Mugwort is a plant that has been used for medicinal and culinary purposes for centuries. This hardy perennial plant is abundant in many areas and is worth the effort of properly identifying and harvesting. However, identifying and harvesting mugwort can be challenging for someone who is unfamiliar with it, especially considering some lookalikes- which is why we have compiled this guide for you.
Understanding Mugwort and its Uses
Mugwort, also known by its scientific name Artemisia vulgaris, has been used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years. In ancient times, it was believed to have magical properties and was often used in witchcraft and other mystical practices. Mugwort was also used in brewing beer and other alcoholic beverages in medieval Europe.
Mugwort’s Role in Traditions
Mugwort has been used in many traditional medicines in Asia, Africa, and Europe. Its leaves and roots have been used to treat a variety of conditions such as anxiety, depression, worm infestations, and menstrual cramps. The herb has also been used to stimulate digestion and appetite. Mugwort is still commonly used today in traditional Chinese medicine, as well as in aromatherapy practices.
Mugwort is a perennial plant that grows from 2 to 4 feet tall, with stems that can be brown, reddish-brown, or purple in color. The leaves are dark green on top and whitish-gray underneath, and they have a pointed, lobed shape. They emit a strong, pungent aroma when you rub or crush them between your fingers.
Mugwort Lookalikes to Watch Out For
There are several plants that look similar to mugwort and can be mistaken for it. Yarrow and tansy are two of the most common lookalikes. Yarrow has similar-looking leaves but small flowers clustered at the top of the plant. Tansy, on the other hand, has yellow flowers and leaves that are more finely divided than mugwort.
The best time to harvest mugwort is in the summer when the leaves and flowers are fully grown. Choose a dry day to harvest, as the moisture can affect the quality of the plant. Look for mugwort growing wild in fields, along hedgerows, and in ditches. It is often found in disturbed areas like abandoned lots or near construction sites.
Tips for Properly Harvesting Mugwort
When harvesting mugwort, use scissors or a sharp knife to cut the stems about an inch above the ground. Choose only healthy, undamaged leaves and discard any that show signs of insect damage. Be sure to wear gloves when handling mugwort as the plant can cause skin irritation. Always leave some of the plants behind as to not harm an entire area and to encourage regrowth.
Drying and Storing Mugwort
Drying mugwort is essential to ensure its longevity while it is in a usable state. Before drying, remove any flowers and stems from the leaves and clean them thoroughly under running water. The leaves can be laid out on a piece of cloth or a mesh screen to dry, in a warm, dry, and well-ventilated area. You can also hang the leaves in a bunch to dry. Once dried, store mugwort in an airtight container away from sunlight.
Preparing Mugwort for Use
Mugwort can be used to make tea, a tincture, essential oils, and even in a homeopathic remedy. Mugwort has been known to reduce menstrual pain and cramping, improve digestion, and reduce anxiety and stress when taken in these forms in small amounts throughout the day. Consult a healthcare professional before treatment.
Culinary Uses of Mugwort
Mugwort leaves can be used in cooking, particularly in traditional regional dishes like “moxa”. The leaves can also be used as a flavoring agent for soups and stews or added to meat dishes. However, its use is not widely popular outside of these regions.
Mugwort is generally safe for consumption, but it can cause side effects such as skin irritation, allergic reactions, and gastrointestinal distress if taken in large amounts. Pregnant and breastfeeding women should avoid the use of the plant as it is considered a natural abortifacient. If you are allergic to plants like ragweed, chrysanthemums, marigolds, chamomile, or yarrow, you may be allergic to mugwort as well.
Mugwort is a remarkable plant with a long history of traditional use. Identifying and harvesting it at the optimal time is crucial to the quality of the product. As always, consult a healthcare practitioner regarding the use of mugwort for medicinal purposes. Learning more about this plant, its uses, and its harvesting process can help you fully appreciate the benefits it has to offer.