Mysterious Mugwort & The Chemical Compound Thujone

Thujone: Is It Safe?

Like everyone else, I've gathered Mugwort every year and dried it for culinary use, using it to add flavour to meat dishes and also to infuse milk to make hot chocolate. Lots of people warn about the neurological effects of Thujone, which is a ketone found naturally in Mugwort and many of it's close relatives, such as Wormwood, which was traditionally used as an additive in the powerful alcoholic drink, absinth.

As I do let Arthur have the occasional small mugwort-infused hot chocolate, and also feed him Mugwort-spiced roast pork, I wanted to learn as much as I could about the effects of Thujone to make sure I do so safely and sensibly, but in my studies, have found that it is quite a mysterious chemical, with lots of anecdotal and folkloric-based psychoactive effects that don't appear to have an awful lot of scientific evidence backing them up.

We've all probably heard that Thujone is a hallucinogen, and it's use in absinth is responsible for reports of seeing the "Green Fairy" and also for Vincent Van-Gough cutting his own ear off. It is this, combined with a rich history of folklore, spells, and witchery surrounding wormwood and other Artemisia species that brings a healthy dollop of caution and mystery whenever it's talked about. Scientific research however, has found that Thujone isn't a hallucinogen, and it was likely consuming significant amounts of 60-80% proof alcohol that caused these hallucinogenic effects. It's no surprise to see that other Thujone-containing plants are also steeped in very interesting, and often macabre, myth and tradition, such as Tansy, which is often associated with death. These are amongst the most interesting of plants!

Science does seem to agree that Thujone "may" be toxic in large amounts, which "could" cause seizures and liver damage, but I simply cannot find any dosage restrictions, toxicity exposure levels or any previous Thujone-related poisoning reports - at all - and lack of research into this leads me to think that science obviously doesn't think the risk is great enough to warrant further study.

I personally feel that Mugwort and other Thujone-containing plants are safe when consumed in moderation, such as adding flavour as a herb, or for infusing milk or vinegar. In fact, the main food use of these types of plant is as a culinary herb, and so would therefore warrant only occasional use! After all, we don't tend to chow-down on a plateful of Mugwort, but will use it to add flavour, much like salt (which in large quantities is also bad for us!). This is probably the main reason for the lack of research, but I also think that things like this should be put into perspective - Common Sage also contains up to 50% Thujone concentrations, and yet we don't see warnings on packaging at Tesco, or hear talk of danger when eating our Sunday roast stuffing!

I've included this page so you can make an informed decision about whether or not to allow your child to consume mugwort. We do, in small amounts, but you certainly don't have to.

Tansy is a common aromatic herb with a rich folkloric history. It also contains Thujone. It contains other compounds that can make some sensitive people feel rather unwell - known as Tansy Intoxication - so I have not included it as a find on this website.