Mar 272008

Taking a hint from indigenous peoples throughout the West, I use Moonwort for damn near everything.  Yes, I’ve written about it before (here and here, for example)  but I do like to repeat myself so I’ll go on about it a bit more now. Nearly every herbalist seems to have a favorite topical cure all or two. I, however, have four: Alder, White Sage, Larrea and Moonwort (like a true Southwestern herbalis, heh). Oh, and Cottonwood and Plantain and Yarrow and and and. Sheesh.

There’s this strange phenomenon in herbal books that says we should harvest Moonwort/Mugwort (Artemisia spp.) when in flower or bud stage for all uses. Hmm. The volatile oil content drops dramatically during flowering, and that may be desirable for tincture use in some cases, but I don’t find it ideal for oil at all. So usually I make oil from fresh smelly green bits in mid spring, and then I make oil from flowering tops later in the summer. Then I combine the oils to use in my favorites salves, liniments and massage oils. It seems to work extra nice in my opinion, and has a certain rich scent you can’t get from either on their own.

Moonwort is broadly antibacterial against many unpleasant little microbes, including most fungus and some viruses (both Herpes I and II). It’s also very noticeably anti-inflammatory, and topical use can penetrate all the way through to muscles, tendons, ligiments and so on. I’ve used it many times on various kinds of injuries, pulled muscles (best with Goldenrod), insect stings (best with Plantain, Yarrow or Peach), contusions (nice with Cottonwood), cuts, infections, nerve pain (with Larrea and/or Sweet Clover) and especially in anything itchy and irritated like contact dermatitis and poison ivy (use the diluted tincture or a fomentation, not the oil). It’s absolutely my first choice for anyone who thinks they’ve just gotten into some poison ivy. Wash the area well first, then douse well with diluted tincture (or vinegar) or a strong tea, this can also be used in combination with Grindelia (failing that, Yarrow will work well too).

Just as when taken internally, Moonwort has a talent for moving energy which also means that it helps allay pain, quicken recovery time and prevent pooling of blood (bruising) or energy that could result in chronic pain from a poorly healed injury. It’s incredibly multi-purpose and combines well with many other herbs. I don’t see it that often in salves, but it’s a wonderful choice for any all-purpose salve. It’s also my most common spit poultice for nearly anything, not because it tastes good (it sure doesn’t, though that bitterness will help you digest your food) but because it’s everywhere here. It may be the single most common plant in the canyon.

My relationship with  Moonwort all started years ago when I first met Darcey Blue. I’d just moved to the Gila from the Blue Ridge Mountains, and Darcey’d come to the canyon for a gathering. She promptly began gathering up medicinal plants for us, and she harvested and dried a jar of sweet little Mugwort sprigs for us. I can’t even remember what she told me about the plant, just that she was very enthusiastic about it. Later on, she recommended it to me for various belly troubles and it worked wonderfully. Thanks Darcey!

For some women, Moonwort infused oil also makes a great uterine massage oil for cramps, achiness and general reproductive malaise. This plant has a certain affinity for the reproductive system, and can sometimes even help focus and center labor pains when rubbed over the womb area.

Loba recently hurt her foot and damaged the muscles in the center of the bottom of her foot. The injury hurt bad enough to cause a slight limp and even after a week or so didn’t really improve. I then suggested she soak it in a strong infusion of Moonwort several times a day. Two days of this and the foot was fifty percent better, so of course she promptly stopped doing it, thinking it would finish up on it’s own. But week later her foot hadn’t healed any further at all. When she resumed the soaks, the foot recovered completely. Nice.

  7 Responses to “Moonwort: Notes on External Use”

  1. Great post on this much underused friend. I remember way back when I suggested her to you. I’m so glad she was such a good friend then , and continuing on!
    Yay for moonwort. Funny havent really used much since I left the desert, but there’s like 3 species of moonworts around here. May be going to get some springy type moonwort soon. 🙂 Thanks for the reminder!

    Have you ever tried it for heartburn? Works amazingly for heart burn with associated anxiety in the middle of night.

  2. Mmmm, I LOVE mugwort! She was actually my primary initiation into herbwifery. A dear and magical friend introduced me to her on a summer solstice, and then later that day I met the woman who would years later become my teacher, at the prompting of that same dear friend.
    Last fall I set out on a walk determined to find her growing near my home. And, of course, I did! Judith Berger says in Herbal Rituals that if you are on an herbal path, mugwort will show up (she tells the story of a student of hers who even found it growing in her 2nd story planter box!). This spring, at that same spot, the mugwort has at least quadrupled! I believe she is greeting me, thanking me for acknowledging her in the overlooked grove where she grows. And I certainly plan on giving thanks and expressing my joy at her existence by making all kinds of medicine from her.
    Oh, and I also like the taste. I always eat a leaf when I visit mugwort. She opens me up to everything else around me. And makes my womb happy.
    Thanks for the amazing knowledge you share.

  3. Wow….that info is so helpful to me. I have some growing on my property and a friend who recently granduated with his bachelors in horticulture told me is is mugwort ~artemisia vulgaris.

    There is Botrychium lunaria that is called moonwort too so I am glad you shared that:) I did not know that name moonwort is used for the same plant.

  4. I like the taste too, Amber, very intense and depending on the time of year, extremely bitter. I try to warn people though, because I have forgotten at times and had people freak out a little over the taste LOL

    Kristena, I don’t think anyone else calls it that, it’s just what I’ve always called her, especially the A. vulgaris and A. ludoviciana….

    SUCH a wonderful plant ally! So glad ya’ll enjoyed the post.

    Darcey, I do love her for heartburn, I think that’s the first thing I used her for because you’d told me about that. She might be my favorite bitter, and definitely my favorite aromatic bitter.

  5. I love the underated plant. I like to take a bit of mugwort and a pinch of vinilla pipe tobacca, roll them both together between my fingers, making a several little balls out of the mix, then I put it in a regular tobacco pipe and smoke it.

    Very smoke. I actuall prefer it to the other plant, depending on what mood I want to be in.

  6. Is it true that mugwort is mildly toxic? I’ve read that it contains thujone, and there are those that argue against its use. I’m not an expert… just wondering, so thought I’d ask someone who is. 😉

  7. Well, Yarrow has thujone too 😉 So much depends on context. Rosemary is a nice safe plant, but try drinking a bottle of Rosemary essential oil (well, don’t really, very dangerous) or Lemon, it’s quite a different experience from Rosemary tea or Lemonade. Isolating constituents and ingesting concentrated (and sometimes synthesized) forms of them is just asking for serious trouble. Whole plants contains a multitude of constituents that all work together, almost always making them safer and better medicines than anything isolated.

    Some artemisia spp like tridadenta should be used in small amounts because they’re so strong (and they’ll make you gag if you try it in large amounts, yech) but most artemisias are safe in any reasonable amount (a cup or two of tea, if you can get it down or a couple droppers of tincture several times a day).

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