Artemisia vulgaris is commonly known as Mugwort. Its medicinal actions have been used by different societies, both eastern and western for thousands of years. A member of the Asteraceae plant family; it is a dicotyledon as it has two seed leaves, reticular veination on its pinnately-lobed leaves and a tap root. It is an aromatic herbaceous perennial, coming back every year. Once winter has set in the woody stems can be pruned right back ready for regrown in the spring. It is fully hardy and native to northern temperate regions. Mugwort’s petiole leaves are dark green, segmented with pointed lance shapes with white undersides. The leaf size ranges from 5-8cm long and are attached to reddy purple stems, the plant can grow as tall as 1.7 metres with a spread of up to 1 metre. Mugwort can be found growing wild in hedgerows, roadsides, riverbanks and wastelands.
The qualities of Mugwort, according to Nicolas Culpeper, are that it is hot and dry in the second degree. This is also backed up in The Complete German Commission E Monographs which writes about the hot quality of the herb. Culpeper goes on to say that it is ruled by the planet Venus, which is regarded as cold and moist. Venus corresponds with the reproductive system the breasts, the kidneys – genitourinary system and the throat. Culpeper is quoted saying Mugwort can “…help the delivery of the birth and expel the afterbirth.” His understanding of the herb was that it was used for women; a herb of Venus which assisted in maintaining the reproductive system.
Mugwort is used within Tradition Chinese Medicine (TCM) as a herbal medicine but more commonly known within their practice of acupuncture. The therapy of moxacombustion uses Artemisia vulgaris for similar purposes as noted above. Compressed, or loose, dried leaf is burned briefly on the skin to warm the bodies meridian points up, it’s reputed hot and dry action is used to increase fetal activity and correct breach in late pregnancy. This is when the herb is burned externally to a specific acupuncture point located on the foot. It is also used within TCM to heat up internal cold. Its warming properties heat the acupuncture points where it is placed, helping the body to remove any blockages of energy in the meridian pathways.
Mugwort’s medicinal properties are written about in Chinese medical texts dating back to the first century AD, as well as in Greek and Roman texts. Roman soldiers planted it along the roadsides; they would put leaves into their sandals to soothe their sore feet whilst marching. Its diaphoretic action is used to treat the early stages of cold, fevers and influenza. Artemisia vulgaris’ effect on the female reproductive system is well known traditionally, used as mentioned above as well as, being used in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine for menstrual complaints. It is also used within other herbal medicine systems for menstrual obstruction, regulation and menopause.
Hatfield also describes how Mugwort is used for various types of convulsions or fits including epilepsy and palsy. This is also true for Bartram who prescribed the herb for convulsions in children and to reduce the severity of an epileptic attack. Anglo-Saxons called it the ‘Midge plant’ as it repels insects this is also true for worms, fungal infections and malaria. You can dry the leaves or stems of Mugwort and hang in cupboards and wardrobes to deter moths from eating fabrics.
Other traditional uses include stimulating the appetite as it stimulates secretions of gastric juices, nervous complaints, gastrointestinal complaints including colic, diarrohea, moist constipation, cramps, hysteria and also as a laxative for people with obesity.
It is a plants therapeutic actions that indicate its medicinal use; Artemisia vulgaris is an aromatic, bitter herb, its bitterness acts as a stimulant to the stomach and digestion increasing gastric juices and bile enabling the stimulation of the appetite and working as a laxative in certain cases. Mugwort is also an emmenagogue, which regulates menstruation stimulating the uterus, contraindications include when trying to conceive or when already pregnant as it can cause an abortifacient effect so should be avoided. Side effects have been reported but aren’t common.
Both emmenagogue and diaphoretic medicines are regarded as hot in quality; Mugwort’s diaphoretic action increases perspiration as an eliminatory function of the liver and can be used, for example, in fever management, stimulating the circulation and distributing heat through to the sweat glands to cleanse the body of toxins.
The plant is also seen to have a tonic re-mineralising and diuretic action. A diuretic is a substance which increases the amount of urine produced by the kidneys drawing toxins out and cleansing the body. Another known therapeutic action of Artemisia vulgaris is its nervine properties, assisting to relieve stress and tension and alleviating nervous or mental problems including hysteria. It also helps to improve mood working as an anti-depressant. Modern clinical trials have proved that Mugwort expels intestinal parasites, relaxes contractions, eases diarrohea and eases airway disorders including abdominal colic and asthma.
It is a plants biologically active components which enables these therapeutic actions to take place; generally these active constituents come from the secondary metabolites within the plant. Mugwort’s complex phytochemistry includes alkaloids, courmarins, flavonoids, saponins, sterols, tannins and terpenes. Alkaloids defend a plant from over eating by herbivores, they contain nitrogen which is why they are alkaline and have a relaxing (Nervine) effect on the central nervous system.
Phenols include tannins, flavonoids and coumarins. Flavonoids are a product of the shikimic acid pathway, their primary function within plants is pigmentation particularly yellow and white, they are also an important part of a human’s diet, flavonoids have therapeutic effects regarding health including anti-microbial, anti-spasmodic and an oestrogen antagonist. These constituents point towards Artemisia vulgaris’ medicinal usage to alleviate spasms, expel intestinal worms and affinity with the female reproductive system.
Coumarins are also formed within the shikimic acid pathway; they reduce inflammation, including that of intercellular fluid within the tissues (oedema). They also act to enhance the body’s immune system and reduce spasms, enabling Artemisia vulgaris to work medicinally on the tremors of Parkinson’s disease, reducing the severity and duration of fits and assisting the body to fight cold infections in their early stages. Tannins have an astringent, drying effect which corresponds to the qualities of Mugwort; this will assist in the easing of diarrohea as researched by Khan and Gilani. Of the terpenes within Artemisia vulgaris the highest concentration of monoterpenes occur during the plants flowering season and the highest concentration of sequiterpenes occur prior to the flowering season commencing. This has been confirmed by several clinical studies.
A biochemical breakdown of the plant lists 77 different constituents and minerals (Moore, 2005) including:
Calcium 8,000-11,000 ppm
Iron 1,200-3,900 ppm
Manganese* 60-70 ppm
Phosphorus 270-700 ppm
Potassium 31,400-41,000 ppm
ppm = parts per million
Information available from: http://www.swsbm.com/Constituents/Artemisia_vulgaris.txt
*Manganese has anti-alcoholic, anti-anemic, anti-diabetic, anti-discotic, anti-dyskinetic and anti-epileptic properties
An interesting journal article explores Mugwort’s ability to successfully control populations of Golden Apple Snails which ruin crops of rice. The property Vulgarone B (an active constituent found in Mugwort’s biochemical make up) is as effective, but works faster, than the current treatment to lessen the damage caused by these snails. The study states that this constituent also works on different species of snail as well as confirming Artemisia vulgaris’ action of expelling parasitic worms. Vulgarone B also shows anti-fungal actions.
In conclusion, Artemisia vulgaris has been presented as a hot and dry herb which works on the genitourinary system of the body. Mugwort has emmenagogue, diuretic and diaphoretic actions. Historically it has been used for thousands of years for menstrual problems and to allay the commencement of cold. The constituents of Mugwort show evidence-based research on its therapeutic actions, confirming what past herbalists knew instinctually. Trials are still being held but more can be learned about this fascinating and complex phytochemical herb. It is seen as an ecological plant star and once it has been growing in your garden you will notice that several native plants will also start growing there too. Since Mugwort has been in my company she has brought dog rose, blackthorn, orange hawkbit, wood sorrel, violets and many other amazing British wildflowers.
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