"Mugwort opens up chambers of ancient memory within the brain, bringing to one's dream life stirring visions of past and future that overflow with magical imagery. The symbols that dance through your mugwort-touched dreams pull out the cobwebs of our forgetfulness and assist us in remembering old, unwritten ways of healing and living that attend to the needs of spirit and soul."
There is so much one could say about mugwort, and about all of the Artemesias. I will focus here on mugwort's ability to initiate folks onto the path of healing with earth medicine, her affinity with a woman's wombspace, and a sweet but little-known property that I recently experienced. For more on her role in dreaming, protection, and ritual work, please see every other article ever written about her (or the book quoted here throughout!).
In my favorite herb book Herbal Rituals, author Judith Berger assigns one or two plants to each month of the year. There are twelve chapters, one for each month, beginning in November.
In the old European calendar, the year started at Samhain; November started the year anew. The darkness was the beginning and gave birth, months later, to the light.
It was an auspicious beginning, for November is a month of magic, of dreams and imagination and ancestral remembrance.
It is no wonder then that Judith chose mugwort as November's herb. Ever since I first read the book about 10 years ago this month and this plant have been inextricably intertwined in my mind, and the understanding of the energies and properties of one has helped me to understand the energies and properties of the other.
Going back to that opening quote- I don't know about you, but "remembering old, unwritten ways of healing and living that attend to the needs of spirit and soul" is one of the driving forces underlying my life. It is a deep craving, a way of feeling whole in a fractured and seemingly ever-fracturing world. It's homing in on your soul's North Star.
I love that Judith used the word "unwritten". She is talking about a knowing beyond knowing, ancient and ineffable. Such knowing, and the states of mind needed to access it, are not valued or practiced much in today's society. It's an invisible knowing, outside the realm of ordinary consciousness and of what we deem possible. Many people do not know that it exists, and most of us are brought up to not even entertain the possibility.
But those of us attracted to the healing powers of herbs start to scent its existence as we begin more and more to get to know the medicine plants of the earth. And this is why mugwort is so beloved by herbalists- she is a door opener, a wayfinder, a welcoming bridge to the realms of consciousness needed to cultivate a deeper relationship with the natural world.
Mugwort is a witch's herb, a stirrer of visions and an opener of portals. She heightens our extrasensory perception while simultaneously dropping us deep into our center. It's just where we want to be.
"Known to many as an herb of magic, mugwort 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."
Mugwort is a gateway herb. This makes her an ideal ally for those just beginning to walk the herbalist's path. This is why I incorporate mugwort into all of my classes and into most of my body oil blends- by opening the doors of perception, she allows both beginning and experienced herbalists to shift into a new way of perceiving the world and, therefore, a new way of engaging with plants and with the healing process.
But it's not all psychic/spiritual/mental/emotional healing with mugwort; she is a potent healer of the physical as well. You can learn this for yourself instantaneously by placing a leaf in your mouth.
That strong, bitter taste tells you that there is some serious medicine going on here! Aside from the digestive aid given by all bitter herbs, I am now going to focus on mugwort's affinity with a woman's wombspace (again, you can read Judith's book or any number of other sources to learn about the many, many other medicinal uses of this powerful plant).
Judith writes that she likes to keep mugwort oil "on hand for rubbing into the skin of any woman whose pelvic area is distressed due to any reproductive challenge."
I think we could remove those last five words- mugwort will help heal the pelvic area whether or not the issue is reproductive in nature.
If you are in my social media sphere, you may have read about the fall I took last month off a retaining wall with my five-week-old baby strapped onto me. In those endless few seconds, as we were falling, I twisted my body in such a way that Nixie was totally protected and I landed flat on my back, with my lower back and pelvic area absorbing the brunt of the impact.
Overwhelming pain echoed throughout my body. I could hardly think. And I could not move at all. If Owen hadn't been home I would've laid there immobile with a screaming baby on my chest for hours.
The EMTs and hospital staff had to move my body for me over the next few hours. I knew the X-rays would be fine, and they were. This wasn't skeletal. It was everything else. All of the other tissues in my pelvic area, still recovering and tender from giving birth, had been re-traumatized.
For weeks I hurt, and struggled to take care of my baby when I could hardly walk or turn over in bed on my own. I couldn't carry her at all.
And along with the physical trauma, and stronger and much more difficult for me to deal with, was the spiritual and emotional trauma. When my now ten-year-old was three we were in a bad car accident, and last year my mom died in a car accident. I have experienced trauma. And this was worse.
I didn't have time to anticipate my car accident, and when I woke up upside down in our truck Mycelia was saying "Mommy I'm hurt" from the backseat in a calm voice, so I knew she was alive and okay (I blogged about that experience here).
I'd always feared that my mom would die in a car accident coming home from work, so there was a strange and immediate acceptance when I got the news (you can read more about that moment here). She was also such a loving and warm person that I felt totally suffused with her love even in the depths of my grief, and it's helped me get through it.
But with this fall, it was wholly unexpected AND I knew it was happening. When it comes to accidents, whether or not the person knows it's happening and has time to feel fear plays a major role in later trauma.
The few seconds between the moment I realized we were falling and the moment of impact lasted forever, and I was terrified I'd hurt my baby. To follow that level of fear immediately with the level of pain ensured that trauma would settle in deeply, and it did.
I had two bodyworkers tell me in the week afterward that they felt like my spirit had left my body. This, the third healer I saw pointed out, is basically what trauma is.
And I sure felt it. I felt broken at my core, in more ways than one.
One evening soon after the fall Owen was showing me some mugwort seeds he'd harvested (we've always wildcrafted the plants we use in our oils- see photo below- but are wanting to move more toward cultivation or order to help curb the rampant over-harvesting of wild medicinal herbs).
I put the seeds in my mouth. One of the surest ways to get to know an herb is to place it on your tongue. Knowing the taste and smell of a plant brings you immediately into intimacy with it, and a primal knowing is awakened and recorded within your cells. And since I fell in love with mugwort so early on my own herbalism path, I have spent many an hour with a leaf in my mouth. But I'd never tasted the seeds!
They tasted just the same as the leaves and the familiar flavor was immediately comforting. But it was more than comforting, I knew right away that mugwort would heal me.
Through the interaction of her medicine on my tastebuds, it was like she was saying to me "I am exactly what you need right now. Use me."
So I did. I asked Owen to put some seeds and leaves in a tiny bowl "like a candy dish" to leave out. He did, and I ate some every day. I also made mugwort infusions to both drink and put in the bath, and I rubbed fresh mugwort-infused oil onto my lower back, lower belly, and pelvic area daily.
"Like the knowing hands of the wise woman, mugwort oil seeps deeply into muscles and joints, permeating the cells with sensation and relief."
I was taught the same thing in my first herbal apprenticeship- that mugwort gets into the deepest tissues of the body. Combined with any other herbal oil, it will bring that oil's medicine to depths within the body that it wouldn't get to otherwise.
Added to St. John's Wort oil, writes Judith, mugwort helps it to "travel deeply to the root of pain in muscular tissue or joint capsules." Mugwort is like the herbal guide to the underworld.
(This is why I just sent four bottles of St. John's Wort + Mugwort oil off to Standing Rock- to deeply warm and bring pain relief to the water protectors who are exposing themselves to cold and physical hardship everyday in order to defend what is sacred and what is necessary.)
Judith also writes that "Mugwort makes a potent, deep green belly oil which can be rubbed externally over the womb and ovaries to relieve cramps and help dissolve cysts" and reminds us that famed 16th century herbalist Culpeper called it a "speedy and certain help for sciatica."
As you might imagine, after reading all of this, the mugwort DID heal my injury. And did so much more quickly than I'd expected. I was thinking I still had months of pain ahead of me, but I was better within a week.
I used the plant in all the ways I described above, but it was getting a moxabustion treatment with mugwort that seemed to be the definitive turning point in my healing.
Not only did the pain completely disappear, but I also felt whole again. I returned to myself.
I'd like to mention one other, seldom mentioned, use for mugwort. I'm posting this blog about a week before the one year anniversary of my mom's accident. We're headed into the darkest time of year too. I always struggle with the few weeks before the winter solstice, and feel like it's just a vortex of darkness and depression that I can't snap out of. And now, added to that, each year that tiny, endless epoch will be kicked off by the anniversary of my mama's death.
I tend to be the one in my family to hold it together. Someone has to do it. So when I re-read the mugwort chapter in Herbal Rituals recently, which I've done a thousand times, this passage jumped out at me for the first time:
"Mugwort is a wonderful ally for those who feel themselves to be too restrained; coming to know this plant inevitably causes unpredictable behavior that heals rather than hurts, coaxing our bodies and attitudes out of stagnation, helping us remember merriment of spirit."
I hope to feel some merriment of spirit during the coming dark season, and plan to continue to use mugwort daily, especially the oil in combination with other oils. I think this aspect of her healing had a hand in calling my spirit back in last month, and I know it will do so again if needed.
I encourage everyone on the herbal path to invite mugwort in too. I feel pretty confident saying that, if you start to work with her, in time you'll have your own magical healing stories to share.
I also highly highly recommend reading Herbal Rituals. It's written so beautifully; it utterly transports me. Like mugwort, this book is an initiator. The book is rare; I believe it only underwent one printing, and therefore has become pricey. (I was lucky enough to stumble upon it in a used book store years ago. I'd never heard of it but was immediately in love with the cover. This was before the supply outran the demand too so I only paid $10!). BUT Judith has worked to make it available as an ebook!
Be well friends. Use mugwort (I always have at least one medicine containing mugwort available here). The world needs your magic, centeredness, and merriment now more than ever.