Food for Free: Mugwort
Updated: Mar 8
August is an excellent time of year to be foraging for Mugwort - another edible weed! It is very common in the UK and there are numerous different uses for Mugwort, from culinary, to medicinal and even magical…
It sounds like it belongs in Harry Potter and a lot of the mythology and history makes an interesting case for it’s mythical properties. Although mainly speculative, Mugwort is said to help promote lucid dreaming and have mild hallucinogenic properties. It is quite common (in certain spiritual communities) for people to sleep with a sprig of mugwort under their pillow to assist vivid dreaming.
One of the active ingredients within Mugwort is Thujone - a compound also found within Wormwood (which definitely does feature in Harry Potter). Wormwood is famously one of the contributing ingredients in Absinthe and has on occasion been blamed for the psychoactive effects of The Green Fairy. However, this has largely been debunked and any hallucinogenic experiences put down to the extreme alcohol content of Absinthe rather than the minute quantity of Wormwood. Nonetheless, Mugwort has a rich history of being used for spiritual purposes - particularly within Saxon history. There is some evidence that smoking dried Mugwort can have a hallucinogenic effect.
The Genus name for Mugwort is ‘Artemisia vulgaris’ suggesting a link to the Lunar goddess Artemis. One of Artemis’ qualities was that of a helper to midwives and as such was revered as a goddess of birth. Mugwort has in fact, long been used to help aid childbirth and should not be taken by pregnant women because of its ability to induce premature labour. If you are not pregnant, it can be used as a muscle relaxant and is great for helping regulate menstruation.
In cooking, Mugwort is largely used as a herb - it has a similar taste to sage and is part of the same family. It is not that common within cooking in the UK, but it is a well established herb and flavour in Korea. When I was looking up recipes to try, I found that Mugwort Mochi is very popular. However, a friend once described eating Mochi as ‘like nibbling on an ear’ and I have not been able to enjoy it since this overly visceral comparison. I opted to make soup instead.
Mugwort is relatively easy to identify and the most recognisable feature is the leaves. They are a vivid, bright green on top and a pale silvery colour underneath. The top of the leaf will be smooth and the bottom will be downy. Some, but not all of the leaves will be toothed. Mugwort leaves can be collected when it is a young and budless plant, but Mugwort can grow to between 1 - 2 metres in height is best when best picked before the silvery buds at the top of the plant turn into flowers. Cut the top third off the plant with a pair of sharp scissors - this will give you the freshest mugwort and will allow the plant to continue growing.
To ensure you have got the right plant, rub one of the leaves between your fingers and you should get a strong sage-like smell. Mugwort likes to grow in disturbed ground, and so it is quite likely that you will find it along the sides of paths.
Mugwort & Mushroom Soup
This soup was made using the tips of the Mugwort, incorporating the stalk, buds and leaves. The combination of the sagey taste with the earthy mushrooms was a total delight. I seasoned the soup with some Japanese seasoning ‘Furikake’. The recipe came from Robin Harford, the founder of eatweeds.co.uk. This was my first taste of Mugwort and I would definitely be happy to use mugwort as a replacement for sage in the future.