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Wormwood

  • Artemisia absinthium L.
  • Artemisia abrotanum L.
  • Compositae
  • Composite family



Common Names

herbsAbsinth
herbsAbsinthe
herbsAbsinthium
herbsAjenjo
herbsCommon wormwood
herbsGreen ginger
herbsOld woman


Parts Usually Used

Leaves, flowering tops


Description of Plant(s) and Culture

Wormwood's woody rootstock produces many bushy stems, which grow from 2-4 feet high and bear alternate, bi- or tri-pinnate leaves with long, obtuse lobes. Numerous tiny, yellow-green, rayless flower heads grow in leafy panicles from July to October.

The stem of wormwood is branched, and firm, almost woody at the base. The stem is covered with fine silky hairs, as are the leaves. The leaves themselves are 3 inches long by one broad, thrice pinnate with linear, blunt segments. They are grayish-green and have a distinct odor.

Wormwood is not heat tolerant. Zones 4-10.

There are other varieties of wormwood. Annual wormwood (Artemisia annua L.) otherwise known as Sweet Annie, is a bushy plant 1-9 feet tall; used in the treatment of malaria. Related to A. absinthium, it is not poisonous but may cause dermatitis. A. heterophylla; Paiute name is "Kose-wiup," At Owyhee, Nevada, a basket was used to steep these wormwood leaves, and put them next to a baby's skin to reduce fever. The Shoshone name for this herb is "Pava hobe," California Native Americans called it "Poonkinny." Packets of steamed plants were placed on limbs for rheumatism, and a sweat bath given. Another wormwood, (A. gnaphalodes), Paiute and Shoshone gave the same names as to A. heterophylla. They made a tea called "Ba wa zip," (young people's tea). Smoky Valley Tea and steam bath was for young girls approaching maturity.


Where Found

Found in waste places and along roadsides from Newfoundland to Hudson Bay and south to Montana. Wormwood is a native plant in Europe, from where it was introduced into North America.


Medicinal Properties

Anthelmintic (kills intestinal worms), antiseptic, antispasmodic, aromatic, carminative, cholagogue (stimulates flow of bile), febrifuge (reduces fever) , narcotic, stimulant, stomachic, tonic


Biochemical Information

Absinthol which is common to all worm-woods, in addition to other essential oils including pinene, cineol borneol phenol cuminic aldehyde, artemisia ketone.


Legends, Myths and Stories

This is the bitterest of herbs.

Wormwood's name is obviously derived from its medicinal property of expelling intestinal worms for which it has been well known since ancient times. An Egyptian papyrus dated 1,600 years before Christ describes this bitter herb.

Legend has it that this plant first sprang up on the impressions marking the serpent's tail as he slithered his way out of Eden. According to folk beliefs, wormwood was reputed to deprive a man of his courage, but a salve made from it was supposed to be effective in driving away goblins who came at night.

Wormwood is a principal ingredient in the dangerous alcoholic drink absinthe, which has been made illegal all over the world because it deteriorates the nervous system, causing attacks similar to epileptic seizures. Absinthe is a bitter, aromatic, alcoholic drink that was very popular in Italy, France, and Switzerland during the 19th century. Because of the addictive nature of wormwood and the frequent side effects when absinthe was used to excess (dizziness, seizures, stupor, delirium, hallucinations, and even death) it has now been banned in nearly every country of the world.

Wormwood planted as a border, it keeps animals from the garden.

It got its generic name from Artemis, the Greek name for Diana, because she discovered the plant's virtues and gave them to mankind. Another story has it that it is named for Artemisia, Queen of Caria, who gave her name to the plant after she had benefited from its treatments. Wherever its name came from, it is one of the bitterest herbs known. Its common name comes from its ability to act as a wormer in children and animals. It was used in granaries to drive away weevils and insects, and was used as a strewing herb in spring to drive fleas away.

It contains large amounts of a toxic substance called absinthin, which will wash off the leaves of the plant and into the ground nearby, inhibiting the growth of closely planted herbs or plants.


Uses

Wormwood is above all a stomach medicine, being useful for indigestion, gastric pain, and lack of appetite, as well as the related problems of heartburn and flatulence, fevers, dysentery, asthma, burns, anemia. It is also said to be helpful for liver insufficiency by stimulating liver and gallbladder secretions, jaundice. Wormwood is a cardiac stimulant and therefore acts, when taken in proper doses, to improve blood circulation. Wormwood tea has been recommended to help relieve pain during labor. The powdered flowering tops have been used to expel intestinal worms and other parasites. A fomentation of wormwood tea can be applied externally to irritations, bruises, or sprains. A wash of the tea will relieve itching from rashes. The oil acts as a local anesthetic when applied to relieve pains of rheumatism, neuralgia, lumbago, tuberculosis, and arthritis.

The vinegar from boiled wormwood is good for halitosis, either from gums, teeth, or sour stomach.

Also, repels moths; put in closets, chests, etc., no problem with moths. Scatter lavishly between the folds of clothing, dried wormwood, and wrap each article in newspaper before packing away winter clothing. Wormwood was used in considerable quantities by cloth manufacturers according to one old herbal. Mugwort, related to wormwood, was also used to protect clothes from moths. The oil of wormwood, rubbed on, will drive away fleas, flies, gnats, and worms. A few leaves of green wormwood, scattered where black ants have become troublesome pests, is said to be effective in dislodging them.


Formulas or Dosages

Infusion: steep 2 tsp. leaves or tops in 1 cup water. Take 1/2 cup per day, a tsp. at a time.

Oil: A dose is from 2 to 5 drops, 2-3 times per day.

Tincture: take 8 to 10 drops on a sugar cube, 1-3 times per day.

Powder: take 1/4 to 1/2 tsp., 1 or 3 times per day.


Warning

Pure wormwood oil is poisoning. Relatively small doses may cause nervous disorders, convulsions, insomnia, nightmares, and other symptoms. Flowers may induce allergic reactions. Has been approved as a food additive (flavoring) with thujon removed. Follow dosage closely and use under medical supervision. Do not take large doses.

Contraindicated in pregnancy. If you are pregnant, do not use wormwood.

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