Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris L.) is a magical plant, considered sacred by cultures across the globe (Casal 1962), and traditionally burned and ingested in rituals for its intoxicating effects (Alberto-Puleo 1978). It is speculated to be one of the first plants cultivated by humans (Armstrong 1944). The genus name Artemisia refers to its association with Artemis the goddess incarnation of Mother Earth, in ancient Greece and the Mediterranean (Alberto-Puleo 1978).
Artemis’ divine presence was considered to be concentrated in Mugwort, and was thus used in the worship and ecstatic union with her throughout the ancient world, via its ingestion during ceremonies held under the full moon in her honor (Alberto-Puleo 1978).
Artemis is both the ancient Greek goddess of Earth and of child- birth. It was commonly thought one of the ways in which Artemis relieved birth pangs was by giving women Mugwort (Alberto-Puleo 1978). A. vulgaris is a plant with a long history of use by women, and was renown in the medieval world as an abortificant and emenagoue with the power to stimulate menstruation during late or missed periods (Van de Walle 1997).
12th century texts extensively describe Mugwort as a menstrual tonic, and one 14th century text discusses Mugwort’s use in expelling dead fetal tissue after a miscarriage. In fact Mugwort has been used by women to covertly and safely abort pregnancies often when it has not been culturally proper to do so. As menstrual irregularity has always been a fact of life, a woman in medieval Europe might miss a period or two without attracting the raised eyebrows of her neighbors. As Mugwort was widely used to stimulate healthy and regular menstruation, its additional ability as an abortificant created an opportunity for women who wanted to covertly terminate a pregnancy (Van de Walle 1997).
Illustration and description of Artemisia spp. in manuscript Herbarious latinus: Herbarious seu de virtutibus herbarum 1485.
Mugwort allowed women to tread an ambiguous line, giving them the power to choose if and when they wanted to have a child in a time and culture when those decisions were dictated by fathers, husbands and ones place in society. Mugwort has long served as one of the first forms of birth control and a means for women to take control of their reproductive rights!
Pregnant women are warned from taking Mugwort during pregnancy because it contains compounds that stimulate menstruation and kill fetal tissue.
Mugwort is an ancient magical herb attributed with the power of arousing “strange ideas, magical conceptions and sacred associations” in cultures across Asia, Europe and North America since mankind’s earliest records (Armstrong 1944).
Mugwort has long been used to induce vivid dreams, astral projects, and divinations of the future (Dunwich 37), as it was widely considered to have magical potency. In 17th century England, young women believed digging up its roots and placing it under their beds at night would induce prophetic dreams of their future husbands (Dury 1986). In ancient China, it was often included in sacrifices or used in rituals, for it was believed to be useful in conjuring the presence of divinities (Armstrong 1944).
In North America, western Mugwort was used by Plain Indians for smudging and prayer, and like in Europe and Asia, as incense during ceremonies. Sometimes it was even used in conjunction with rituals for other hallucinogenic substances such as Peyote (Lophophora williamsii) (Ratsch 2005).