Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Mugwort - Herb of the Week

For one final time this year I want to focus on Artemesia the Herb of the Year.  This time I have chosen 

MUGWORT Artemisia vulgaris as the Herb of the Week.

I have written several posts this year and in previous years about this special genus, so I do not want to myself.  You can check out the past posts here:

I even included Artemisia in my list of herbs to try in2014.

Lemon Verbena Lady chose today to feature artemisia also, listing a few cocktails you can try.  I recommend the post highly!

Artemisia vulgaris (mugwort or common wormwood) is one of several species in the genus Artemisia commonly known as mugwort, although Artemisia vulgaris is the species most often called mugwort. This species is also occasionally known as felon herb, chrysanthemum weed, wild wormwood, old Uncle Henry, sailor's tobacco, naughty man, old man or St. John's plant (not to be confused with St John's wort). Mugworts have been used medicinally and as culinary herbs.

Mugwort was considered the 'universal herb for protection and prophecy' throughout the ancient world. Dedicated to Artemis and Diana, Mugwort was used for pain and healing, psychic powers and lucid dreaming. In ancient China and Japan, Mugwort was hung in open doorways to exorcise the spirits of disease. The ancient Europeans did the same to ward off evil spirits. These two separated cultures also believed that the supernatural powers of Mugwort were revealed by mermaids who came from the sea to present the herb for the good of humankind.   Also known as the 'traveller’s herb for protection',

Roman soldiers placed Mugwort inside their sandals for endurance on long marches. One Roman general recorded that his men marched 10 miles further, as well as faster, when on Mugwort. Mugwort was once the staple ingredient in beer before Hops was introduced. It was also known as Sailor's Tobacco, as it was used as an alternative when sailors ran out of tobacco at sea.   Mugwort tea was usually drunk before divination rituals and also burnt as a ‘transporting’ incense. Also known as the visionary herb, Mugwort is still used today for increasing psychic powers. 

Native Americans also burned Mugwort as a ‘smudge’ to purify the spiritual and physical environment. They believed that the rubbing of the leaves on the body are said to keep ghosts away, and a necklace of mugwort leaves is said to help protect against dreaming about the dead. It has been believed that John the Baptist wore a girdle of mugwort in the wilderness for protection.


It is native to temperate Europe, Asia, northern Africa and Alaska and is naturalized in North America, where some consider it an invasive weed. It is a very common plant growing on nitrogenous soils, like weedy and uncultivated areas, such as waste places and roadsides.

It is a tall herbaceous perennial plant growing as much as three feet tall, with a woody root. The leaves are long, dark green, pinnate, with dense white hairs on the underside that look like cottony fur. The erect stem often has a red-purplish tinge. The rather small flowers are radially symmetrical with many yellow or dark red petals. The narrow and numerous flower heads spread out in long bunches. It flowers from July to September.  You can grow the plant from seed, cutting or root division.

A number of species of Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) feed on the leaves and flowers.


Now, in keeping with holiday alcohol on December 31 I would be remiss if I did not suggest making your own vermouth, at home, from scratch. Vermouth is fortified wine, a wine based alcohol with additive and is very easy to make.  All you need to make homemade sweet vermouth is wine, grappa, sugar, star anise and Mugwort.  Be aware that mugwort tea or vermouth with mugwort should not be consumed by pregnant women!


As we said, to make vermouth you start with wine. White wine, to be precise, and best one made from grapes such as Catarratto, Clairette blanche, Piquepoul, or Trebbiano. There are in fact red and rosé vermouths, but we prefer to remain faithful to the tradition. These wines have a low alcohol content, so a small percentage of grappa is generally added to bring it up to about 14-16 proof. So, to make our vermouth we need: a liter of wine, 200 ml of grappa, 100-150 grams of sugar, three star anise, and a handful of Artemisia Vulgaris leaves. This last ingredient is an herb that now grows naturally around the world, but if you can't find it, you can visit an herbalist's shop. Put the wine and the Artemisia leaves into a jar, seal it, and leave it to macerate for a week. Next, filter the liquid as you pour it into another jar, to which you'll add the sugar, grappa, and anise. Stir gently, and then seal the jar, leave it to macerate for at least ten days, in a cool dark place. Finally, filter and transfer the liquid to a glass bottle and store it in the refrigerator.

You can enjoy it as it is, cold in a wide-mouth glass, or you can use it as a base for cocktails. Clearly the most famous is the Martini, made of 2/10 vermouth and 8/10 gin, mixed in a shaker that has been chilled in the freezer. But if you like vermouth you can try also a Palm Beach (gin, grapefruit juice, white vermouth). If you hear connoisseurs talking about “dry vermouth”, don't be alarmed or be caught off guard. It's a French variant of this drink, in which the wine is left open to the air for a few days. In truth, you can simply use an aged wine to achieve the same results.

Finally, don't ignore vermouth's potential in the kitchen! Its best use is in roasts and braises: add it during cooking and let it cook down to bring a characteristic flavor to your dishes. You can also add it to creamy desserts to give them a more homemade taste. 

1 comment:

  1. Hi Marcy! Thanks for the herbal promotion! I will add a link to this post on my post! Happy New Year to you and your family! xo


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