One summer evening many years ago – before I knew diddly squat about herbs – I lounged around a beach campfire with some friends. We’d gathered to celebrate and enjoy the full moon and we’d all brought our sleeping bags to sleep under its mystical glow.
As darkness fell, my friends passed around a jar of warm greenish brown liquid. What was it? “This is Dream Tea,” they told me. “We made it with mugwort. It helps you remember your dreams.”
Wow! I had never heard of that. I took a cautious sip. Ugh! A bitter brew! I sipped some more, wondering what sorts of epic dreams this mugwort might have in store for me.
Since that night mugwort and I have gotten to be good buds. It’s is one of my favorite herbs, partly for its renowned magical and spiritual attributes (some mystics say it opens the third eye,) and partly because I just love this plant’s pungent aroma and grey green foliage.
The official botanical name is Artemisa vulgaris, and mugwort is a common wild plant (a weed some would call it) growing throughout Europe, Asia, and the United States. A slightly different version grows here in my neck of the woods (Northern California), Artemisia douglasiana. Some herbalists believe that this California mugwort has even more potent properties than its European cousin.
Wherever you live, look for mugwort growing along roadsides, in ditches and near standing water. You can recognize it by the silvery, serrated leaves and that pungent sage-like aroma.
Don’t feel like venturing out to look for wild mugwort? No problem.
You can get your own little patch going in your backyard or even a window box planter. But watch out. Mugwort has an aggressive nature and can crowd out more timid garden plants. In other words – it’s been known to be invasive in a garden setting.
Your cultivated mugwort may look greener with leaves that are less serrated than its wilder relatives. My theory is that this is because the garden variety is usually pampered and well watered.
What Else Does Mugwort Do?
Mugwort speaks of magic to me, but that’s only showing one side of its nature. There’s powerful medicine here too. It is often used – solo or in tandem with its herbal friends – to stimulate the liver and as a digestive aid. As a strong bitter, it can be helpful for a variety of stomach problems, including ulcers.
Herbalists recommend several ounces of the cool tea taken before bed if you are prone to waking up with frontal headaches, irritated eyes, bad breath, and general liver congestion. (Wait! I forgot about that! I’m going to brew up some of this tea today! I don’t know about the general liver congestion, but my husband can testify to the morning dragon breath!)
I guess the reason mugwort is so effective in the above use is because it gives the liver a boost in metabolizing the excess fats that often cause these problems.
This herb can also be effective for uncontrollable shaking, nervousness, and insomnia. Like its cousin, sagebrush, mugwort can treat many types of parasites, including pinworms and traveler’s diarrhea. Recommended dosage for parasites is several cups of mugwort tea daily.
Ever feel like you’ve got a couple of slugs of lead in your belly along with raging PMS?
Because mugwort will stimulate the uterus, some women drink it to bring on a slow-to-start period. Therefore, (Duh!) those who are prone to heavy bleeding should avoid mugwort tea during menstruation. And (Double Duh!) since uterine stimulation is not the goal in this case, PREGNANT WOMEN SHOULD NOT CONSUME MUGWORT IN ANY FORM.
Mugwort likes to hang out near poison oak and you’ll often find it growing nearby this less friendly plant. An external wash of mugwort leaves can help lessen the itching of the poison oak rash. (This is nature’s way of synergy. Often plant antidotes grow near plants that cause rashes or other discomforts.)
History and Lore
Some Native Americans used mugwort for colds, flus, bronchitis, and fevers. The hot tea can induce sweating, which is probably one of the reasons they used it for these ailments. The Chinese use mugwort to make “moxa sticks.” They dry the Chinese species of the plant and then crunch and roll it into a cottony mass. These moxa sticks are burned directly on the skin in a therapeutic technique called moxabustion – it’s basically a form of acupuncture without the needles.
Old Europeans employed the plant in to a more pleasant use: to brew beer. Apparently it was one of the first herbs ever put to this purpose, but since the fresh leaves rendered a disgusting-tasting brew, the would-be revelers learned to use the dried.
Travelers carried mugwort with them on journeys because they thought it would protect them from fatigue, sunstroke, wild beasts and evil spirits.
And folks who were really serious about warding off those evil spirits wore a crown made of the fresh sprigs on St. John’s Eve.
When out walking, mugwort calls out to me to bend down and inhale that pungent, almost spicy aroma. Just smelling this plant clears my head and puts me more in tune with the psychic realm. Since it’s usually growing in stands of several plants, if I feel drawn to cut a few springs to hang in my home, dry for tea, (or to ward off those pesky evil spirits), I don’t hesitate.
In addition to its ability to enhance the dream state, mugwort is a ceremonial herb. It can be burned as a smudge or incense, just like sage, and is considered a powerful protector and purifier. To this day people burn mugwort in their bedrooms for protection and dream enhancement, or throughout their homes to clear negativity.
And, placing some leaves in your shoes can help you keep your strength up on long walks and runs. (I’m going to try this next time I go running!)
Make A Dream Pillow
Sleeping with a small pillow stuffed with mugwort is great way to experience its magic. These ‘dream pillows’ can be as simple or as elaborate as you want, and they make a unique gift for a friend who can appreciate it.
I like to collect mugwort beginning in late spring, dry it, and then combine it with roses and lavender from the garden to make a fragrant and potent dream pillow mix. This mix can be stuffed into a muslin bag, and then the whole bag can be added to the stuffing in a small pillow.
You can also buy your mugwort (and roses, lavender, chamomile, etc) already dried in herb shops or online.
Some people will stuff an entire pillow with mugwort, but I don’t recommend it – unless you prefer intense dreaming to actual sleep. Try adding dried chamomile and hops to a dream pillow mix to promote a deep and restful sleep.
But you don’t have to get all crafty and sew a dream pillow to experience mugwort’s magic. Brew up a little tea, or sleep with some mugwort under your pillow on the next full moon (or really any time), and watch for the messages your dreams may bring.
Do you know of some other uses for mugwort? What about other herbs or foods to stimulate dreams? Share it with us in the comments.
Every other Friday (or maybe every Friday – we’ll see) I’ll be writing about an individual plant and some of its characteristics. Be aware, some of these blurbs lean toward wild plants growing in Northern California. That’s because I’ll be recycling some of the columns I wrote for our local newspaper a while back. But, never fear, I will add in a few notes for those of you who aren’t based on the U.S. West Coast. And not every herb blurb will be recycled!
This is a revised version of a column I wrote for The Arcata Eye in 2005.
Mugwort Image via Flickr.
Dream pillow image via Flickr.