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