“Has artemisia come to help us unlock the deep dreams that day to day living has swept seemingly out of reach? Has she come to guard us and protect us while we realign ourselves with the strength of feminine energy? Has she come–with her liver cleansing and digestive tonic– to help ease the pain of those sisters who can not honor their monthly cycle by calling “time-out”? I think she has.” Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie
In a time when menstruation is regarded as a messy inconvenience at best or is suppressed by oral contraceptives at worst, I agree with herbalist Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie – we need a dose of Artemisia’s magic more than ever. After all, no other plant has been more associated with supporting women and their reproductive cycles than Artemisia vulgaris or Mugwort. Often called the “holy of holies” or “the mother of all healing herbs”, her role in sacred women’s rites connected with the moon, with dreaming, divination and psychic visioning stretches back to the mists of prehistory.
Scholars suggest Artemesia is so widespread across the world because women took her seeds with them wherever they went. And today her ability to help relieve everything from painful cramps to hot flashes, the symptoms of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome and Endometriosis are well known. And she is considered especially helpful for “premenstrual syndrome” a collection of symptoms or sensations (anxiety, irritability and mood swings) women experience before, and sometimes during, their periods.
Scientists are still not sure why Artemisia is so effective, some theorize she works by supporting estrogen dependent chemical processes. But I believe her effect goes far beyond the physiological, at least in the way we understand it today. It’s important to remember that unlike our menstruation phobic society, many ancient cultures saw menstruation (or moontime) as a source of women’s spiritual power. A woman’s moontime was also her dreamtime, and Artemisia’s purpose was to help us divine, dream and “see”.
Women have long understood their menstrual cycles are in alignment with the moon’s waxing and waning cycles, and the word menstruation comes from the Greek menus meaning both moon and power. And according to Dr. Christiane Northrup “scientific research has documented that the moon rules the flow of fluids (ocean tides as well as individual body fluids) and affects the unconscious mind and dreams.”
Today it’s no secret that balancing the demands of work and family life leave many modern of sleep – never mind dream – deprived. Could this be affecting our menstrual health? Penelope Shuttle and Peter Redgrove in their 1978 book The Wise Wound, presented a volume of research which found women given more time “to sleep and dream significantly reduced their symptoms of premenstrual tension.” They reported that dreams become significantly lengthier and more complex during the premenstrual phase, and REM (rapid eye movement) “increases towards the end of the cycle, around days twenty-five to thirty.”
Evidence continues to grow indicating that from ovulation to actual menstruation, women’s cycles, sleep and dreaming are connected. Dreams and “dream imagery undergo changes throughout the menstrual cycle” according to this study by the University of the West of England, ‘Women who are premenstrual tend to dream more aggressively, and they are also more likely to remember the dreams”. Dr Chris Idikowski, director of the Edinburgh Sleep Centre, claims there are significant differences in the way men and women dream. ‘Women always remember dreams more than men.”
I find this fascinating considering many different cultures give special importance to dreaming during their bleeding time. Spider is the author of Songs of Bleeding and writes that “in ancient times, the women’s Bleeding Lodge was a structure set apart from the rest of the community where women would go to dream and communicate with the Ancestors.”
Also interesting is the work of Felicity Oswell. She suggests that dreams when shared with others and “acknowledged for their messages” are an active ingredient in what she calls “menstrual alchemy”. Oswell observes that dreaming might also be the cure for undesirable effects of premenstrual syndrome, for “menstrual distress seems to be at a minimum when dreaming and the sharing of dreams is at a maximum”.
So I can’t help wonder if our current epidemic of menstrual disorders might be eased by granting people born as women days off to “lie abed” during their monthlies? Some menstrual activists believe this is the case and as a result, “period” policies granting sick leave for “those” days of the month are popping up around the world.
While some feminists claim this is a huge step for women’s equality, others say these girly card policies threaten a return to the bad old taboos of “moon huts” a time “when a woman’s intelligence was thought to drip out of her body along with her uterus lining.”
I understand that menstruation was once seen as a “monthly sickness” making women unfit for public roles such as paid employment or university study. I understand why 20th century “equality feminism” fought against biological difference, insisting women’s ability to menstruate, lactate and bear children, had no relevance to their participation in the public sphere.
But is rendering women’s periods invisible in the workplace really about equity? Why do women have to erase their differences in order to fit in? Our menstrual cycles regulate thirst, hunger, sleep patterns, libido, endocrine, hormonal and yes, brain function. This is normal.
Which brings me back to Artemisia and her many sisters. Considering her long affinity for the female reproductive system, enhancing all aspects of the menstrual cycle from menarche to menopause – why isn’t Artemisia more widely in use?
Well, Stuart Dean has an interesting viewpoint. In his article Artemis As Artemisia: Ancient Female Spirituality & Modern Medicine, Dean writes that Artemisia’s long-standing use by women “contributed to its marginalization and neglect by a medical profession dominated by men”. And he adds that “Artemisia’s very ubiquity is another contributing factor to what looks suspiciously like willful ignorance about it. For if modern science were to confirm the efficacy to which its traditional medicinal usage attests, then it would mean that those profiteering off of its more expensive and more risky alternatives would be out of business”.
Today pharmaceutical companies are not only offering to medicate away our menstrual problems but get rid of our periods altogether. And the American Association of Reproductive Health Professionals tells us that Menstrual suppression” or OCPS “helps reduce the symptoms that often happen around the time of their monthly bleeding, may help women feel better and have more flexibility in their lifestyle” and can lead to “increased feeling of well-being.”
I’m not sure how eliminating a function that is entwined with every aspect of our biology can lead to increased well-being, but I can’t help but notice that the list of benefits for menstrual suppression: less pain with monthly bleeding, less heavy bleeding, fewer PMS and perimenopausal symptoms, are all naturally handled by Artemisia and her many sisters.
Surely seeing our bodies biological processes as a nuisance to our modern lifestyle has much to do with our current epidemic of menstrual disorders? Artemisia’s use derives from a time when menstrual blood and “moontime” was regarded as a source of women’s spiritual power. Is her ancient reputation as an ally of women’s reproductive cycles connected with her equally long reputation to help us read the dream messages of our body and psyche? Does Artemisia help return us to wholeness?
Susan Roberts writes in her article Blood Sisters “Our dreams across the month, in tandem with the cycles of the moon, and the cycle of menstruation “allow women to access the archetypal feminine energy that can provide self-empowerment, self-expression, self-healing, and self-awareness.” And she concludes “the menstrual cycle is the missing link between women and empowerment.” And that I think, says a lot.
So for those you wanting to reconnect with this amazing plant ally here is a recipe for my favourite dreaming elixir. Ideally it begins with a tincture which utilizes all parts (& powers) of the plant from root to leaf to flower to seed. Once the tincture is ready (6 weeks) you will add a decoction of the roots (which is responsible for this elixir’s emerald colour). While flowering tops are considered best for potency, you can also use the first tender spring leaves- just let them wilt a couple of days before using them.
After letting this tincture sit for six weeks, you will strain off the plant material, add in your root decoction, then mix with honey. I don’t know about you but I love the sweet sensuality of honey during my bedtime rituals!
Artemisia Moontime Elixir
- ⅓ cup of muddled flower tops and leaves. Dried can be used.
- ¼ cup of seeds (these can still be found on last year’s plants)
- 1/2 cup of chopped root (half to be used in the tincture, half in the decoction)
- Approx. 1/2 cup of high proof alcohol
- ¼ cup of honey
- 2 cups of water
- Tincture: Take a small jar, place the leaves, seeds and two tablespoons of your chopped roots inside, then pour over enough alcohol to completely submerge the plant material. Cover and let sit for six weeks in dark place. Give the jar a good shake every week or so.
- After the tincture is ready, you can strain off plant material.
- For the root decoction: Boil 2 cups of water, add the remaining roots and let simmer for 30 minutes (or has boiled down to approximately 1/2 cup of liquid). Let cool and strain.
- Mix the tincture with the root liquid, then add honey, stir well, and rebottle.
- The result can be taken straight up with water or mixed into tea before bed. A tablespoon (or two) should do it!
- Sweet Dreams!
Note: You can also purchase tincture at most places where herbal products are sold. Here are few links to help you work with Artemesia in dreams, as well as other ways you can engage in the magic of Mugwort. (Please be aware if you are pregnant or trying to conceive that Artemesia can stimulate uterine contractions and has been used as an abortifacient).