Other common name(s): ai ye, St. John's plant, common wormwood, wild wormwood
Scientific/medical name(s): Artemisia vulgaris
Mugwort is a perennial plant that is a member of the daisy family and a relative of ragweed. It is native to Asia and Europe and now grows as a weed in North America. It can grow to 6 feet tall, with stalks of small reddish-brown or yellow flowers in summer. The dried leaves and roots of the plant are used in herbal remedies. Mugwort should not be confused with St. John's Wort (Hypericum perforatum) or wormwood (Artemisia absinthium), despite their similar names.
Available scientific evidence does not support claims that mugwort is effective in treating gastrointestinal problems or any other medical condition, including cancer.
How is it promoted for use?
Mugwort is promoted to treat stomach and intestinal disorders such as colic, persistent vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, flatulence, and cramps. The herb has also been promoted as a treatment for a wide range of other conditions, including headaches, nose bleeds, muscle spasms, epilepsy, circulatory problems, menopausal and menstrual complaints, chills, fever, rheumatism, asthma, dermatitis, dysentery, gout, and infertility. Proponents also claim mugwort oil has antibacterial and antifungal properties and can be used to treat worm infestations and snakebites.
Some proponents claim mugwort is a sedative and use it to treat neuroses, hysteria, general irritability, restlessness, insomnia, anxiety, mild depression, anorexia, and opium addiction. Dried mugwort, or moxa, is used in moxibustion treatments to treat cancer (see Moxibustion).
What does it involve?
Mugwort is available as a mixture of dried leaves and roots, an extract, tincture, tea, and in pill form. Mugwort can also be used as a poultice. It is also used in North American flower remedies and made into homeopathic preparations (see Homeopathy). It is on the Commission E (Germany's regulatory agency for herbs) list of unapproved herbs. This means that it is not recommended for use because it has not been proven safe and effective.
What is the history behind it?
Herbalists have prescribed mugwort to treat many different conditions over the years. The Chinese have also used dried mugwort leaves (and sometimes leaves of other Artemisia species), or moxa, in moxibustion for centuries. In the middle ages in England, mugwort was sometimes worn on St. John’s Eve and was thought to protect the wearer from evil possession. Young women were told to sew mugwort into a small piece of cloth and place it under their pillows to induce vivid dreams. In the 1830s, Portuguese sailors introduced mugwort to France, where it became popular as a treatment for blindness and other illnesses. Mugwort has also been used as a tea, a beer flavoring, and occasionally as a spice for meats.
What is the evidence?
Research on mugwort has focused on its properties related to allergic sensitivities, which are similar to those of the American ragweed. Little research has been done on the use of mugwort as a medical treatment, although an extract (artemisinin) from another member of the Artemisia family (Artemisia annua) is used in conventional medicine as a treatment for malaria. There have only been a few preliminary laboratory studies and case reports of the potential of Artemisia species in treating cancer, but most of these studies involve other Artemisia species (Artemisia annua, Artemisia asiatica, and Artemisia princeps) rather than mugwort. There is no convincing clinical evidence available to support any of the claims made for mugwort as a treatment for people with cancer, including claims about the anticancer effectiveness of moxibustion.
Are there any possible problems or complications?
This product is sold as a dietary supplement in the United States. Unlike companies that produce drugs (which must provide the FDA with results of detailed testing showing their product is safe and effective before the drug is approved for sale), the companies that make supplements do not have to show evidence of safety or health benefits to the FDA before selling their products. Supplement products without any reliable scientific evidence of health benefits may still be sold as long as the companies selling them do not claim the supplements can prevent, treat, or cure any specific disease. Some such products may not contain the amount of the herb or substance that is written on the label, and some may include other substances (contaminants). Though the FDA has written new rules to improve the quality of manufacturing processes for dietary supplements and the accurate listing of supplement ingredients, these rules do not take full effect until 2010. And, the new rules do not address the safety of supplement ingredients or their effects on health when proper manufacturing techniques are used.
Most such supplements have not been tested to find out if they interact with medicines, foods, or other herbs and supplements. Even though some reports of interactions and harmful effects may be published, full studies of interactions and effects are not often available. Because of these limitations, any information on ill effects and interactions below should be considered incomplete.
Mugwort is generally considered safe. Mugwort pollen is known to cause hay fever. On rare occasions, it can cause reactions ranging from rashes to severe, life-threatening symptoms. Mugwort allergy also appears to be related to several food allergies. Women who are pregnant or breast-feeding should not use this herb. In addition, the potential interactions between mugwort and other drugs and herbs should be considered. Always tell your doctor and pharmacist about any herbs you are taking. Relying on this type of treatment alone and avoiding or delaying conventional medical care for cancer may have serious health consequences.
More information from your American Cancer Society
The following information on complementary and alternative therapies may also be helpful to you. These materials may be found on our Web site (www.cancer.org) or ordered from our toll-free number (1-800-ACS-2345).
The ACS Operational Statement on Complementary and Alternative Methods of Cancer Management
Anliker MD, Borelli S, Wüthrich B. Occupational protein contact dermatitis from spices in a butcher: a new presentation of the mugwort-spice syndrome. Contact Dermatitis. 2002;46:72-74.
Berger TG, Dieckmann D, Efferth T, et al. Artesunate in the treatment of metastatic uveal melanoma--first experiences. Oncol Rep. 2005;14:1599-1603.
Blumenthal M, ed. The Complete German Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. Austin, TX: American Botanical Council; 1998.
Fetrow CW, Avila JR. Professional's Handbook of Complementary & Alternative Medicines. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2004.
Gruenwald J. PDR for Herbal Medicines. 3rd ed. Montvale, NJ: Thomson PDR; 2004.
Hsu E. Reflections on the 'discovery' of the antimalarial qinghao. British J Clin Pharmacol. 2006;61:666-670.
Kim MJ, Kim DH, Na HK, et al. Eupatilin, a pharmacologically active flavone derived from Artemisia plants, induces apoptosis in human gastric cancer (AGS) cells. J Environ Pathol Toxicol Oncol. 2005;24:261-269.
Kurzen M, Bayerl C, Goerdt S. Occupational allergy to mugwort [German] [Abstract]. J Dtsch Dermatol Ges. 2003;1:285-290.
Lee HG, Yu KA, Oh WK, et al. Inhibitory effect of jaceosidin isolated from Artemisiaargyi on the function of E6 and E7 oncoproteins of HPV 16. J Ethnopharmacol. 2005;98:339-343.
Mueller MS, Runyambo N, Wagner I, et al. Randomized controlled trial of a traditional preparation of Artemisia annua L. (Annual Wormwood) in the treatment of malaria. Trans R Soc Trop Med Hyg. 2004;98:318-321.
Mugwort. PDRhealth Web site. Accessed at www.pdrhealth.com/drug_info/nmdrugprofiles/herbaldrugs/101960.shtml on April 25, 2007. Content no longer available.
Sarath VJ, So CS, Won YD, Gollapudi S. Artemisia princeps var orientalis induces apoptosis in human breast cancer MCF-7 cells. Anticancer Res. 2007;27:3891-3898.
Wopfner N, Gadermaier G, Egger M, et al. The spectrum of allergens in ragweed and mugwort pollen. Int Arch Allergy Immunol. 2005;138:337-346.
Note: This information may not cover all possible claims, uses, actions, precautions, side effects or interactions. It is not intended as medical advice, and should not be relied upon as a substitute for consultation with your doctor, who is familiar with your medical situation.
Last Revised: 11/28/2008