by Alma Green
Nourish your brain's creative centers for more vivid, richer dream journeys with mugwort. Its species name, artemisia vulgaris, comes from the Artemis, the moon goddess of greek mythology, who, as Corinna wood, director of Red Moon Herbs writes, "invites us to travel with her from the material world into the magical." Mugwort can be prepared for consumption, or placed near your sleeping area to receive its oneiric magic.
Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris), or cronewort, is named after the lunar goddess Artemis and, like the moon, invites us to travel with her from the material world into the magical. Over the growing season, this unassuming, leafy beauty will transition from a plant that nurtures our bodies into one that feeds our souls. A feathery perennial, her deeply divided pinnate leaves are glazed on the underside with their signature, silvery sheen, evocative of the moon's silver light. The leaves, when crushed, emit a pungent, distinctive aroma reminiscent of chrysanthemums and sage.
While mugwort's leaves are similar to those of poison hemlock (Conium maculatum), it's easy to distinguish mugwort from her more noxious counterpart by her moonlike glow and, during flowering, by hemlock's umbrella-shaped flowering structure. Whenever using wild plants with deeply divided leaves (like parsley or carrot tops), it is critical to be positive of the identification. When in doubt, watch the plant through its entire growing season to observe the flowering structure or consult someone who knows.
The young mugwort sprouts are edible and tasty with a lovely aromatic quality. To toss in your fresh, green salads, gather the tender shoots in early spring until they reach a height of about 4 inches. Chopped mugwort also makes a delicious addition to deviled eggs. As the plant grows up to a foot high in April, it's best not to consume mugwort directly, but it can be used in a fortifying herbal vinegar. Vinegar is an excellent menstruum, or medium, for drawing out the minerals that abound in mugwort, which is rich in calcium and the magnesium necessary for our bodies to absorb calcium.
I like to combine mugwort with nettle and chickweed for my "strong bones" vinegar. You can make your own delicious and nutritious strong bones vinegar from any one of those plants. Herbal vinegars are very easy to make. Tightly pack a jar full of plant material, and fill the jar to the top with raw, organic apple cider vinegar. Make sure to line the top with wax paper or plastic wrap to prevent rust if your jar has a metal lid.
The plants usually will absorb enough liquid overnight to end up uncovered so top off the liquid level as needed. Let it brew on your countertop, out of direct sunlight. After six weeks, strain out the plant material and enjoy!
Once mugwort's stems exceed a foot, she begins her transition into the realm of the metaphysical. Mugwort is closely related to desert sage (Artemisia tridentate), often burned as smudge, a cleanser to prepare a sacred space for ritual, and to wormwood (Artemisia absinthium), which is distilled into the narcotic liqueur absinthe. Vincent van Gogh is said to have had quite a thirst for absinthe, and it has been suggested that its long-term use may have contributed not only to his magnificent creativity but also to his madness.
So it is wise to approach mugwort with respect for its magic and caution for its slightly toxic properties, which increase as the plant grows and flowers. Blooms appear around the end of summer and are displayed in a raceme, a cone of small, inconspicuous, daisylike blossoms. In its early flowering stage, the herb is at the peak of her mystical potency and can be harvested for smudge sticks and dream pillows. Local mugwort is an excellent alternative to the sage imported from the west and may be a better choice for centering, clearing and grounding because it incorporates the resident spirit of our home soil and speaks to our roots.
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