It’s eight a.m., and on the other side of the wall that surrounds the Carmelite monastery, with its well-tended gardens and manicured lawns, a bell announces the hour and echoes order and structure. On the West side of the wall, Artemisia vulgaris stands tall, marking the entrance to the Maguire meadow, one of Montreal’s few remaining wild spaces. She is swaying in the wind, working alongside the other plants here — chicory, tansy, valerian, ragweed, and others — to digest, integrate, and transform the contaminants bequeathed to the soil by its industrial past. The meadow, an old Canadian Pacific railway lot, now provides a glimpse into another side of life. A chaotic place, perfectly arranged. A refuge.
We have tried to remove wildness from the context of our daily lives. We have worked to simplify the natural communities around us, hoping to make our environments more manageable, hoping to be more secure. That has not happened, for a simplified environment is ever more prone to what we call “wild fluctuations” — wild, in this sense, meaning uncontrolled or reckless.
But some people remain who associate wildness with wellness.
Piman-speaking peoples of the American Southwest use the terms doajig for “health” and for “wildness.” Both words are derived from doa, “to be alive” or “to be cured.”
— Gary Paul Nabhan, Cultures of Habitat
Artemisia vulgaris guards the entryways of this liminal space. According to Homer, Artemis is potnia theron — mistress of wild animals. Her silvery-grey flowers, the color of moonlight, announce that this is an untamed place, which makes some people uncomfortable as easily as it makes others feel at home. She affirms what is forgotten and in shadow.
Also known as mugwort or cronewort, Artemisia vulgaris walks and lives among people. As intractable and sturdy as an old hag, she prefers devastated city spaces to bucolic pastures. She is often found in highway dividers or abandoned lots. Like Artemis who cultivated her solitude, Artemisia vulgaris helps us become sure footed, helps us value being alone as a way of centering and grounding ourselves. She is referred to in Russian as Zabytko, the Herb of Forgetfulness. Her strong, camphor-like oils open up ancient memory, clear the cobwebs of forgetfulness, and help us remember ways of healing and living that attend to spirit and soul. When you’ve lost your vision, your senses are dispersed, and you need an ally to help you remember how to dream, Artemisia vulgaris can be smoked, drank, or placed on your brow.
Artemisia vulgaris also aids assimilation. Her stimulating oils and slight astringency strengthen the digestive tract and its ability to ingest and integrate nutrients and minerals. Her deep green leaves are a rich source of B vitamins, ascorbic acid, and vitamin A; she provides a good dose of calcium, potassium, phosphorous, and iron. Regular draughts of her infusion, as well as vinegar made with her leaves, eliminate sluggish digestion, improve appetite, and normalize bile production.
Artemisia vulgaris‘s pain-relieving and warming qualities are well known in China, where for thousands of years, moxa sticks have been used to relieve lower back pain, kidney distress, and chills. Her analgesic abilities can also be drawn out in an oil- or water-based medicine. A bath of infused oil spread lovingly over sore joints relives damaged or inflamed nerves and brings warmth and circulation to the area as it dulls the pain. Artemisia vulgaris was used by First Nations people for her lung-healing capacities, the burned or smoked leaves easing bronchial congestion, her diaphoretic qualities breaking childhood fevers, flus, and colds.
In the Maguire meadow, Artemisia vulgaris helps the land digest and move toward balance. Her green-silvery leaves and flowers remind us of our connection to the world of dreams and wild places. Artemisia awakens us to the magic that is everywhere, and only when we are aware of the earth as poetry, we are alive.
Any attempt to force a wild system into the confines of a formal system is inescapably arbitrary. Wild systems and formal systems inhabit separate dimensions.
— Dale Pendell, Pharmako/poeia
Cronewort Dream Pillow
Cronewort leaves and flowers
Mint leaves (just a pinch)
Flax seeds, 1–2 cups
Silk or flannel, 1 yard
Play with the herb ratio, but always use more cronewort, as it is the strongest for enhancing dreaming. Lemon balm, linden, and chamomile are popular additions as they all have calming properties.
Pour the flax seeds into a bowl. Hold the dried cronewort in your hands and rub it over the bowl, releasing some of the oils as you drop it into the flax seeds. Then add the hops, crushed lavender, and mint. The pillow should feel full, but with some room for the flax seeds to slide around inside it. To make the pouch, cut the silk or flannel into two, place them facing each other (right sides together) and sew along three sides and most of the final side — leaving enough space to pour in the mixture. Add the flax and herb mixture and sew up the final end by hand.