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Mugwort

 

Synonyms: common wormwood
botanical name: Artemisia vulgaris


Beifuß

 

Mugwort presumably stems from Asia. It was used as a seasoning in China as early as 2000 b.c. Today it grows wild in Europe, Asia and North Africa and has been common to eastern North America and South America for quite some time. The chief cultivating areas are in Western and Central Europe, Brazil, and several countries of the former Soviet Union.

 

In the Middle Ages, mugwort was used instead of hops to brew beer and in the 18th century is was one of the herbs most used in Europe. Today mugwort is used more rarely as a seasoning.

 

Availability

Mugwort is sold almost exclusively dried, although the fresh herb may be found at weekly markets during the summer months.

 

Appearance, taste, characteristics

Mugwort belongs botanically to the family Compositae and is thus a relative of wormwood. It is a bushy-branched herbaceous perennial and grows up to 1.50 m in height. Its leaves are green and smooth on the upper surface, while on the underside they are silvery-white and have a felt-like covering of downy hairs.

 

In late summer, innumerable yellowish to red-brown panicles of blossoms form that are harvested shortly before they open. Some tender young leaves and shoots can also be used for seasoning. During and after the blooming period the panicles become so unpleasantly bitter that, like the large leaves, they cannot be used.

 

Mugwort smells pleasantly aromatic and tastes spicy and slightly pungent with a tart-bitter but mild aftertaste.

 

Ingredients

Essential oil accounts for only about 0.3% of the ingredients, but it gives the plant its pleasantly spicy odour and the wormwood-like taste. The main components of the oil are cineole (or wormwood oil), camphor, borneol, bornyl acetate and linalool.

 

In addition, mugwort contains several bitter substances and flavonoids.

 

Quality criteria, optimal storage conditions

Mugwort must be harvested prior to blossoming, otherwise it tastes too bitter. Normally, only the tips of the shoots stripped of leaves or the inflorescences of the plant are harvested.

 

Fresh mugwort can be kept for only a few days in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. Dried goods will keep for up to a year if they are stored airtight and away from light.

 

Presumed effect on health

In folk medicine, mugwort is given for lack of appetite, menstrual disorders, cramps and diarrhoea. It is said to have a digestive effect when taken after eating fatty meat dishes. Weak infusions from the leaves, shoot tips, and roots are recommended as a restorative tonic. Mugwort has long been considered a remedy for nervous affections.

 

Added to the bathwater, it is also supposed to have a relaxing and calming effect on tired, swollen feet.

 

Form of consumption, use, processing, practical tips for preparation

For seasoning, primarily the still-closed panicles of the mugwort are used, if necessary also a few young leaves. The panicles are usually sold dried and crushed; in summer fresh mugwort can also be bought.

 

Mugwort is a popular seasoning for heavy dishes such as roast duck and goose. It is used to season fatty egg dishes with bacon, pork and lamb, and fish dishes such as eel soup and mackerel.

 

Vegetable and mushroom dishes, salads and sauces also take on a savoury flavour from mugwort. In addition it enhances legumes, soups and sauces and occasionally plates of raw vegetables. Game dishes, onions and beans taste particularly good with mugwort.

 

Mugwort is used industrially in the production of mustard, vinegar, herb-flavoured liqueurs and brandies.

 

Seasoning tip

Mugwort develops its aroma during cooking; therefore it should be added to foods early in preparation. It should always be used sparingly due to its bitter substances.

 

Mugwort does not harmonize well with most other herbs, but it can be used to advantage with garlic, pepper and onions.

 

Miscellaneous

Mugwort extract repels flies and gnats or midges; a potted mugwort plant is also said to be of help indoors.

 

 

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