Mugwort: characteristics, cultivation & benefits of Artemisia plants


I grew up on a small, organic family farm and after a gap year spent working on an American ranch, I started studying agricultural science. Soil, organic farming practices, and plant science are what I am most drawn to. At home, when I'm not in our garden, you can find me in the kitchen, cooking and baking with our harvested fruits and vegetables.

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A large and diverse genus, it is no wonder that mugwort is known by a variety of names, such as wormwood and sagebrush. Learn all about mugwort’s properties and species, as well as how to grow at home.

Shoot tips of mugwort plants
Mugwort is an aromatic herb that has long been known for its medicinal properties

Known for its healing properties, mugwort has been regarded as valuable since ancient times. Not only are mugwort plants useful, but they are also low-maintenance and versatile ornamental plants for your garden.

Mugwort: origin and characteristics

Mugwort (Artemisia) belongs to the composite family (Asteraceae) and is widespread throughout the world. Several species are native to Europe and the UK, but their precise origin is unknown. These plants grow easily and quickly, reaching heights of up to 2m depending on the species. Their silvery, pinnate leaves are sometimes hairy, and their flowers are typically orangey yellow. Most mugwort species are slightly woody perennials, and some have highly aromatic foliage that is not for everyone. Additionally, their growth is sprawling, and they can quickly take over a garden, so keep an eye on mugwort to keep its robust growth in check.

Mugwort plants in bloom
Mugwort plants reveal a mass of small, yellow flowers in late spring [Photo: sonja toben/]

Risk of confusion: as a member of the composite family, mugwort has many relatives that look confusingly alike; this poses a danger when it comes to utilising the plant.

Mugwort is similar in growth, appearance and leaf shape to common ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia). Ragweed is native to North America but is increasingly becoming a problem weed in the UK and Europe; not only is it problematic for agriculture but for those with seasonal allergies as well. One way to distinguish between mugwort and ragweed is to look at the leaf colouring. Ragweed leaves are green on both sides, while mugwort leaves are green on top and silvery underneath.

A ragweed shoot tip
Ragweed is a problematic weed that looks like mugwort [Photo: Mala Iryna/]

Artemisia species and varieties

The genus Artemisia comprises over 250 species. The following are some of the better-known species in more detail.

Common mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris): also known as riverside wormwood, this species of mugwort is naturalised in the UK and grows up to 1.2m high. It is said to help with digestion and is used as a seasoning in hearty dishes.

Sweet wormwood (Artemisia annua): this non-hardy mugwort species typically does not flower in the UK. It is fast-growing and reaches up to 2m tall. As an annual with dense foliage, sweet wormwood is suitable for temporary hedges.

Dwarf Schmidt wormwood (Artemisia Schmidtiana): also called silver mound, this species only grows to about 20cm tall. Its cushion-like growth and filigree, silver-green leaves make it a wonderful contrast and companion to dark-leaved ornamentals.

Western mugwort (Artemisia ludoviciana): originating in North America, western mugwort is known for its strong fragrance and can be used as incense. It is often used in Native American ceremonies for cleansing and purification. In Europe, western mugwort is mainly used as an ornamental plant, especially in Mediterranean style gardens.

small dwarf Schmidt wormwood plants
The dwarf Schmidt wormwood complements nearly any sunny rock garden [Photo: JIANG TIANMU/]

Tip: the mugwort genus includes some other well-known perennials that are planted for their fragrance and appearance. These include tarragon (A. dracunculus), wormwood (A. absinthium) and the sea wormwood ‘Coca Cola’ (A. abrotanum var. maritima), which smells of cola.

How to grow mugwort

Mugwort is best sown outdoors beginning in May. These plants are not very demanding, but they do prefer sunny, well-drained and nutrient-rich locations. If your garden has clayey or firm soil, mix in some organic material and sand to loosen the soil and improve permeability. For dense soil, it may be necessary to use a digging fork to deeply loosen the soil; this prevents waterlogging. It is a good idea to work some compost into the soil to provide more nutrients for a great start. Our Plantura Organic All Purpose Compost contains the key nitrogen, providing optimal starting conditions for these nitrogen-loving plants. Our compost is also peat-free, meaning its production releases up to 60% less CO2 than conventional composts.

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Organic All Purpose Compost, 40L
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Since mugwort grows and becomes large quickly, it is best to sow two to three seeds, spaced 70cm apart. After a few weeks, remove the weakest seedling(s), leaving only the strongest mugwort seedling to continue growing. Mugwort needs light to germinate, so cover mugwort seeds with just a sprinkling of soil.

Sun on a mugwort shoot
It is best to sow and plant mugwort in May

Tip: mugwort can also be started on a windowsill beginning in March. Simply fill a pot with compost, place the seeds on top, and cover them with a light layer of soil. The seeds need a temperature range of 18 to 23 °C to germinate; the first seedlings will appear after about 2 weeks. From mid-May onwards, transplant the young mugwort to its final location outdoors.

Artemisia care

Except for Artemis annua, all mugwort species are hardy. However, bear in mind the plant’s crown dies over winter, so feel free to prune the crown in late autumn. In spring, your mugwort will sprout anew from its rootstock.


As a rule, mugwort does not need to be fertilised. However, it grows more vigorously when supplied with fertiliser containing nitrogen. Therefore, nitrogen-rich fertilisers, such as our Plantura All Purpose Plant Food, promote growth. Furthermore, our fertilisers contain raw organic matter of non-mineral origin, which improves soil structure and counteract soil compaction.

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All Purpose Plant Food, 1.5kg
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Mugwort typically grows in dry locations, so it only needs watering during long hot dry periods.

Tip: to prevent your mugwort from taking over your garden, harvest its flowers before they open. This prevents the mugwort seeds from spreading.

Harvest and use

The goal when harvesting mugwort is to collect the plant’s unopened flowers. This means its harvest season coincides with the beginning of its flowering period between June and July. Older Artemisia flowers and leaves can also be harvested, but they are considerably more bitter. Mugwort is used both fresh and dried. If you plan on preserving it, harvest 40 to 60cm long twigs with flowers and hang them to dry in a warm, well-ventilated space.

Nowadays, mugwort is mainly used as a culinary herb. Not only does it contain essential oils, such as camphor, cineole and thujone, which have an antibacterial and antifungal effect, mugwort is also rich in bitter substances. These bitters protect the plant from predators as well as support our digestion, which is why mugwort is often added to fatty dishes such as roast goose. Young aromatic mugwort leaves can also be used as a salad garnish, and the flowers are sometimes added to Mediterranean herb mixes. As a home remedy, a simple mugwort tea is commonly used to calm an upset stomach. To make mugwort tea, pour hot water over 1 teaspoon of dried mugwort, and allow it to steep for 1 to 2 minutes.

Bundle of harvested mugwort shoots
Mugwort contains bitter substances that stimulate digestion [Photo: KatharinaRau/]

Tip: mugwort has been appreciated as a medicinal herb since ancient times. Over the centuries, a wide variety of benefits have been observed. It has been used as a remedy for childbirth and reproductive issues among women. This ties into the scientific name, which references Artemis: the midwife to the Greek gods. The Celts, too, valued mugwort, and they would wear it as crowns and belts while dancing at solstice celebrations.

Is mugwort poisonous?

Consumed in small amounts, mugwort is harmless to most people, offering an antispasmodic and analgesic effect. However, since it contains the toxic essential oil thujone, excessive consumption of mugwort can cause vomiting and seizures, among other harmful effects. Therefore, women who are pregnant are discouraged from using mugwort altogether. Additionally, people who are allergic to composite plants may also be allergic to mugwort. As for pets, they are typically uninterested in the plant, and even if they do sample it, small amounts of mugwort are not harmful to animals.

Are you interested in learning more about the various species belonging to the Artemisia genus? If so, check out our article on wormwood plants.