Mugwort (Artemisia absinthium) is a perennial herbaceous perennial with a long history of use in traditional medicine. It was used in ancient China for its ability to treat fevers, coughs, colds and other ailments. However, it is now known that mugwort contains toxic alkaloids which are poisonous if ingested or inhaled. These toxins cause liver damage and may even lead to death.
The plant is native to Europe, Asia Minor and North Africa but it is now found throughout much of the world. It grows in moist habitats such as woodlands, fields and gardens. Mugwort plants have been introduced into many countries including the United States where they were first planted in New England before being spread further northward across the continent. They are now common in most states from Maine to Florida.
It is not uncommon to see mugwort growing along roadsides, in parks and on lawns. They are often mistaken for wild thyme. The leaves of mugwort look like those of the mint family but they contain no essential oils and their flowers are white rather than pink.
They grow up to 3 feet tall and produce small yellowish-green berries which taste bitter when eaten. While it is possible to eat mugwort in small amounts, it is not recommended. It is also highly flammable and releases a strong disagreeable odor when burned.
How to get rid of Mugwort
Mugwort can be easily pulled out of the ground but it spreads freely so pulling won’t get rid of it completely. A more effective way to eliminate it from your yard or garden is by soaking it with some sort of herbicide.
One of the most effective herbicides for killing mugwort is glyphosate. It is available in different forms including liquids, powders and pellets which can be scattered over the foliage. Glyphosate works by blocking a specific enzyme pathway which eventually leads to the death of mugwort plants. It is usually less harmful to other plants and won’t have any effect on soil microbes.
One thing to keep in mind is that glyphosate won’t work as quickly as some other herbicides. You may need to apply it 2-3 times and you may also need to wait until the next year before all signs of mugwort are gone from the soil.
On the plus side, glyphosate doesn’t tend to persist in the environment so it won’t remain in the soil and potentially cause long-term damage.
Warning: Make sure you always read the label carefully before using any herbicide and follow all safety instructions. Only apply glyphosate to mugwort and not to any other plants. Stay away from those areas until the spray has dried.
You may find that glyphosate is not effective enough on its own and it is necessary to apply other herbicides as well. Two good options for this are 2,4-D and dicamba. These are available either as liquids or granules. They work by either killing the plants or altering their growth hormones to the point where they can’t survive.
You will probably need to reapply the herbicide a few times over a period of months to make sure that all the mugwort is killed off.
The downside of these herbicides is that they can persist in the soil for much longer than glyphosate. They can remain active in some soils for as long as two years so it is important not to grow anything you like in that spot for a couple of years.
On the plus side, these herbicides don’t tend to be quite as harmful to wildlife as glyphosate can be. It is always best to read the labels and follow the safety recommendations. Also, make sure you only spray the mugwort and not any other plants you do want to keep.
Uses for Mugwort
While mugwort has many traditional uses in herbal medicine, it isn’t really suitable for eating and it certainly isn’t a culinary ingredient. In fact, eating mugwort can be dangerous.
If you still insist on using mugwort and want to include it as part of a recipe, make sure you cook it first. Mugwort is often used to flavor beer and it is also used in the production of some liquors.
It also has various other uses in herbal medicine both internally and externally so make sure you consult a trained professional before using it.
Just make sure you have mugwort and not wormwood which is a different plant that also has medical uses.
Wormwood is very similar in appearance to mugwort so it is easy to get the two confused. Even if you do have mugwort, don’t use it as a substitute for wormwood as their effects are different.
Sources & references used in this article:
Biogeography and management of native western shrubs: a case study, section Tridentatae of Artemisia by ED McArthur, AP Plummer – Great Basin Naturalist Memoirs, 1978 – JSTOR
Influence of different strains of Agrobacterium rhizogenes on induction of hairy roots and artemisinin production in Artemisia annua by A Giri, ST Ravindra, V Dhingra, ML Narasu – Current science, 2001 – JSTOR
Does the Burning of Moxa (Artemisia vulgaris) in traditional Chinese medicine constitute a health hazard? by J Wheeler, B Coppock, C Chen – Acupuncture in Medicine, 2009 – journals.sagepub.com
Wormwood forest: a natural history of Chernobyl by M Mycio – 2005 – books.google.com
Evaluation and pharmacovigilance of projects promoting cultivation and local use of Artemisia annua for malaria by ML Willcox, S Burton, R Oyweka, R Namyalo… – Malaria journal, 2011 – Springer
Effect of light irradiation on hairy root growth and artemisinin biosynthesis of Artemisia annua L by C Liu, C Guo, Y Wang, F Ouyang – Process Biochemistry, 2002 – Elsevier
Association between HLA Class II Locus and the Susceptibility to Artemisia Pollen–Induced Allergic Rhinitis in Chinese Population by M Wang, ZM Xing, DL Yu, Z Yan… – … —Head and Neck …, 2004 – journals.sagepub.com