Artemisia douglasiana, Mugwort.

Artemisia douglasiana, Mugwort.

This California native mugwort, here growing in a container, is happy after this year’s wet winter. I acquired a couple of specimens last summer, and they looked pretty rangy during those dry months. Like many native plants, mugwort is pretty resilient, tolerating shade and aridity up to a point, but in nature it favors moist locations.

It’s an underappreciated perennial plant for the garden. While top leaves are whole, lower leaves are lobed in a sharply jagged cleft pattern. The evenly-spaced leaves are dark green above and silvery (and a little wooly) below. The plant is aromatic, especially when the leaves are crushed.  It attracts butterflies and birds, and is said to be deer resistant. Stems grow erect from runners (which are not too difficult to control); some sources say they get to six feet, but I have never seem this plant above about three feet. Flowers (summer to fall) are insignificant.

Artemsias are in the Asteraceae (sunflower) family. Artemisia douglasiana is sometimes classed as Artemesia vulgaris var. douglasiana, but it is much more bitter and stronger flavored than the European mugwort (Artemesia vulgaris) referenced in many herbals. (There is also a Korean variety, which is closer to the European than to this native California mugwort.)

Also known as Dream Plant, the leaves of mugwort contain some of the same substances (notably thujone and cineole) as those of another Atemisia, wormwood (Artemisia absinthium). When smoked or drunk as a tea, they are said to produce vivid dreams, and to ward off the spirits of the dead. Native Californians sometimes wore mugwort necklaces for protection against such spirits. In the European tradition it was held that pillows stuffed with mugwort could reveal one’s future in dreams. One herbalist calls mugwort “ the star of any dream pillow.” A reference more to my taste is  “The Natural History of Orange County, California and Nearby Places,” which cites several print sources.

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