Artemisia vulgaris L., most commonly known as Mugwort, is a species of wide distribution throughout Europe, Asia and north America. Several other common names are listed by Grieve and Bisset including Felon Herb, Wild Wormwood and St. John’s Plant, noting that the latter name should not be confused with St. John’s Wort, Hypericum perforatum. The historical derivation of these names is suggested by Grieve, the herb having been used over many centuries. Most likely, the name “Mugwort” is linked with the plant’s use for flavouring beer prior to the modern use of hops (Humulus lupulus). Alternatively, Mugwort, may not relate to either drinking mugs or wort, but from “moughthe”, a moth or maggot since the plant has been thought to be useful in repelling moths.
In the United Kingdom Artemisia vulgaris has received many local names. Grigson lists 24 names including Apple-Pie and Mugweed in Cheshire, Green Ginger and Smotherwood in Lincolnshire, Mugwood in Shropshire and Mugger in Scotland.
Mugwort is a hardy perennial common throughout temperate regions of the northern hemisphere. It grows readily in hedgerows, roadsides, river banks and waste places such as rubbish tips. Clapham et al. () state that geographically the species grows to 70° N. in Norway and 74° N. in Siberia. According to Bisset the medicinal herb is collected from wild sources in Eastern Europe.
Artemisia vulgaris is a creeping perennial with branching rootstock producing strong, erect stems 60-120 cm in height. The Stems are usually glabrous, reddish-purple in colour, angled and longitudinally grooved. The stem has a large central, white pith and a narrow, green outer band of tissues. The Leaves are 5-8 cm (length) and 2.5-5 cm (width). The basal leaves have a short petiole and are lyrate-pinnatifid with small ear-like projections (auricles) at the base. The stem-leaves are sessile, clasping and bipinnate or pinnate on the uppermost leaves. The upper surfaces are smooth and dark green whereas the lower surfaces are whitish due to a dense covering of cotton-like hairs (i.e. tomentose). The ultimate leaf segments are 3-6 mm wide, usually lanceolate with the margin entire or toothed. The Inflorescense consists of numerous flower heads which are produced on long, leafy stems from each leaf axil. The flower heads are reddish-brown, in dense racemose panicles. Each head is 3-4 mm in diameter and ovoid in shape. The involucral bracts are lanceolate to oblong with a woolly covering, but with a dry, thin appearance (scarious) at the margins. The florets are reddish-brown and all are fertile. The Fruit is a glabrous achene about 1 mm in diameter. When fresh, the plant has strong aromatic odour and the taste is described as spicy and bitter.
The following description is based on the text of the British Herbal Pharmacopoeia (1996), and illustrations published by Eschrich, (1999).
When viewed after clearing in chloral hydrate solution, the diagnostic features are:
The transverse section of the leaf shows a typical dorsiventral arrangement with a single palisade mesophyll. The upper epidermis has sinuous anticlinal walls, few stomata which appear to be anomocytic and T shaped covering trichomes. The lower epidermis has abundant T-shaped trichomes. These consist of a uniseriate stalk (2 or 3 cells) and bear an asymmetrical terminal cell which is elongated at right angles to the stalk. The lower surface has abundant stomata which are difficult to examine due to the large numbers of “woolly” trichomes and epidermal cells with wavy anticlinal walls similar to those of the upper epidermis. Small biseriate glandular trichomes with mulitcellular heads (peltate) are also present.
The bracts have epidermal cell walls which give a positive reaction for lignin and the epidermises bear trichomes similar to those of the leaf. The epidermises of the corolla are also lignified and have a few biseriate glandular trichomes with multi-cellular heads. The ovary wall has elongated cells with numerous T-shaped trichomes. The stigma is papillose; the anthers have beaded walls and the pollen is tricolpate with a finely warted exine.
Medicinal and Other Uses
Mugwort has been used for a wide range of medical conditions and several non-medical uses. Examples of the latter are summarised by Bown. The herb was used by Roman soldiers in their sandals to protect their feet during marches. Grigson refers to the plant’s title as the “Mother of Herbs” and the fact that it was one of nine herbs used in Anglo-Saxon and earlier times to ward off poisons and evil. Pipe smoking of the dried herb (“Gypsy’s tobacco”) packed in acorn cups was noted by Mabey.
Despite the many indications quoted for the use of Mugwort, these do not appear to have been supported by clinical investigations, and as quoted by Bisset, its therapeutic use cannot be substantiated. The medicinal uses of the Mugwort quoted in readily accessible herbal compendia are shown in Table
Medicinal uses of mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) cited in some well known herbals:
|Antibacterial (essential oil)|
|Antidote to opium (fresh plant juice)|
|Antifungal (essential oil)|
|Nausea (Chinese medicine)|
Peter A. Linley
Selections from the book: “Artemisia”. Edited by Colin W. Wright. Series: “Medicinal and Aromatic Plants — Industrial Profiles”. 2002.