The herb Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris), a Composite plant, is frequent about hedgerows and waste ground throughout Britain; and it chiefly merits a place among Herbal Simples because of a special medicinal use in certain female derangements. Its name Mugwort has been attributed to "moughte," a moth, or maggot, this title being given to the plant because Dioscorides commended it for keeping off moths. Its Anglo-Saxon synonym is "Wyrmwyrt". Mugwort is named from Artemis the
Greek goddess of the moon, and is also called Maidenwort or Motherwort (womb wort), being a plant beneficial to the womb.
Macer says, terming it by mistake "Mother of Worts":
"Herbarum matrem justum puto ponere primo Praepue morbis mulieribus illa medetur."
A decoction of the fresh tops acts famously to correct female irregularities when employed as a bath. Uterina est, adeoque usus est creberrimus mulierculis quoe eam adhibent externe, atque interne ut vix balnea et lotiones parent in quibus artemisia non contineatur. Thus writes Ray, quoting from Schroder. Or it may be that the term Mugwort became popularly applied because this herb was in demand for helping to preserve ale. The plant was formerly known as "Cingulum
Sancti Johannis", since a crown made from its sprays was worn on St. John's Eve, to gain security from evil possession; also as Zona divi Johannis, it being believed that John the Baptist bore a girdle of it in the wilderness. In Germany and Holland it has received the name of St. John's Plant, because, if gathered on St. John's Eve, it is thought protective against diseases and misfortunes. The Mugwort is also styled "Felon wort," or "Felon herb." If placed in the
shoes, it will prevent weariness. A dram of the powdered leaves taken four times a day has cured chronic hysterical fits, which were otherwise intractable. "Mugwort," says Gerard, "cureth the shakings of the joynts inclining to the palsie."
The mermaid of the Clyde is said to have exclaimed, when she beheld the funeral of a young maiden who had died from consumption and decline:
"If they wad drink nettles in March, And eat muggins [Mugwort] in May, Sae mony braw young maidens Wad na' be gang to clay."
Portions of old dead roots are found at the base of the herb, which go by the name of "coals," and are thought to be preventive of epilepsy when taken internally, or worn around the neck as an amulet. Parkinson says: "Mugwort is of wonderful help to women in risings of the mother, or hysteria." It is also useful against gout by boiling the tender parts of the roots in weak broth, and taking this frequently; whilst at the same time the affected limbs should be bathed and
fomented with a hot decoction of the herb. The plant, without doubt, is decidedly anti-epileptic, its remedial effects being straightway followed by profuse and fetid perspirations. It is similarly useful against the convulsions of children in teething. For preventing disorders, as well as for curing rheumatism, the Japanese, young and old, rich and poor, indiscriminately, are said to be singed with a "moxa" made from the Mugwort. Its dried leaves are rubbed in the hands
until the downy part becomes separated, and can be moulded into little cones. One of these having been placed over the site of the disease, is ignited and burnt down to the skin surface, which it blackens and scorches in a dark circular patch. This process is repeated until a small ulcer is formed when treating chronic diseases of the joints, which sore is kept open by issue peas retained within it so that they may constantly exercise a derivative effect.
The flesh of geese is declared to be more savory when stuffed with this herb, which contains "absinthin" as its active principle, and other chemical constituents in common with Wormwood; but the odor of Mugwort is not fragrant or aromatic, because it does not possess a volatile essential oil like that of the Artemisia absinthium (Wormwood).
This Wormwood is also a Composite plant of the same tribe and character, but with an intensely bitter taste; and hence its name, Absinthium, has been derived from the Greek privative, a, and psinthos, "delight," because the flavor is so bitterly distasteful. It is a bushy plant, which abounds in our rural districts, having silky stems and leaves, with small heads of dull yellow flowers,
the whole plant being amara et aromatica.
The Mugwort, as an allied Wormwood of the same genus, is taller and
more slender than the Absinthium, and is distinguished by being scentless, its leaves being green above, and white below. The bitter taste of the true Wormwood is also due to "absinthin," and each kind contains nitrate of potash, tannin, and resin, with succinic, malic, and acetic acids.
Old Tusser says:
"Where chamber is swept, and wormwood is strown,
No flea for his life dare abide to be known."
"What savour is better, if physic be true,
For places infected, than wormwood and rue."
The infusion of Wormwood makes a useful fomentation for inflammatory pains, and, combined with chamomile flowers and bay leaves, it formed the anodyne fomentation of the earlier dispensatories. This infusion, with a few drops of the essential oil of Wormwood, will serve as an astringent wash to prevent the hair from falling off when it is weak and thin.
Both Mugwort and Wormwood have been highly esteemed for overcoming epilepsy in persons of a feeble constitution, and of a sensitive nervous temperament, especially in young females. Mugwort tea, and a decoction of Wormwood, may be confidently given for the purposes just named, also to correct female irregularities.
For promoting the monthly flow, Chinese women make a confection of the leaves of Mugwort mixed with rice and sugar, which, when needed to overcome arrested monthly fluxes, or hysteria, they instar bellaria ingerunt, "eat as a sweetmeat."
A drachm of the powdered leaves of the Mugwort, taken four times a day, has cured chronic hysterical fits otherwise irrepressible. The true Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) is used for preparing absinthe, a seductive liqueur, which, when taken to excess, induces epileptic attacks. Any habitual use of alcohol flavored with this herb singularly impairs the mental and physical powers.
"An ointment," says Meyrick, "made of the juice of Mugwort with hogs' lard, disperses hard knots and kernels about the neck and throat."
The Primitive Simplers presented here show the way of life in other generations, it is not suggested or recommended trying them yourself.
History of Herbs
Herbs for Beginners
Drying & Preserving Herbs
Indoor Herb Gardening
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