A closeup of the leaves of Artemisia douglasiana.

Artemisia Douglasiana – California Mugwort

A closeup of the leaves of Artemisia douglasiana.
A closeup of the leaves of Artemisia douglasiana. The leaves are very distinct, but the easiest way to identify this plant is by its pungent scent after rubbing the leaf. Image credit to NatureShutterbug, released under the Creative Commons License.

Common Name and Other Aliases

Artemisia douglasiana, commonly known as Douglas’ Sagewort or Douglas Mugwort, is a perennial herbaceous plant native to the western United States. The plant is named after David Douglas, a Scottish botanist who collected numerous plant species in the early 19th century during his travels in North America. The plant’s common names, Douglas’ Sagewort and Douglas Mugwort, are derived from his name in recognition of his contributions to botany.


Artemisia douglasiana belongs to the Asteraceae family, also known as the aster, daisy, or sunflower family. This family is one of the largest families of flowering plants, with over 1,620 genera and 23,600 species. The Asteraceae family is characterized by its unique inflorescence and common production of secondary metabolites. The plants in this family play significant roles in ecosystems as providers of food and habitat for wildlife, and many species are used by humans for medicinal purposes, ornamental plants, and food crops.

Distribution and Habitat

Artemisia douglasiana is native to the western United States, specifically in California, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington. It thrives in low, waste places, stream banks, and foothills up to 6000 feet. The plant prefers moist to dry soils and is often found in areas with full sun exposure. Its adaptability to different soil conditions and resilience to drought make it a common species in its native range.

Description of Plant

Douglas’ Sagewort is a stout perennial or herbaceous sub-shrub that can grow 2-8 feet high and wide. The simple or branched stems bear aromatic, gray-green leaves. The plant is deciduous, meaning it sheds its leaves annually. The leaves are lanceolate in shape and are glabrous, or smooth, with entire margins. The plant produces white to yellow flowers from April to November. The fruit of Artemisia douglasiana is a cypsela, a type of dry fruit produced by plants in the Asteraceae family.

In the next part of the article, we will delve into the uses, medicinal properties, and active compounds of Artemisia douglasiana.

Historic and Medicinal Uses

Artemisia douglasiana, or California Mugwort as it’s commonly known, has been a cornerstone in the cultural practices and traditional medicine of Native American tribes. Its leaves, when transformed into a poultice, were a popular remedy for minor injuries and burns, a testament to the plant’s analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties. This information not only highlights the plant’s medicinal uses but also underscores its cultural significance.

Beyond its medicinal applications, California Mugwort was deeply woven into the spiritual fabric of these cultures. It was a key player in purification rituals, believed to possess the power to keep evil spirits at bay. Interestingly, the plant was also used to stimulate vivid and prophetic dreams, with its leaves often placed under a person’s pillow, as detailed in this source.

Active Compounds

The medicinal prowess of Artemisia douglasiana can be attributed to its rich profile of active compounds. One of the primary compounds is artemisinin, a sesquiterpene lactone that has gained scientific interest for its antimalarial properties, as discussed in this study. The plant also houses other beneficial compounds such as flavonoids, terpenoids, and coumarins, all known for their diverse health benefits.

The pharmacological potential of Artemisia douglasiana has been the subject of numerous scientific explorations. The plant’s active compounds have demonstrated a wide range of effects, including anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and antimicrobial activities. Some research even suggests potential applications in cancer treatment, as highlighted in this research paper.

While this section provides an overview of the uses and active compounds of Artemisia douglasiana, it’s worth noting that the plant’s full potential is yet to be completely understood. For a more detailed exploration, further reading and research are recommended.

Nutritional Value

While the nutritional value of Artemisia douglasiana is not well-documented, it’s important to note that many Artemisia species have been used in traditional medicine and as food sources. However, it’s crucial to consult with a knowledgeable professional before consuming any plant, as improper preparation or consumption can lead to adverse effects.


Artemisia douglasiana plays a significant role in its ecosystem. According to a study published in the Journal of Applied Ecology, this plant is a key component of riparian habitats, providing food and shelter for a variety of wildlife. It’s also a host plant for several butterfly species, including the Painted Lady and the American Lady butterflies.

Moreover, the plant’s flowers attract a wide range of pollinators, such as bees and butterflies, contributing to the biodiversity of its habitat. The US Forest Service also notes that the plant’s seeds are a food source for birds and small mammals.

Ornamental Value in the Landscape

Artemisia douglasiana is a versatile plant that can be used in various landscaping applications. Its silvery-green foliage and aromatic leaves make it an attractive addition to gardens. According to Calscape, it’s drought-tolerant and can thrive in a variety of soil types, making it a low-maintenance choice for gardeners.

Poisonous Lookalikes

While there are no known poisonous lookalikes to Artemisia douglasiana, it’s always important to accurately identify plants before use. Misidentification can lead to the consumption or use of harmful plants. For instance, Arctostaphylos hookeri, also known as Hearst’s manzanita, is a plant native to California that could potentially be confused with Artemisia douglasiana due to some similarities in appearance. However, Hearst’s manzanita is not known to be poisonous but is listed as endangered in the state of California (Calflora).

As a general rule, always consult with a knowledgeable professional or use a reliable plant identification guide when dealing with unfamiliar plants.

What is Artemisia Douglasiana used for in medicine?

Artemisia Douglasiana, also known as California mugwort, has been used by Native American tribes for its medicinal properties. It has been used to relieve joint pain and headaches, and to treat abrasions and rashes, including those caused by poison ivy. It’s also been used to address women’s reproductive issues, including irregular menstruation and is occasionally used as an abortifacient. However, it’s important to note that these uses are based on traditional practices, and scientific research is still ongoing to fully understand the plant’s medicinal potential. For more detailed information, you can refer to this Wikipedia article.

Is Artemisia Douglasiana edible?

While some Artemisia species are used as food sources, the edibility of Artemisia Douglasiana is not well-documented. It’s crucial to consult with a knowledgeable professional before consuming any plant, as improper preparation or consumption can lead to adverse effects.

How big do Artemisia Douglasiana get?

Artemisia Douglasiana is a perennial herb that can grow quite tall. Its stems can range in height from 0.5–2.5 metres (1.6–8.2 ft). The plant forms a bushy clump of erect stems covered with narrowly elliptic leaves, making it a substantial presence in the landscape. For more information, you can visit this Gardenia page.

Why is mugwort called sailors tobacco?

The common name “sailor’s tobacco” is believed to come from the practice of sailors smoking the leaves of the plant during long voyages when their tobacco supplies ran out. It’s important to note that while this practice was common in the past, smoking any plant material can have health risks and is not recommended.

What are the ornamental uses of Artemisia Douglasiana?

Artemisia Douglasiana is a versatile plant that can be used in various landscaping applications. Its silvery-green foliage and aromatic leaves make it an attractive addition to gardens. It’s drought-tolerant and can thrive in a variety of soil types, making it a low-maintenance choice for gardeners. It’s also used in restoration projects and for erosion control due to its ability to spread by underground rhizomes, particularly in damp areas. For more information on its ornamental uses, you can visit this Gardenia page.






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