08 April 2016
Have you spotted her silvery, aromatic leaves emerging this spring? Many of you are probably quite familiar with mugwort (Artemesia vulgaris). As winter releases its grip, she shows up along paths, in the garden…even roadsides. When she’s mature, we appreciate her for her aromatic qualities: dried and placed in sachets and pillows to encourage vivid dreaming, or used as our local smudge for energetic clearing. Mugwort is also used in oriental healing modalities such as moxabustion, when burned as part of acupuncture therapy.
We don’t usually think of her as a digestible plant and, in truth, she can be mildly toxic as the warm months progress and she grows tall. But at the cusp of spring, when her small, divided leaves are just peeking up, mugwort is wonderful as a seasoning in your wild salads or in deviled eggs. Her aromatic flavor is delightful when used in moderation.
Harvested while tiny—just a few inches high—mugwort is one of the first medicines that you can be making in very early spring. I like to infuse the young leaves into a simple vinegar (see right) to draw out her nutritional benefits. She is high in minerals, including calcium and magnesium.
When foraging, it is essential not to confuse mugwort with poison hemlock. At this stage of the growth cycle, there are no flowers to guide you, but her strong fragrance and the distinctive silvery-white glaze on the backs of the feathery leaves should help in identification. Due to the deadly nature of poison hemlock, if you are in any doubt at all, be sure to consult with an experienced herbalist or botanist before proceeding.
I plant mugwort in areas that have naturally defined edges--eg, a triangle bed where roads meet, or a contained planter. Though my mugwort whiskey-barrel planter has worn over the last ten years, and mugwort is now delightedly escaping to the surrounding paths. Ah well, a good problem to have--magical, mystical mugwort offering herself in abundance!