Saturday, June 6, 2015

Mugwort in the kitchen


Chances are, you are surrounded by mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris), a sage-fragrant and palatable herb which is rarely used in most kitchens. But Korean cooks know all about it (they call it ssuk) and I have come across Korean ladies gathering it in the city. My friend Clare - who lived in Korea - has seen it being sold on the street in Brooklyn, because no market stocks it.

Medicinally mugwort (a common name that encompasses other members of the Artemisia genus, so there may be some overlap) is used traditionally to treat a host of ills, from depression to intestinal parasites to menstrual irregularities. Bear in mind that medicinal applications usually use a large and concentrated amount of any herb (and in this case the root, too - always a part of a plant to avoid, if uncertain); culinary quantities are far less potent. But to err on the side of of excessive caution I would steer clear if you are pregnant, wish to be, or are nursing. And people familiar with acupuncture may recognize mugwort as the source of smudgesticks.

I have heard and read claims that mugwort is the source of wild dreams. My dreams are pretty vivid, anyway. Mugwort has had no effect on them. Maybe I don't eat enough. Otherwise it is one of the hand-me-down and unsubstantiated myths that muddies modern foraging waters.

But here is what I have been doing with it recently, as it reaches almost to waist height in the late New York springtime.


Roasting heads of garlic on a bed of mugwort leaves: salt, pepper, some good olive oil, 50 - 60 minutes at 400'F. The garlic turns beautifully soft, the mugwort so crispy you eat it with your fingers, as chips.


And marinating a rack of lamb with chopped mugwort, a grated onion and a bath of Japanese knotweed-black locust flower pickling vinegar, yielded a delicious (if fire-blackened) result.


More pan-roasting - this time with guavas, in season now from subtropical climes. The idea come from Babylonstoren, which serves their farm-grown guavas as an appetizer with thyme and citrus salt.


There is always mugwort salt in my tiny pantry, now,  and I have a jarful of the leaves in vodka, waiting to be turned into a Northeastern vermouth

We are SURE to encounter mugwort next Saturday on Staten Island's wild foods walk, where it is a super-invader, and threatens less aggressive local plants. If you'd like to join us, details are in the link below.

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2 comments:

  1. Great info and great idea, to eat Mugwort, that you find everywhere, also in Europe. It is "Beifuß" here in Germany and it is not very beautiful (and probably not so tasty any more), when it flowers. Before it flowers, it is not too easy to recognize. So I will have to try and identify it for some time, before I am sure and eat it.

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  2. Wow this looks really tasty. Really great ideas and I'll have to implement them soon after hitting the herb market. Looking forward to some vivid dreams!

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