A Time of Gathering: Mugwort Distillation

by Camellia Lee

It was a picture perfect blue sky afternoon in Woodstock, New York welcoming students for the first in-person event since before the pandemic with Jade Shutes. Women traveled from near and far: Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York City, and Massachusetts. Students and graduates of the School for Aromatic Studies (plus a few friends!) met with eagerness and enthusiasm for the workshop with Jade on plant distillation. The plant featured was Mugwort, Artemisia vulgaris, considered a “weed” plant that grows wildly and abundantly in the Catskill mountains of New York.

About Mugwort

Artemisia vulgaris, a tall, upright, tenacious perennial plant grows beautiful feathery seven pointed pinnate leaves belonging to the Asteraceae family. Upon closer examination the leaf texture is soft in nature, the top side is a vibrant green while the underside, a silver iridescent hue. This hue is said to be reflective of the light of the moon and named after Artemis, Greek goddess of wild animals, the hunt, fertility, and childbirth.

Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris)

Throughout many cultural wisdom traditions, mugwort is treasured for supporting the female reproductive system, as an emmenagogue to stimulate stagnancy in a woman’s period cycle as well as ease transition through menopause. Famed 16th century herbalist and astrologer, Nicholas Culpeper, associated mugwort with the planet Venus and therefore is considered a nourishing herb for women’s health and vitality. Psychospritually, it is our connection to the divine feminine.

In the traditional Chinese medicine system, mugwort is used in the practice of moxabustion. Mugwort leaves are dried and then lit over and on acupuncture points to circulate and strengthen blood and move energetic qi stagnation in the body. Mugwort facilitates energetic movement where there is limitation, restriction and stagnancy in the mind, body, and spirit.

An herb of protection, it has been believed that St. John the Baptist used mugwort for protection by having it woven into a girdle around him when in the wilderness. Roman soldiers would place mugwort in their sandals before marching off to battle to increase stamina. Native American tribes accessed mugwort as a tool to ward off evil spirits. In pagan tradition and earth practices, considered as a witches’ (aka the herbalist, midwife) herb it is used to cleanse and clear the physical space as well as create the space for supporting greater access psychic attunement.

A feminine herb of versatility, Artemisia vulgaris, supports transition, and can serve as a gateway to actualization and moments of awakening. Mugwort energy seems to evoke harmony within the self and in the collective.

Mugwort is popularly known to enhance lucid dreaming. Mugwort is considered to be an oneirogen (from the Greek ὄνειρος óneiros meaning “dream” and gen “to create”, is that which produces or enhances dreamlike states of consciousness). You can make a ‘dream pillow’ from dried leaves or drink a cup of tea with mugwort a few hours before going to sleep. The tea of mugwort is quite bitter so try combining with lemon balm or nettles to make more palatable.

Distilling Mugwort

Led by Jade, the group participated in removing mugwort leaves off the stem and into the alembic copper still. Through guided contemplation, the alchemical process of distillation began, inviting the question, “What is it that you wish to dream into being?” Mugwort invites us to conjure, to imagine, to craft, to cultivate, to dream. Indeed, distillation facilitates this transformation, through fire, air, water, earth (hot, cold, wet, dry), and saturnian time. This process of patience delivers a valuable stream of aromatic water known as hydrosol.

The olfactory profile of sweet, herbaceous, melon, warm honey tones emerged from the still as the group reflected upon their scent experience, evoking memories, as well as newly discovered feelings and sensations. For some it’s in the pineal gland or third eye located between the eyebrows, for others it’s in the solar plexus. Each person’s somatic experience is different and appropriate for what they may need to connect with in the moment.

Making a Mugwort Wand

The workshop concluded with the ritual practice of a plant wand with mugwort. Honoring the native american tradition– the ritual of smudging is a practice to cleanse and purify both mind, body, and space with dried plant herbs wrapped in a bundle and smoked into the air.

On this day with Mugwort, the “wish dreamt into being” was the manifestation of our group of beautiful, wise women, rooted in connection, solidarity, and community.

Creating mugwort wand

Ritual practice steps for creating a mugwort wand:

  • Gather 5 – 7 stems of mugwort, cutting stems down to first leaves
  • Bunch together and fold in half
  • With twine or string, begin at the bottom, make a base knot and begin to wrap up and down the wand to hold plant material together
  • Finish with twine at the base and tie a knot
  • Infuse with intention: What do you wish to dream into being?
  • Allow to dry through completely by placing on a screen or hanging upside down
  • Once dried, the mugwort wand is ready for use
  • Use the wand during the new or full moon to bring in ‘dreams’