Mugwort is a plant that people have been using for thousands of years.
Its uses range from insect repellent and as an ingredient in alcohol to a treatment option for a wide range of health conditions, including osteoarthritis, digestive conditions, and menstrual cramps, to name a few.
Keep reading to learn more about mugwort, including its potential health benefits, other uses, and some risks and side effects.
Mugwort is a hardy perennial plant that usually grows in the warmer areas of the Northern Hemisphere. It is native to Europe, Asia, and North Africa.
People usually consider mugwort to be an invasive weed. It spreads quickly and easily and can take over large parts of a person’s garden. It is also related to ragweed and can cause a similar allergic reaction to that associated with ragweed. For this reason, people usually kill or remove it.
There are many traditional superstitions related to this herb. For example, people used to believe that mugwort could protect from fatigue, sunstroke, wild animals, and evil spirits. Many people also suggest that the Romans used to use mugwort in their sandals to relieve aching feet.
People can make mugwort leaves into a tea by infusing them in boiling water. Some people also smoke the plant as an alternative to tobacco. It is also available in capsule form from many health stores.
Traditionally, throughout Europe and in traditional Chinese medicine, people have used mugwort as a treatment for a variety of health conditions.
For example, people have smoked or consumed the dried leaves as a way to promote lucid dreaming, though there have been few studies into this.
Others who use the herb suggest that it has antibacterial properties, but again, there have been few studies investigating this.
The following are some other examples of the potential health benefits of mugwort.
The main use of mugwort is in a technique called moxibustion. This involves burning the herb over a specific part of the body based on what the practitioner is trying to achieve.
Practitioners also commonly use moxibustion during acupuncture to increase the effectiveness of this ancient Chinese practice.
There is some evidence to suggest that moxibustion may be able to help prevent or correct breech births, which might, in turn, help reduce the need for as many cesarean deliveries.
One 2012 review suggests that this can be either alone or in combination with acupuncture or postural techniques. A 2019 review also notes that moxibustion resulted in a decreased use of oxytocin compared with no treatment.
Oxytocin reduces stress, calms a person down, and helps with pain during labor. The fact that it was less needed when a person used moxibustion is significant.
One 2017 review found sufficient evidence to suggest that moxibustion is effective for pain reduction and symptom management in people with osteoarthritis in the knee.
This supports a 2016 review that suggests that moxibustion could be useful as an alternative in treating knee osteoarthritis.
Mugwort may also be effective for a number of digestive complaints, including:
- low appetite
- travel sickness
- stomach acidity
However, much of the evidence to support these claims is anecdotal.
Some people also believe that mugwort can help relax the uterus, and, in doing so, induce a late menstrual cycle and relieve any cramps associated with it.
There is also limited evidence to suggest that moxibustion may reduce both the frequency and the severity of hot flashes associated with menopause. This is based on a single 2009 study of 51 perimenopausal and postmenopausal women that included a control group.
There is limited evidence to suggest that some types of mugwort may be effective in treating cancerous cells. However, the results of one 2013 study indicate that the ability of California mugwort to kill cells extends to normal human cells, as well as cancerous ones.
A 2018 review of numerous studies into moxibustion concludes that it may help reduce the symptoms of chemotherapy and improve quality of life, but research must continue to confirm this.
The study authors conclude that, until they know more about the safety of this remedy, people should exercise when consuming extracts of California mugwort, whether as a tincture or as a tea.
Research in this area is lacking, so scientists need to conduct more research to investigate the potential side effects of mugwort in a variety of forms and uses.
That said, mugwort can cause allergic reactions similar to those associated with ragweed. These reactions can occur from coming into physical contact with the plant or from drinking tea made from the herb.
Symptoms of such allergies can include:
- a runny nose
- nasal congestion
- irritated eyes
- itchy throat
As well as these effects, mugwort can also increase asthma symptoms, such as coughing and wheezing.
There is also something called “birch-mugwort-celery syndrome,” or “celery-carrot-mugwort-spice syndrome,” which indicates that if a person is allergic to one of the substances in these names, they may also be likely to be allergic to the others. This is also known as oral allergy syndrome.
Also, mugwort contains a substance called thujone, which can be toxic in large amounts. The amount present in the herb itself is little enough that experts generally consider it safe to use.
However, if a person chooses to use mugwort in the form of oil, they should be aware of this potential risk, as it is the oil that contains this substance. This means that there will be a high concentration of it.
Historically, experts have associated this herb with pregnancy loss, so many recommend that pregnant people avoid mugwort so as to minimize the risk of miscarriage.
Also, one 2020 study found significant toxic components in moxibustion smoke that might have negative effects on the liver, kidneys, and heart. Therefore, people should ventilate extensively when using mugwort.
As well as having some potential medicinal uses, mugwort has had a wide range of other uses throughout history, some of which people still support today.
The following sections will look at these in more detail.
Since the European Middle Ages, people have used mugwort as an herb to repel insects, especially moths, from people’s gardens. There is even a theory that the name mugwort comes from the old English word for moth.
A 2020 study also supports the use of mugwort as a repellent for bed bugs.
Rather than using hops, people once flavored beer using mugwort, or “gruit,” and a variety of other herbs.
Indeed, mugwort’s name may also have come from its traditional use to flavor beer; people used to serve it in mugs.
Depending on which region a person lived in, the specifics of the herb mixture would vary.
In addition to its potential medicinal properties, people also use mugwort as a culinary herb in Asian cooking.
The root is sweet and pungent, and the herb is aromatic and bitter in nature. Known as “ssuk,” mugwort suits fatty fish, meat, and poultry, and some people say that it helps with their digestion.
People often use it in stuffings and marinades and as a flavoring for stock.
People have used mugwort for centuries for the treatment of various health issues.
Research must continue into the efficacy of mugwort, but studies do suggest that it can be beneficial in some cases.
If a person is considering trying mugwort for medicinal purposes, they should speak to their healthcare provider beforehand to ensure that it is safe for them to do so.
There is currently not enough scientific information to determine an appropriate dosage for mugwort, and people should keep this in mind if they are thinking of using it.
A person can also look into practitioners of alternative medicine or herbalism using resources such as the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.