Is this mugwort? Or something else?

Mugwort

Mugwort

After I was introduced to mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris), I went looking for more mugwort plants.  I found lots of them.  And then I became confused because I also saw this plant and was not so sure that it was also mugwort, despite its similar leaf . . .

Common ragweed

Common ragweed

As it turns out, I was able to identify it as common ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia).  Just look at those two scientific names — Artemisia vulgaris and Ambrosia artemisiifolia.  That, in itself, tells me how similar the plants are for the average person — as well as for the botanist!

Now, how can I (or you) tell these two plants apart?  Let’s start with a close look at mugwort.  This photo shows mugwort when it is just beginning to come up in the spring:

Mugwort

Mugwort

And a bit later in the spring . . .

Mugwort

Mugwort

You can see the leaf shape and some of the stems are a bit purple in color.  Now, here is a lovely stand of mugwort during mid-spring:

Mugwort

Mugwort

Mugwort spreads easily and persists in colonies from year to year — just like common ragweed.  Let’s take a closer look at the mugwort leaf . . .

Mugwort

Mugwort

. . .  and the underside of the leaf:

Mugwort

Mugwort

We can see the leaf is deeply cut with what looks like tiny points or prickles at the end of each lobe.  The underside of the leaf is silvery.

As the growing season progresses, mugwort extends upward — with a more narrow overall look to the plant . . .

Mugwort

Mugwort

The growing tip begins developing the inflorescence . . .

Mugwort

Mugwort

The next series of photos shows how the inflorescence develops at the tip of the mugwort plant as well as from various leaf axils.

Mugwort

Mugwort

Mugwort

Mugwort

Mugwort

Mugwort

Here’s a closer view of mugwort’s flowering spike (complete with an ant for purposes of visualizing the scale). . .

Mugwort

Mugwort

. . . and an even closer view of the mugwort flowers . . .

Mugwort

Mugwort

Let’s switch our attention back to common ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia).  Here it is as it begins its growth for the season . . .

Common ragweed

Common ragweed

Later in the early growing season . . .

Common ragweed

Common ragweed

In the above photo you can see some darker coloration along the top of each leaf’s petiole — similar to the more purple looking coloration of mugwort’s stems.  The common ragweed has hairy stems — as does mugwort!

Let’s look more closely at the common ragweed leaf . . .

Common ragweed

Common ragweed

Those leaves still look just like mugwort’s leaves.  Deeply cut or lobed.  Tiny points on the end of the lobes.  Same basic leaf shape.

As the growing season continues, common ragweed grows upward.  Here it is with its developing inflorescences . . .

Common ragweed

Common ragweed

A closer view of the developing inflorescences . . .

Common ragweed

Common ragweed

Well, those look a bit different from mugwort’s developing inflorescences.  Aahhh, now here is a distinguishing characteristic.  Common ragweed’s flower spike looks much different from mugwort’s . . .

Common ragweed

Common ragweed

This close-up view of common ragweed shows both its staminate (male) flowers — at the upper right — and its pistillate (female) flowers — at the lower center:

Common ragweed

Common ragweed

[For more images of common ragweed -- as compared to greater ragweed -- check out this previous post.]

After studying all these images, how do I tell the plants apart?  Especially early in the growing season before the flowers develop?  Well . . .  the key is to use my nose and not my eyes!  Mugwort has a distinctive, strong “herbal” odor when I crush and smell its leaves.  Common ragweed has very little odor to its bruised leaves.  I invite you to visit these two plants and use the smell test on them.

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27 Responses to Is this mugwort? Or something else?

  1. Bobby says:

    Excellent resource. Thank you for your hard work!

  2. Judy says:

    Beautiful pictures and a great resource! Can’t wait to go outside and look for these.

  3. Mary says:

    When I saw your beautiful pictures of mugwort I was thrilled to recognize a very familiar “weed” that I’ve been pulling out of my garden every year. Now that I know what it is I will leave a patch and try using it for tea. I’ve heard that it’s good for inducing vivid dreams. Does any one know more about that?

    Thank you so much!

    • Mugwort does indeed bring about lucid dreaming or dream recall, which can be a positive experience for one who wishes to remember his/her dreams. This can be accomplished with a very small amount of the herb (dried or fresh) in a dream pouch or satchel and tucked under the pillow or placed beside the place of sleeping on a table.
      HOWEVER, if one already possesses the ability to recall dreams or is a lucid dreamer, Mugwort may very well bring about very disturbing night terrors and nightmares (literally your worst dreams). I speak from experience. I am a wildcraft herbalist and believe that Mugwort has definite psychic properties and medicinal benefits as well. (Sweet Dreams).

  4. vicki says:

    All I can say is that this was an explanation I have been searching for. Thank you so much.

  5. pattianne pascual says:

    your photos are excellent.the very first picture looks like wormwood to me instead of mugwort.notice the leaves are more “rounded” and scalloped,compared to the very pointy leaves of the rest of your mugwort photos.i too find myself confused with lookalikes.if anyone figures it out please let me know.i found pointy mugwort but no wormwood to put side by side to compare them.very important to know the difference as I will be using it as food and medicine. animalempath@hotmail.com

    • Angelyn says:

      Pattianne, I congratulate you on your close study of the photos and plants which interest you. The first photo is actually Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris). It’s at a stage of growth which can be confusing. And plants do not always, every time, fit exactly the mental image we construct of them. We have to allow for “plant variation.” Secondly, I wanted to let you know that another common name for Mugwort is “Common wormwood.” Therefore, it turns out you are correct, too, in your assessment of the plant in the first photo looking like Wormwood.

  6. Kitty says:

    Wonderful educational site! Thank you for this. I’m going to find some Mugwort now:-)

  7. Lynne says:

    I was introduced to Mugwort up in Northern Va – a Korean friend of mine found it growing wild and was very excited. She used for tea and when doing some search on the herb found it has many medicinal uses. I am now in coastal NC and had a small amount from Va, trying to grow here in the sandy soil. So far it is growing, but I may also have common weeds that look so similar, this article is very helpful. I am watching my plants carefully to be sure I have my special Mugwort.

  8. Wapaq says:

    Hi
    I was trying to find out if a certain plant in my yard is ragweeed. It smells like a skunky pungent citrus like smell and it lingers in the air. I can smell it and it’s quite strong. Also, the stem is strong and looks like a hemp stem on the inside. The plant has a flowering top looks like buds with tiny yellow flowers. It’s definitely not cinquefoil or anything near that. Help me please??

  9. sally says:

    Interesting photos. My Mugwort looks like and smells like chrysanthemum… but my Mugwort has never flowered. I’ve been trying to eradicate it from my garden for the past 23 years! And this year I definitely have to try and get rid of it, as my puppy got a hold of some it (in her mouth) and has lost pigment on her muzzle where the Mugwort came in contact, i.e., contact dermatitis. I am hoping to the pigment comes back.

    Any suggestions on how to get rid of this pesty plant would be greatly appreciated…

    • Angelyn says:

      I’ve done my best to limit the areas in which I allow Mugwort to grow. As I’ve read and experienced — and it sounds like you’ve experienced, too — even the least bit of root matter remaining in the soil can sprout into a new plant. I suppose there are chemical methods which would work. I just choose to keep on pulling and digging it up.

  10. Thanks so much! I had tons of this growing out in my pasture and the goats love it…. but wasn’t sure if it was mugwort or something else. Now I know it’s ragweed. Thanks for clearing this up for me.

  11. James Welch says:

    Im trying to figure out if i stumbled upon some wild mugwort, i know the color is usually purple but i know there are strands that turn orange, I’ve also learned the purple leaf is better for spicing food, while the orange is what helps in vivid dreaming. Any comments?

    • Angelyn says:

      James, I have not heard of distinctions between “purple leaf” and “orange” for mugwort. Nor for how any color variations might be useful for food vs. dreaming. I’ve only used the dried leaves of Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) for tea.

  12. This is such an incredible documentation of the plant and its distinctive features…during its life cycle! Great job and I so appreciate the information. I am posting a link to this discussion on my FB page to amplify a conversation we are having there about Mugwort Essential Oil. http://www.facebook.com/AudreGutierrez.ShiningSunAromatherapy

    Beautiful, illustrative pictures. Again…thank you so much. Audre

  13. joe says:

    yes it is mudwort it spread from over 4 yards away to my garden lawn and shrubs i took a sample to extension of pa.state university plant pathology it came from va. and nc. the best time to kill the weed is late summer and early fall using a sprayer with a material called stinger i have been trying to kill this weed for over 15 years and still shows up i even placed roots on blacktop driveway at 95 deg. temp and it still grew keeping the plants cut down will starve the roots hope this helps

  14. Madronna says:

    Sorry folks and for all your hard work in these photos, but what you started with here is NOT mugwort (at least not the California mugwort indigenous to the Pacific Northwest)– mugwort of all types has silver undersides on its leaves. Check out this page for the “real” mugwort: http://www.calflora.org/cgi-bin/species_query.cgi?where-taxon=Artemisia+douglasiana.
    What you seem to have here instead is motherwort…as for the ragweed, you might be right, I have not seen or identified it around here (the Pacific Northwest).

    • Angelyn says:

      Madronna, this is Artemisia vulgaris — aka Mugwort. The underside of its leaves are silvery (as you commented). This can be seen in the seventh photo above. I agree this is not Artemisia douglasiana — a different species which has the same common name and is also known as California mugwort.

      Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca) leaves are different from either plant featured in this post. Images and related links with more info about Motherwort can be found at the USDA Plants Database: http://plants.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=LECA2

  15. Allison says:

    Thank You, Thank you!!!! I have a lot of both and was growing very confused. You cleared it all up for me. Now the Wormwood and Common Wormwood? I am assuming are different because the Common Wormwood is another name for the Mugwort. More researching needed now…..

  16. That was an excellent comparison and belongs in a book! I like how your explained it, the photos, and more. You are the sort of person PlantForagers would welcome as another expert forager (amongst our authors & others). Please consider joining. I will meanwhile post a link to this website so others there may see this, too.

    Sam Schaperow, M.S.
    http://tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/PlantForagers
    http://tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/MushroomTalk

  17. Gina says:

    I have some plants growing wild and can’t tell if it’d it’s ragweed or not. Anyway for me to send a photo in hopes of identification? Thank you.

    • Angelyn says:

      Gina, you may send a photo to me at the following address:
      angelyn AT identifythatplant DOT com
      I’ll look at the photo to see if I can help you identify your plant.

  18. Michael says:

    Great page, thanks. I found this lovely herb growing in the rocks alongside my fence and left it alone, as everything I planted there died ;-) Now that I know it’s ragweed I’m tempted to pull it- but the foliage is very pretty for now.

  19. ricky says:

    The common ragweed leave look more like a fern.

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