Moonwort: Notes on External Use
Taking a hint from indigenous peoples throughout the West, I use Moonwort for damn near everything. Yes, I’ve written about it before (here and here, for example) but I do like to repeat myself so I’ll go on about it a bit more now. Nearly every herbalist seems to have a favorite topical cure all or two. I, however, have four: Alder, White Sage, Larrea and Moonwort (like a true Southwestern herbalis, heh). Oh, and Cottonwood and Plantain and Yarrow and and and. Sheesh.
There’s this strange phenomenon in herbal books that says we should harvest Moonwort/Mugwort (Artemisia spp.) when in flower or bud stage for all uses. Hmm. The volatile oil content drops dramatically during flowering, and that may be desirable for tincture use in some cases, but I don’t find it ideal for oil at all. So usually I make oil from fresh smelly green bits in mid spring, and then I make oil from flowering tops later in the summer. Then I combine the oils to use in my favorites salves, liniments and massage oils. It seems to work extra nice in my opinion, and has a certain rich scent you can’t get from either on their own.
Moonwort is broadly antibacterial against many unpleasant little microbes, including most fungus and some viruses (both Herpes I and II). It’s also very noticeably anti-inflammatory, and topical use can penetrate all the way through to muscles, tendons, ligiments and so on. I’ve used it many times on various kinds of injuries, pulled muscles (best with Goldenrod), insect stings (best with Plantain, Yarrow or Peach), contusions (nice with Cottonwood), cuts, infections, nerve pain (with Larrea and/or Sweet Clover) and especially in anything itchy and irritated like contact dermatitis and poison ivy (use the diluted tincture or a fomentation, not the oil). It’s absolutely my first choice for anyone who thinks they’ve just gotten into some poison ivy. Wash the area well first, then douse well with diluted tincture (or vinegar) or a strong tea, this can also be used in combination with Grindelia (failing that, Yarrow will work well too).
Just as when taken internally, Moonwort has a talent for moving energy which also means that it helps allay pain, quicken recovery time and prevent pooling of blood (bruising) or energy that could result in chronic pain from a poorly healed injury. It’s incredibly multi-purpose and combines well with many other herbs. I don’t see it that often in salves, but it’s a wonderful choice for any all-purpose salve. It’s also my most common spit poultice for nearly anything, not because it tastes good (it sure doesn’t, though that bitterness will help you digest your food) but because it’s everywhere here. It may be the single most common plant in the canyon.
My relationship with Moonwort all started years ago when I first met Darcey Blue. I’d just moved to the Gila from the Blue Ridge Mountains, and Darcey’d come to the canyon for a gathering. She promptly began gathering up medicinal plants for us, and she harvested and dried a jar of sweet little Mugwort sprigs for us. I can’t even remember what she told me about the plant, just that she was very enthusiastic about it. Later on, she recommended it to me for various belly troubles and it worked wonderfully. Thanks Darcey!
For some women, Moonwort infused oil also makes a great uterine massage oil for cramps, achiness and general reproductive malaise. This plant has a certain affinity for the reproductive system, and can sometimes even help focus and center labor pains when rubbed over the womb area.
Loba recently hurt her foot and damaged the muscles in the center of the bottom of her foot. The injury hurt bad enough to cause a slight limp and even after a week or so didn’t really improve. I then suggested she soak it in a strong infusion of Moonwort several times a day. Two days of this and the foot was fifty percent better, so of course she promptly stopped doing it, thinking it would finish up on it’s own. But week later her foot hadn’t healed any further at all. When she resumed the soaks, the foot recovered completely. Nice.