Eat your Weeds: Mugwort Edition
Updated: Apr 13, 2021
As we prepare to grow food in the Teaching Garden, we have to start by weeding and prepping the beds. One of the most prolific plants that we weed out is mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris). This plant grows everywhere! You have probably seen it in vacant lots, on the edges of roads, or sprouting up in your own garden. A weed is any plant that is considered unwanted in its particular location. Some gardeners like to call weeds "volunteer plants" because they show up without us planting them and although some are a hinderance or invasive, others can be beneficial, edible, or neutral.
How to Identify Mugwort
Mugwort has finger-like lobed leaves. The underside of the green leaves are a greyish-white. The stems are light green and fuzzy with little hairs. As the plant gets older and bigger the stems become less fuzzy and turn to an almost purple color. Additionally, the leaves become longer, more slender, and have more pronounced lobes. The plant has a very distinctive musty smell. You can see the white under-side of mugwort leaves in this video.
Mugwort is a perennial; it doesn’t die off in the winter, and grows for more than two years. It is considered invasive in New York- it originated outside of the US, and has a tendency to spread out of control. Its structure is an extensive rhizome network- each plant is connected to many others underground! It’s kind of a conundrum, because the more we weed mugwort, the more we end up breaking the rhizome, and each break creates an opportunity for the plant to multiply and grow. Mugwort spreads by shooting runners underground and popping up somewhere new. This means that even if you think you killed a mugwort plant, if it has even the tiniest leaf somewhere else it can continue to capture energy to send up new shoots. In the photo below you can see how mugwort (that may look like separate plants above ground) can be connected underground and are actually one plant growing and using energy from each other.
Even though we weed it out of our gardens here at the Teaching Garden, mugwort is in fact edible. If you want to harvest it, make sure you are collecting it from a safe area (the soil in a vacant lot might be contaminated, or it could be a bathroom spot for a neighbors dog, use caution when harvesting!). The leaves are bitter, which is good for digestion and the liver, as well as overall immune health. Different species of mugwort are native to East Asia and Europe, where it has been used medicinally for thousands of years. In Korea, it is used to make Suuk Injeolmi, a sweet rice cake (recipe below). In Europe it used to be used in beer making, instead of hops. It is also often dried and made into a tea. It is said that mugwort can induce vivid or even lucid dreaming, and help with insomnia, if ingested right before you go to sleep. There are many other uses, too!
Mugwort Dream Cakes
Makes about 10 cakes
-1/2 cup mugwort leaves, washed well (these will condense after blanched so you’ll probably need more than you think!)
-1 cup glutinous rice flour
-3/4 cup hot water
-3 tsp. sugar
-2 ¼ tsp. salt
-Food processor or large mortar and pestle (or you can just chop the mugwort)
-Rolling pin or other object that can be used for pounding the dough
-Blanch the mugwort for 1 minute in boiling water with 2 tsp. salt. Rinse in ice water.
-Grind the mugwort in a food processor, with a mortar and pestle, or chop it.
-Combine mugwort, glutinous rice flour, sugar and ¼ tsp. salt
-Gradually add the hot water to the dough, and mix. You may need less than ¾ cup. Texture will be moist and VERY sticky
-Pound the mixture (I used the end of a rolling pin)
-Fill steamer with water and bring to a boil
-Shape dough into small patties
-Once the steamer is boiling, carefully place the patties inside
-After 15 minutes, turn off the heat and remove the cakes. Let cool on a plate or cooling rack for about 3 minutes.
-These will keep in the freezer, if you have extras (I didn’t!)