Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium)
Identification: This perennial plant grows from 2 to 4 feet high. The woody rootstock produces many bushy stems which are covered with fine silky hairs. The greenish-white leaves are about 3 inches long by 1-1/2 inches broad, cut deeply and repeatedly
(about three times pinnate), the segments being narrow andblunt. The leaf stalks are slightly winged at the margin. Numerous tiny, yellow-green, rayless flower heads grow in leafy panicles from July to October. The ripe fruits are not crowned by a tuft of hairs, or pappus, as in the majority of the Compositae family.
Habitat: 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.
Family: Compositae (Sunflower family)
Other Names: Absinth, absinthe, absinthium, ajenjo, common wormwood, green ginger, old woman.
Flowers: July – October.
Parts Used: Leaves, flowering tops.
History: Historic references to wormwood go back as far as 1600 BC in Egypt. 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.
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 the name came from, it is one of the most bitter 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.
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 in the world.
Constituents: The chief constituent is a volatile oil, of which the herb yields in distillation from 0.5 to 1.0 per cent. It is usually dark green, or sometimes blue in color, and has a strong odor and bitter, acrid taste. The oil contains thujone (absinthol or tenacetone), thujyl alcohol (both free and combined with acetic, isovalerianic, auccine and malic acids), cadinene, phellandrene and pinene. The herb also contains the bitter glucoside absinthin, absinthic acid, together with tannin, resin, starch, nitrate of potash and other salts.
Properties: Anthelmintic, antiseptic, antispasmodic, aromatic, carminative, cholagogue, febrifuge, narcotic, stimulant, stomachic, and tonic.
Main Uses: Wormwood is used for indigestion, gastric pain, and lack of appetite, as well as the related problems of heartburn and flatulence, fevers, dysentery, asthma, burns, and anemia. It is also said to be helpful for liver insufficiency by stimulating liver and gallbladder secretions. Wormwood is a cardiac stimulant and, when taken in proper doses, acts 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 tea made of wormwood can be applied externally to irritations, bruises, or sprains and 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.
Wormwood also repels insects.The oil will drive away fleas, flies, gnats, moths, ants, worms, etc.
Preparation & Dosages: The leaves and tops are gathered in July and August when the plant is in flower and dried.
Infusion: Steep 2 teaspoons leaves or tops in 1 cup water. Take 1/2 cup per day, a teaspoon at a time.
Oil: A dose is from 2 to 5 drops, 2 to 3 times a day.
Tincture: Take 8 to 10 drops on a sugar cube, 1 to 3 times a day.
Powder: Take 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon, 1 to 3 times a 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. It has been approved as a food additive (flavoring) with thujon removed. Follow dosage closely and use under medical supervision. Do not take large doses.
If you are pregnant, do not use wormwood.