yarrow & mugwort

Edward O. Wilson, an entomologist at Harvard, coined the term biophilia to describe our love of living things — our innate affinity with nature. He cautioned: “The one process now going on that will take millions of years to correct is the loss of genetic and species diversity by the destruction of natural habitats. This is the folly our descendants are least likely to forgive us.”

We have all been enchanted by the beauty of our natural world. It is a distinctly powerful feeling that cannot be elicited by manicured lawns, nor by finely mulched gardens. Instead it is wild places — peacefully left untouched from man’s meddling hands — that have the capacity to stir something deep within us. In many ways, the wildness in nature reminds us of the wildness within ourselves. Like twins, we long for each other, our souls thirsting to remember our place in this divine and mysterious web. The wild plants call to us, those that grow in untamed meadows and ancient forests. These wild plants radiate a vibrancy and an essence unmatched by their cultivated counterparts. When standing among wild plants, I feel as though I can hear their quiet, gentle, and ageless whispers nudging me to remember. There are references to these plants scattered like seeds throughout our folklore and earliest mythologies. Many wild plants were regarded with the highest respect and admiration, revered for their healing properties.

My two favorite among these are Yarrow (Achilliea millefolium) and Mugwort (Artemesia vulgaris). Both have a long history of folkloric magic and healing.

Sixty-thousand-year-old Yarrow pollen was discovered on fossils in Neolithic caves. The genus Achillea is thought to have come from the legendary Greek hero Achilles, who used yarrow to stop bleeding and to disinfect wounds during the Trojan war. Its efficacy in treating battle wounds continued, leading to its common name: Soldier’s woundwort. Yarrow is also well known for its connection to the spirit world. The first record of its spiritual use dates back over 3,000 years to China, where yarrow stalks were used as the original divination tools in the I Ching or Book of Changes. Indigenous Americans understood yarrow to have mystical powers and would drink its tea to increase psychic awareness and to assist in spiritual guidance. Yarrow is used in dream pillows, along with mugwort, to bring on clairvoyant dreams.

Mugwort is a member of the Artemesia family, and is specifically associated with Artemis, one of the most widely venerated of the Ancient Greek deities, the goddess of the hunt and all things wild. She is often portrayed in a forest, carrying a bow and arrows and accompanied by deer. Associated with the moon, Artemis is also the guardian of women, childbirth, and fertility. Mugwort connects us to the feminine world of receptivity, inner strength, knowing, and intuition.

It is a joy for me to meet yarrow and mugwort growing today, wild, in fields and meadows. The medicinal properties of these plants has been carefully researched and documented. We should ensure they have ample habitat to grow and thrive. As modern culture evolves, we would do well to include the medicinal lore of these important allies.

Source: Edward O. Wilson, Biophilia, 1984, p.121.

Hettie Ayla McNulty

Ayla McNulty is an herbalist living in Vermont. She has been influenced and inspired by her studies of Folkloric Herbalism, Shamanism, Eco-Psychology and Eastern Spirituality. Ayla lives to deepen her relationship with the natural world by witnessing the beauty and the abundance around her.

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