Foraging & Cooking with Coastal Mugwort: A Salt, A Honey & Vinegar

Every year I fall for a particular plant and start to use it in practically everything. This year I’ve been bewitched by the deep smoky, earthy and sagey flavour of Suksdorf sagewort or coastal mugwort. Of all the mugworts I know, our native suksdorf sagewort has to be one of the most deliciously aromatic -and least bitter. And so far her leaves and seeds in herbal salts, vinegars, infused honeys, have seasoned a wide variety of dishes from savoury tarts, chutney, pumpkin soup – even caramels!

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Growing on sunny beaches or fields near oceans from BC to California, her stalks stand strongly upright and sport dense bronze spike-shaped seed cones. And like many mugworts, her leaves have a downy silvery underside. And when these shimmer and whisper in seaside winds her mysterious aromatic fragrance will spread across the landscape – and draw you in.

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The leaves whether still green, or curling and silvered, can be gathered now as well as her abundant sprays of aromatic seeds.  Both can be easily dried and used to season autumn stews, soups, stuffings, roasted potatoes and squash. Any way you would use sage really.

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But be warned a little pinch of her strong leaves goes a long way – in more ways than one. All mugworts are from the genus Artemisia which also makes them very powerful in medicine and magic. And across the ancient world she was considered the holiest of holies, the mother of all healing herbs.

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Her sisters wormwood, crones wort, and sagebrush are only a few of the Artemisia family growing freely across North America, Eurasia and Europe, and all have long been associated with the moon and women’s fertility cycles.

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Artemis

In the west her namesake is Artemis, Goddess of the Moon,” Queen of the Witches” and she is patron of the herbalist, the midwife, the birthing woman, and the hunter.  In Roman tradition she was known as Diana the Huntress who “helps us capture the spiritual food we need”. And for thousands of years she used in women’s sacred rituals to help divine, dream and “see”.

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Douglas’ Sagewort

Similarly a close relative of coastal mugwort Artemisia douglasiana– molush (which also grows in the Pacific Northwest) was known by the Chusmash Nation as  ‘dream sage’. Used in their healing and ritual practices for 13,000 years, it promoted good dreams, considered a vital part of physical and spiritual health.  

Sadly I can find little about coastal mugwort in regional lore, local First Nation food history or its medicinal uses. But experience tells me that when there is little recorded about a certain plant, it is likely sacred and kept private.

There is some good herbal information and background at Ravensong Seeds here  – and they sell a wonderful coastal mugwort honey!  I particularly resonate with this lovely poetic description of coastal mugworts spiritual properties – click here.

Plants in the mugwort family are generally regarded by herbalists as a restorative all-around tonic, with calming and mellowing effects, useful in regulating menstrual irregularities and in midwifery. (One caveat – they are not recommended for pregnant women or those trying to conceive, so to be safe, I wouldn’t consume coastal mugwort either.)

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But aside from mugworts healing uses, it’s anecdotal ability to alter consciousness, open second sight and enhance dream vividness lucid dreams, and dream recall is well known. Mugwort can be imbibed in foods, teas, potions, anointed on the skin, and burned as an incense to enhance psychic awareness and aid in divination. Some say that simply keeping mugwort under your pillow will encourage prophetic dreams. It also works to clear negative energy and has a long history of being used in protective magic to ward off malevolent influences.

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Coastal Mugwort growing in the The Spring Ridge Common Ground Garden

You can find Coastal Mugwort or Suksdorf sagewort growing along our coastal beaches from spring to early winter. By November it may be drying and dying off,  but the leaves can still be used if they have a touch of green. If they have gone completely silver, you can burn them as incense or bind the tall stalks into smudging sticks.

Here are three simple ways to cook with coastal mugwort. By infusing their leaves and seeds into honey, blending into salt and soaking in vinegar, you can add their flavorful magic to practically anything from baked beans to chutney.

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Rowan Berry Chutney (seasoned with mugwort vinegar, salt and honey!)

My favourite recipe this year was a rustic pear & goat cheese tart.  I mixed in (just a few!) leaves and seeds into the goat cheese before baking and then served it with a sprinkle of coastal mugwort salt and drizzle of coastal mugwort honey.  

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So without further ado – here are three recipes for some mugwort culinary magic!

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Coastal Mugwort Finishing Salt

  • Blend equal amounts of fresh mugwort leaves and good sea salt in food processor until leaves are completely ground into the salt.
  • The result will be wet and slightly sticky. Spread this mixture out on a large cookie sheet and let dry for several days. Or you can put in the oven at lowest heat with door cracked for a few hours. I like to slow dry though because I think it retains more flavour.
  • Place your dried salt into food processor. Pulse gently a few times until you get the desired consistency. I ground mine quite fine, I love the powdery texture and silvery colour.  You can use in this Rowan Berry & Pumpkin soup here.

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 Coastal Mugwort Infused Honey

  • Take equal amounts of lightly chopped fresh herb and honey and combine into jar. Make sure you have enough honey to completely submerge the mugwort, and make sure you have enough mugwort to fill at least ¾ of the jar.
  •  Seal the jar and let sit for at least 2-3 weeks before dipping in! 6 weeks is best. You can strain off the herb if you like, or leave in.  You can use in cooking and baking, and in teas and drinks.

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Coastal Mugwort Vinegar

  • Take equal amounts of lightly chopped fresh herb and vinegar (apple cider, white wine or plain) and combine in a bottle or jar. Make sure you have enough vinegar to completely submerge the mugwort, and make sure you have enough mugwort to fill at least 1/2 of the bottle 
  • Seal the bottle and let sit in cool dark place for a 2-6 weeks. Taste as you go along, the flavour is strong and permeates the vinegar quickly, you may like it sooner than later! Once you’re happy with the flavour, strain off the herb (or leave in if you like.)  You can use in this chutney recipe here.

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Whether its through wildcrafting, plant medicine, kitchen witchery or seasonal celebrations, I believe we can enhance personal, community and planetary well-being by connecting with mother nature!

10 thoughts on “Foraging & Cooking with Coastal Mugwort: A Salt, A Honey & Vinegar

  1. !! Many years ago I worked one summer in a nursing home, where I became friends with the pharmacist — we shared an interest in native plants here in Oregon. When he was a young man in college, he had worked with Wilhelm Suksdorf, for whom the mugwort is named (among several other plant species). I get a charge out of seeing Suksdorf’s name every once in a while and recalling the two-degrees-of-separation connection.

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    1. Thank-you! And thank-you for catching this. Of course Motherwort is from the mint family. I always forget this, she seems so much an Artemisia to me!

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  2. Danielle, what are your thoughts on determining the similarities and the differences between the “energetic” qualities of different varieties of a particular species…especially as it pertains to potentially finding a “representative” in one’s locale and, thus, creating a mutually beneficial relationship for oneself, the plant, the land,and others? Do you know of any resources that you would recommend? And, what are your thoughts on cultivating specific plants for personal use if the local region does not contain such…better to just “import” already harvested materials…?

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    1. Hi!

      Big questions but I’ll try to answer as simply as I can! Basically the first thing I look to is regional use among the First Peoples. How did they use the plant and why? Their knowledge is already contextualized by the interrelationship between plants, people and the land.

      I also try to be especially aware and respectful of the spiritual energetics of sacred plants, and take my cue on how to work with these plants accordingly. This was difficult in the case of Suksdorf Sagewort because I could find very little information on local indigenous use. But as I say in the post, in my experience this is often because the plant is sacred, and knowledge kept private. And I try to respectful of that too!

      I don’t often grow “wild” plants in my garden. For me the spiritual practice and joy of wildcrafting is working seasonally with the plants that mother nature decides when and where to plant according to her higher wisdom! And when it comes to medicinal herbs I always look to local plants (energetically in tune with the landscape I live in) before buying imported herbs.

      That said, I do purchase herbs from the herb store when my own supply runs out (i.e. dandelion roots or nettles). I also harvest frequently from community herbal gardens which cultivate many non-indigenous and native plants side by side, and I do have a garden where alongside herbs like rosemary, skullcap, mint, catnip etc. I give lots of loving space to weeds like dandelion, bitter cress, nettles, garlic mustard, milk thistle, self-heal etc. that have decided to plant themselves.

      Hope this answers your questions!

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