The mugwort plant (艾蒿 or more affectionately as 黄草) has a distinct feature that can be described as beautifully mangled.
Mugwort, also known as artemisia vulgaris or artemisia leaf, is an aromatic plant whose extract is commonly used these days in beauty products such as soap, candles and essential oil.
It’s pinnatifid leaves can look as if a beast has taken a bite at it, leaving a naturally alluring design of irregularity.
When a serrated leaf is depicted in Chinese art, it almost certainly is referring to a mugwort leaf. This in turn can be a reflection of the 8 precious objects in which it is a part of.
The significance of this plant can be observed when it is used as a symbol for badges, most prominently during Duan Wu Jie. Things don’t get such recognition unless they really mean something.
On this particular festival held on the 5th day of the 5th month, mugwort were picked and hung at the door. This was supposed to protect the residents from poison.
In TCM, mugwort is a special medicinal plant with yang qualities that is used as ingredient for the treatment of conditions such as the various types of blood vacuity and diseases caused by “coldness”.
It is also the plant used in the specialized acupuncture technique known as moxibustion. This method of treatment is supposed to improve blood circulation and stimulate chi within the body.
In spirituality practices and Taoist rituals, mugwort is a magical herb used to call for protection, dispel evil and enabling psychic vision. Which is why it’s no surprise to find it popular these days in the making of incense products.
A ritual of particular interest where the mugwort plays a critical role is one called the solar mirror (陽燧). This ritual calls on the fire of heaven to banish evil entities.
Another ritual meant to enhance the ability and capacity of the “third eye” involves the making of mugwort tea.
Because of the protective and healing symbolism of mugwort, artwork consisting of poisonous animals are often accompanied by this mugwort leaves. This represents that wish for the positive aspects of the animals but having it’s negative aspects (poison in particular) neutralized.