've included at the end of this blog for those interested.
To me, plant spirit communication is about getting to know a plant at a deeper level by treating the plant like a non-human person. I suppose this is an animist way of being and connecting with other sentient beings, and one I have slowly but surely grown more and more confident in.
The opening paragraph details the way mugwort has conveyed her personality to me: as a caring grandmother, a crone, a wise woman, who gently evokes your memory and deepest inner knowing, with a sense of light-heartedness... and totally devoid of judgment.
Conveniently, since mugwort clears channels of perception "opens up chambers of ancient memory within the brain" as Judith Berger describes in her beautiful book, plant spirit communication becomes easier with her aid. She really is the perfect plant for the new herbal initiate to begin plant spirit communication adventures with - although I personally think any and all plants (and animals, people, mountains, etc) are open to respectful communication.
Even when I've not been listening all that attentively, mugwort has found a way to grab my attention. I describe an example of this in this Instagram post.
There are wonderful resources out there exploring plant spirit communication in eloquent detail so I won't say much about it here, besides try it. These resources are listed right at the end of this blog.
Since working with mugwort (in particular, the mugwort that's growing wild in the place I have just moved to) I have started teaching regular yoga classes again after a four-year hiatus. I have started practising bodywork again. I'm feeling a growing confidence and courage to create things I've been too scared to try in the past.
Mugwort has helped give me my groove back. Like the bent yet sturdy spine of the crone, she has carried me through to the other side of a dark tunnel I wasn't completely aware I had been moving through.
I am remembering pieces of myself that I left behind some time ago. Mugwort is giving life back to those pieces that I discarded in my haste to escape from the materialism and spiritual by-passing I was witnessing in the yoga world on the Gold Coast that turned me off yoga for so long.
I'm teaching yoga again. I'm doing bodywork again. A naturally sensitive person, I'm seeing the harshness in some of my ways and learning to soften those edges that had become hardened by the sun of survival and self-preservation in a harsh and plastic world. I am learning to become more self-aware and gain more mastery of my emotions, particularly anger and self-righteousness.
I am communing with nature more and it seems the plants are much easier to communicate with, now that mugwort has opened the door.
The Emerald Dragon: a mugwort dream
If we have been too harsh, may we soften and so feel called to forgive.
But in my pushing-forward harshness I had been harsh in my relationships, particularly with my husband. I needed to soften, sensitise, and become more patient with my more ruminating, slower moving, Taurean partner. To forgive him for my perceived flaws in him, for his inertia relative to my surging forth.
Mugwort called out to me three times one Friday in early Spring. First, at the dairy where I now milk the cows with the kids every second week. A huge bush was growing right next to where we milk the ladies, which I thought was nice but not particularly striking.
Second, when I re-discovered my mugwort stone later that day. A bloodstone I was gifted by my spiritual teacher, which I then gifted to my mugwort plant until we moved house, had been lost in the moving kerfuffle. After a month MIA I found it behind a laundry basket and put it into my pocket.
Finally, after an argument with Andreas who had had grumbling pain in his abdomen all week (which I had thoughtlessly dismissed as just a tummy ache that he was making a fuss out of), I was tired of "doing everything". He was angry and in pain, which wasn't helped by my insensitivity and my running a story about how much I had to do in his absence. I decided to leave the house to blow off some steam. I took the kids for a bush walk to check out a native elder tree I had spotted from the road and along the way, stumbled across a grove of wild growing mugwort!
"Three times in one day!" I thought, "she must have a message for me. Okay. I'm listening."
I bent down to introduce myself and open up a conversation with the mugwort, of which there were many plants spanning about five meters alongside a grove of native trees and brush. It didn't take long for me to start hearing her message. "Soften", she conveyed. Soften, yes, that probably wouldn't hurt. I took some deep breaths and got to the point where I felt more forgiving... but not entirely ready to completely open my heart to love.
I harvested some mugwort leaves and took them home to make a bitter digestive tea for Andreas in a small act of apology.
But this medicine was for me. It wasn't her physical medicine I needed, but her guidance, her magic. I had a little mugwort tea, spoke to her asking the spirit of mugwort for guidance to find my way out of the angry, self-righteous hole I had dug for myself, and slept with her under my pillow.
Thus followed two nights of extremely vivid dreams. On waking I recalled the main features of each dream: on the first night, the number 88 repeated four times (or 8888 repeated twice) jumped out in larger-than-life digits.
The second night, I was in the presence of a gigantic emerald dragon. It was indescribably huge, and felt like it filled a deep underground cave that spanned the breadth of the universe. I knew that this dragon was invincible, yet I drove a sword through it’s soft chest into it's heart. Then I woke up.
The afternoon following the dragon dream I visited mugwort again and respectfully collected some young fronds to make smudge and infused oil. While I was cooking dinner and chopping mugwort into the chicken soup I was preparing for my family, I felt a silent but strong urge to open a book in which I vaguely remembered reading a dragon story.
The book, written by my favourite yoga teacher, is organised by the five elements of Chinese medicine. Being a Wood element person I flipped straight to the Wood section. The very first story was about an emerald dragon, particularly about the qualities of it’s lion-heart: compassion, unconditional love, cutting through illusion that traps us in judgement, and being a warrior.
I looked down to the page number – it was 88.
I softened immediately and knew it was time to give up the grudge I was holding against Andreas. He was hospitalised with a ruptured appendix a few days later, and I felt terrible that in my tiredness I had been so insensitive and dismissive about his condition. Luckily he recovered completely, but I'm glad I didn't carry on in my resentful, unloving headspace. I needed my heart to be pierced open, to reconnect with my compassionate heart. I needed to forgive him for the flaws I perceived in him. And I needed to forgive myself for my harshness.
It was also then that I realised the teapot I had been drinking mugwort tea out of - a teapot from an op-shop that I had only ever used for mugwort tea - had a green, Chinese dragon on it.
Books by Eliot Cowan, Pam Montgomery, and Stephen Harrod Buener
Lis Conlon's workshops in Australia, which you can catch at some gatherings including Root & Branch, and Wise Women's Gathering.
INTUITIVE PLANT MEDICINE
Asia Suler's Intuitive Plant Medicine online course.