The Health Benefits of Mugwort

For Calming the Nerves, Promoting Menstruation, and Relieving Itching

A closeup of mugwort plant

Jerry Pavia / Getty Images 

Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris L.) is a perennial plant in the Asteraceae family.  The plant is native to Northern Europe, and Asia; it can also be found in many parts of North America. The mugwort plant grows to 4 feet in height, but occasionally reaches heights of up to 6 feet. Its angular reddish-brown stems have bitter-tasting leaves that have a sage-like aroma. The plant blooms with yellow or dark orange flowers in the summer.

The mugwort plant has been traditionally used for everything from digestive disorders to beer-making, insect repellent, and more. Historically, mugwort was used by the Romans, who are said to have planted it by roadsides, so that marching soldiers could put the plant in their shoes. This was done to relieve aching feet. St. John the Baptist was said to have worn a girdle of mugwort. In addition to its medicinal use, mugwort has been used for smudging, protection, and inducing vivid dreams (when placed underneath a person’s pillow).

Commonly Known As

  • Artemisia
  • Hierba de San Juan
  • Armoise
  • Vulgaris herba
  • Felon herb
  • St. John's herb
  • Chrysanthemum weed
  • Herbe royale

Health Benefits

Many people consider mugwort a common weed. This is because the plant spreads aggressively, often taking over large areas of a garden. The plant is related to ragweed and may cause allergy symptoms that mimic those caused by ragweed allergies.

So, when it’s found growing in a person’s yard or garden, mugwort is often destroyed. But in other areas of the world, the benefits of mugwort are much more appreciated. The parts of the plant that grow above ground and its roots are used to make medicine.

Mugwort has been ascribed many health-promoting and other beneficial properties. These include:

  • Emmenagogue: Promoting regular menstrual cycles
  • Nervine: Nerve calming
  • Digestive
  • Diuretic: Increasing urine output (for fluid retention)
  • Repelling insects
  • Flavoring foods

Common Uses

Common uses of mugwort (which have not been backed by clinical research data) include:

  • Boosting energy
  • Promoting circulation
  • Supporting liver health
  • Relieving itching (caused by scars or burns)

Mugwort is commonly used to treat many health conditions. Although there are preliminary studies that reveal mugwort's potential health benefits, there is not enough clinical research evidence to definitively support the safety and efficacy of mugwort for treating many health maladies, including:

  • Colic
  • Diarrhea, vomiting, constipation, and other gastrointestinal conditions
  • Headache
  • Epilepsy
  • Irregular menstrual periods
  • Anxiety
  • Hypochondria (obsession with being ill)
  • Fatigue
  • Sleep problems
  • Restlessness and irritability
  • Depression

What Is Moxibustion?

Mugwort has been used in the practice of “moxibustion,” as part of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) for thousands of years. Moxibustion involves rolling mugwort into sticks or cones, igniting it, then waving it over the area that is to be treated, or burning it over an acupuncture point to release energy.

Although this procedure may sound primitive, there is clinical research evidence that backs the effectiveness of moxibustion and lends some credibility to the practice of moxibustion. In fact, a systematic review, published in 2012, examined the effect of moxibustion on breech babies. The study authors explained that when combined with acupuncture, moxibustion may result in fewer cesarean births, and that the practice also reduced the need for oxytocin (a hormone that signals the uterus to contract during labor). 

Note: Since the mid-1960s oxytocin-induced vaginal delivery of breech babies has been almost universally disapproved of for breech presentations.

The study authors concluded that performing moxibustion may also lower the incidence of breech presentations at birth, but more research is needed to definitively prove the safety and efficacy of the procedure.

How It Works

The parts of the mugwort plant that grow aboveground are used to make essential oil, which is composed of several therapeutic chemicals (including camphor, pinene, and cineole). This chemical composition has diverse health-promoting properties including the plant’s antioxidant, antibacterial, and antifungal effects.

Another chemical that has been extracted from mugwort is called artemisinin, which is thought to have antitumor activity.

In addition, the chemicals in mugwort are thought to stimulate the uterus to contract, promoting menstrual flow. These chemicals are thought to lend themselves to the labor process in childbirth. This may result in a reduction in the dose of oxytocin to stimulate labor contractions.

Possible Side Effects

There is not enough medical research data to prove the safety of mugwort.

Mugwort is likely unsafe for pregnant and breastfeeding women; it may cause the uterus to contract, inducing miscarriage. Mugwort’s use has not been established as safe for infants, therefore, breastfeeding women should avoid taking mugwort.

Any person who is allergic to ragweed—which is in the Asteraceae family— should use mugwort with caution, due to a higher likeliness of an allergic reaction to mugwort pollen. A person with any other allergies to plants in the Asteraceae family (which also includes ragweed) should use mugwort with caution; these include:

  • Stevia
  • Lettuce
  • Chicory
  • Pyrethrum
  • Sunflower
  • Daisy
  • Artichoke
  • Burdock
  • Thistle
  • Marigolds

Note, the Asteraceae family is sometimes referred to as the Compositae family.

Mugwort pollen has also been known to cause allergic reactions in those who have a tobacco allergy.

The Celery-Carrot-Mugwort-Spice Syndrome

People who are allergic to celery, birch, or wild carrot should use mugwort with caution because the herb has been associated with a syndrome called “celery-carrot-mugwort-spice syndrome."

In a 2008 study, 87% of patients allergic to celery tested positive to mugwort pollen sensitization (by performing a skin test). The study found that 52% of those allergic to carrots tested positive for mugwort allergies, and 26% of the study participants who were known to be hypersensitive (allergic) to caraway seeds were allergic to mugwort. Less prevalent were cross-reactivities (allergies) to spices and herb, including anise, fennel, and paprika.

Mugwort pollen may also cause allergic reactions in those who are allergic to:

  • Olives
  • Peaches
  • Kiwi fruit
  • Royal jelly
  • Hazelnuts
  • Nangai (a type of nut)
  • Sage (and other plants in the Artemisia genus)
  • Honey
  • Mustard

Allergy Symptoms

A person experiencing mild allergy symptoms to mugwort should immediately stop taking the herbs and contact the healthcare provider.

Mild allergic symptoms to mugwort may include:

  • Hives
  • Swelling of the lips, face or eyes
  • Tingling of the mouth
  • Headaches
  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea and vomiting

Anaphylactic shock is a serious medical emergency, anyone who experiences these symptoms should seek immediate emergency medical care.

Severe allergic symptoms to mugwort may include:

  • Wheezing
  • Coughing
  • Dizziness that does not go away
  • Problems talking (hoarse voice)
  • Swelling or constriction of the throat
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Noisy breath sounds
  • Physical collapse

Severe allergic symptoms are signs of a medical emergency. Anyone with symptoms of anaphylactic shock should seek immediate emergency medical care right away.

Dosage and Preparation

Mugwort is commonly used in cooking to flavor many foods and beverages, including fish, meat dishes, desserts, pancakes, soups, salads, beer, and more. Mugwort was used in Europe to flavor beer long before hops were discovered.

Mugwort can be used in several preparations, including:

  • Extracts
  • Tinctures
  • Dried leaves
  • Essential oil
  • Pills (as a supplement)
  • A poultice (a soft, moist mass of plant leaves kept in place with a cloth and applied to the body to relieve soreness and inflammation)

Mugwort can be made into a tea by adding 1.5 teaspoons of mugwort leaves to a cup of boiling water (in a French press or tea infuser), steeping for 10 minutes then straining off the leaves and serving.

The roots of mugwort are used to make a tonic said to boost energy.

In ancient cultures, mugwort was smoked to promote vivid dreams. This is because mugwort is said to produce mild psychotropic effects during wakefulness. A psychotropic effect can be induced by a substance that impacts the mental state of a person.

A lotion made of mugwort is sometimes applied to the skin for alleviating itching, caused by scars or burns. Research has shown that a lotion made of mugwort and menthol, applied to the skin, relieved itching in burn victims. 

For preparing fresh mugwort after picking, spread the plant’s stalks and leaves into fan shapes so they will evenly and thoroughly dry, then tie them up and hang in the open air.

Dosage

The right dose of any medicinal supplement, including mugwort, depends on many factors, including a person’s overall health, age, and more. There is a lack of medical research study data to determine a safe range of doses for mugwort.

See the package inserts and consult with a professional health care provider or pharmacist to establish a safe and effective dose, before taking mugwort.

Keep in mind that even natural supplements can cause serious side effects, particularly when a person takes more than the recommended dose.

What to Look For

When buying mugwort (or any other herbal substance) keep in mind that herbs are not regulated by a government agency such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) which regulates over-the-counter and prescription drugs. Therefore, it’s very important to select products that have been certified by a reliable third-party source, such as the U.S. Pharmacopeia, NSF International, or ConsumerLab.com. These organizations evaluate and report on the purity and potency of natural and herbal products.

When foraging for mugwort, it’s important to keep in mind that the leaves should be harvested before the flowers bloom. When harvesting mugwort for its essential oil content, the flowering tops of the plant should be collected when they initially bloom. This is when the flowers contain the most potent volatile oil content.

Other Questions

Is mugwort a hallucinogen?

Mugwort is considered a mild psychoactive herb (a substance that promotes effects such as sedation and euphoria). Some people take it for its hallucinogenic effects.

Is it safe to smoke mugwort?

Although smoking mugwort has historically been a common use of the herb, there is not enough clinical research data to prove mugworts’ safety, taken in any form. This includes ingesting or smoking mugwort.

Smoking any type of substance (including tobacco) can cause an accumulation of unhealthy substances in the lungs such as tar. When any substance is smoked, it lowers the amount of oxygen that is available for exchange by the lungs. Therefore, smoking any type of herbal preparation is not a healthy way to use the herb.

Is mugwort legal in the U.S.?

Yes, although some sources report that the use of mugwort has been banned, its use is uncontrolled in the United States. What this means is that any part of the plant, as well as its extracts, is legal to grow, process, sell, trade or give away. But if sold, medicinal supplements must conform to U.S. supplement laws.

Is mugwort the same as wormwood?

There is some disagreement about the difference between mugwort and wormwood. Herbs have many different common names, which can cause confusion. By looking at the scientific name, it’s easy to identify when there are differences in the plants.

The scientific name for wormwood is Artemisia absinthium. Mugwort’s scientific name, however, is Artemisia vulgaris.

Although the two plants are closely related, there is a slight difference. Mugwort refers to all 200 aromatic plants found in the Artemisia genus; wormwood is just one of them. Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) is the only variation of Artemisia that can be used to distill authentic absinthe. It is also commonly used to make vermouth.

A Word From Verywell

Mugwort is considered an invasive species in some geographic areas. This is because of the way it rapidly spreads.

In fact, mugwort grows so fast, thus quickly taking over gardens and other spaces, that it’s illegal to plant mugwort in some states. Be sure to check your local, state regulations before cultivating mugwort; there are heavy fines for planting mugwort in some states.

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Article Sources

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial policy to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Additional Reading

  • Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine. Mugwort. Encyclopedia.com. Updated in 2005.

  • Sampaolo, M. Asteraceae Plant Family. Encyclopedia Britannica. Updated September 5, 2016.