How Mugwort Benefits Digestion, Menstruation, Knee Pain, & More

Published on February 15, 2024

By Kristen Boye BS, Natural Health

Kristen Boye

Kristen Boye is a natural health expert, writer, copywriter, and editor. Kristen was raised on an organic farm in British Columbia which inspired her life’s work. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Natural Health, is a Certified Natural Foods Chef, co-owner of a medicinal herb farm, and is a natural foods and children’s health advocate. Kristen lives with her husband and two children on their medicinal herb farm in Western North Carolina.

Few plants are found in a wider range of habitats and traditional wellness practices globally than common Mugwort. 

From Asia to South America and nearly everywhere in between, Mugwort has earned a place of respect and reverence in dozens of traditional herbal practices.

In this article, we dive into Mugwort's rich history, many benefits, and known side effects and how it’s helped humanity thrive in the past, present, and future.

Historical and Traditional Uses of Mugwort

Mugwort (Artemesia vulgaris) is an herbaceous perennial of the aster family, with a long history of use in Asia, Europe, Africa, and South America.

According to ancient Greek beliefs, the name “Artemeisa'' came from the Greek goddess Artemis. She was the goddess of the hunt and wilderness and was considered the patron of pregnant mothers and childbirth. 

Additionally, A. vulgaris had great importance in the religious rites devoted to the goddesses Isis, Artemis, and Diana. 

Early historical texts like Dioscorides’ “Materia Medica” and Galen’s “De simplicium medicamentorum facultatibus” described many of the early uses of Mugwort in the first and second century. 

In medieval times Mugwort was called “mater herbarum” which translates “the mother of herbs”.

It was also considered a magical herb in some circles, making it a popular herb for protection and in various rituals.

The many benefits documented in Greek, Roman, and European traditions indicated Mugwort may support the following:REF#3636

  • Menstruation and menstrual complaints
  • Pregnancy and labor induction
  • Urological function
  • Kidney function
  • Relief of leg fatigue
  • Gastrointestinal support

Beyond Europe, Mugwort was also very popular in Asian and Traditional Chinese Medicine to support the gastrointestinal and gynecological systems and for minor pain management when combined with acupuncture.REF#3637

It is also the herb used in the moxibustion treatment.

In Moxibustion, Mugwort leaf powder is burned on particular acupuncture points or breathed in to help move “Qi” (pronounced chee) in the meridian system.

Mugwort is smoked as a tobacco alternative to promote relaxation.

How Mugwort May Benefit Health

Mugowort's rich history of global use has inspired the scientific community to better understand what’s in it and how it may work.

According to scientific analysis, the most important plant chemicals known in Mugwort include:REF#3638

  • Essential oils
  • Sesquiterpenoid lactones like psilostachyin, psilostachya C, vulgarin (unique to this species) and artemisinin
  • Flavonoids
  • Coumarins
  • Phenolic acids
  • Sterols
  • Polyacetylenes
  • Carotenoids
  • Vitamins
  • Cyanogenic glycosides

Although it is not well understood how these plant compounds found in Mugwort work, emerging studies have demonstrated their potential.

6 Mugwort Benefits

Mugwort's use in traditional folk medicine settings is widespread, and history suggests similar uses across the board.

Here, we consider six Mugwort benefits and how modern science corroborates its potential use for various health benefits.

1: Mugwort May Have Estrogenic Activity

In the first and second centuries, Mugwort was primarily used to support women’s reproductive health.

As previously mentioned, the Latin name “Artemesia” was derived from the goddess of pregnant mothers and childbirth.

Although more research is needed, studies do suggest Mugwort may support reproductive function in women via its estrogenic effects.REF#3639

Specifically, the plant chemical artemisinin is believed to be a gentle uterine stimulant that promotes regular menstruation.REF#3640

More research is needed to understand how Mugwort has been used to support women’s health throughout history and how it may function.

2: Mugwort May Support Gastrointestinal/Digestive Function

Ancient texts and folk traditions have written extensively on the use of Mugwort for the digestive system.

Science is beginning to discover Mugwort’s potential mechanisms on the gastrointestinal tract. 

The results of one study identified a plant compound called Yomogin, a sesquiterpene lactone, to exhibit smooth muscle relaxing activity.REF#3641 

Another study showed that Mugwort (A. vulgaris) inhibited abdominal conditions (pain) by 58% and 59%.REF#3642 This suggests it may be helpful for minor digestive-related pain management, but more research is needed.

This may explain why many herbalists recommend a cup of Mugwort tea following meals to help promote normal digestion.

3: Mugwort May Support Respiratory Function

Mugwort has long been used as a traditional herb for supporting respiratory function when ingested, applied as a poultice, or inhaled.

Research also suggests Mugwort may benefit the lungs by supporting normal inflammatory response of the airways.REF#3643

The plant compounds believed to be responsible include alkaloids, coumarins, flavonoids, saponins, sterols, tannins, and terpenes.

Although more research is needed to draw conclusions, it appears the ancients knew what they were doing when using Mugwort to support the respiratory system.

4. Mugwort May Promote Normal Cholesterol

Mugwort may not be the first herb that leaps to mind in the cholesterol or heart-support category. 

However, Chinese scientists studied the herb to observe its effects on cholesterol.

The researchers set up an animal study that tested a variety of markers related to cardiovascular function both before and after study subjects took Mugwort.

After four weeks, they found Mugwort was effective in supporting normal cholesterol and inflammatory response in addition to its antioxidant benefits.REF#3644

More robust research is needed to recommend Mugwort for supporting cholesterol and cardiovascular function.

5. Mugwort Used in Moxibustion May Help Ease Knee Discomfort

Knee pain is common among older adults.

Since acupuncture has been found effective for various types of pain management, a meta-analysis was done to investigate the potential of moxibustion (where mugwort is burned over specific acupuncture points) as a strategy to ease knee discomfort.

A systematic review of a variety of high-impact medical databases concluded that moxibustion treatment could be equal to oral drugs and intra-articular injections for knee discomfort and may be an excellent alternative treatment.REF#3645

As discussed in, Should You Try Acupuncture For Sleep, Pain, or PMS? Here’s What The Research Says, moxibustion should only be performed by a licensed acupuncturist, Doctor of Oriental Medicine, or medical professional licensed to practice acupuncture (this varies from state to state),

6. Mugwort May Help Repel Insects

All-natural, herbal insect repellents are becoming increasingly popular due to concerns surrounding the safety of chemical insecticides like DEET.REF#3646

Common herbs and essential oils used in these formulas include Citronella, Geranium,REF#3647 Neem, and Lemon Eucalyptus.

There is also research indicating Mugwort essential oil may help repel insects, with one study showing its larvicidal and repellent activity equal to DEET.REF#3648

With so much concern over the potential health impacts of insecticides, especially on children, Mugwort may be a worthy ally when used as an essential oil or planted around the yard, as it has been done for thousands of years.

Side Effects & Possible Contraindications of Mugwort

Although Mugwort has been used by millions of people for thousands of years, there has been some concern about the potential toxicity of inhaling the burning smoke of Mugwort for moxibustion treatment. 

Fortunately, researchers have concluded it does not pose a health risk.REF#3649

In addition, the second edition of the Botanical Safety Handbook published by the AHPA classifies Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) as safety class “2b” which is not for use in pregnancy except under the supervision of a qualified healthcare practitioner.REF#3650

The National Institutes of Health also indicates, “Mugwort should not be used during pregnancy because it may start menstruation and cause the uterus to contract. Little is known about whether it’s safe to use mugwort while breastfeeding.”REF#3651

Since Mugwort is in the ragweed family, it may cause allergic reactions in those allergic to ragweed.

Those at particular risk are people allergic to birch and mugwort pollen because of cross-reactivity to proteins similar to birch allergen. Those often exhibit a clinical condition termed “mugwort-celery-spice syndrome.”REF#3652

Research has also shown people with allergies to celery or carrots have a higher risk of reacting to Mugwort.

Always check with your doctor or healthcare practitioner for individual recommendations.

What’s The Best Way to Take Mugwort?

Mugwort is available as dry leaves, tea, tincture, capsules, powders, or essential oil and in moxibustion treatments.

The best way to take Mugwort depends on your preference and health goals.

The most convenient way to take Mugwort is as a supplement, such as a tincture or capsule.

Mugwort tea is also popular for promoting relaxation and digestion and is rumored to enhance dreams.

How to Make Mugwort Tea

  • Add 1-2 teaspoons of dried Mugwort leaf to 1 cup boiling water.
  • Let steep for 5-10 minutes.
  • Sweeten with natural sweetener and/or lemon if desired.

Mugwort has a very earthy and mild bitter flavor. Adding sweetener and/or lemon can help tone down those flavors.

Key Takeaways About The Benefits of Mugwort

Let’s recap what we’ve learned about Mugwort.

  • Mugwort is a traditional herb available as a tea, tincture, powder, capsule, dried leaves, or essential oil. 
  • It is also used in moxibustion treatments.
  • Mugwort has a rich history of traditional use throughout the globe.
  • Although high-quality human trials are lacking, preliminary studies suggest Mugwort may support:
    • Normal menstruation
    • Gastrointestinal function
    • Respiratory function
    • Normal cholesterol
  • Mugwort, when used in moxibustion, may also help with minor pain management of knee pain
  • Mugwort essential oil is also an effective insect repellent
  • Although generally considered safe, Mugwort is contraindicated during pregnancy and breastfeeding unless under the care of skilled healthcare practitioner
  • Those with ragweed, birch pollen, celery, or carrot allergies may experience an allergic reaction to Mugwort

If you’re interested in trying Mugwort, always source dry herbs or supplements from a reputable company to ensure a safe and effective product.


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