Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium)
The benefits of the Wormwood have long been documented and has several benefits and remedies known to man. The following is an in depth look at the constitution and value of the herb and the most beneficial ways to make use of it.
History & Origin
The herb known as Wormwood comes from the plant family of Compositae, genus Artemisia and the specific species absinthium. The genus Artemisia contains over 180 species, making Wormwood quite the herb to be reckoned with out of all other species classification.
It is naturally grows in the more temperate clime zones such as Europe, North Africa and Asia, however more recently it is being grown in North America due to a higher demand (mainly due to the growing interest of holistic medicine).
The name Wormwood has several origins and is mostly referred to for its bitter taste. The Romans referred to it as “Absinthium” that is derived from the Latin word “absinthial” roughly translated to “bitter”. It’s not exactly sure where the word Wormwood was directly derived, however it has been speculated that it may come from the Anglo-saxon word “wermode” that comes to be translated as “waremode” or also “mind preserver”.
The Greeks, thinking the bitter quality of Wormwood to be undrinkable, called it “absinthion” and yet they honored the goddess Artemisia (Goddess of the Hunt) with a form of the concentrated substance. It was most typically used over 3500 years ago to help in the expulsion of intestinal worms–hence the name WORMwood.
The highly noted Greek physician Hippocrates would prescribe it to women for the menstrual pains and to combat common occurrence of anemia, jaundice and rheumatism.
As far back as the 16th century, Wormwood has been used for many classic remedies, including the ailments it remedies today. However, the remedies it was meant to help with back in the 16th century may be something scoffed at or frowned upon in today’s modern medicine world.
Wormwood was thought to counteract most of the poisonous effects of hemlock and toadstools. If ever bitten by a sea dragon, Wormwood was a source of comfort to the victim. However, it is still used as a common remedy to help heal open wounds.
In Mexican culture, it was customary during their festival to honor the Goddess of Salt to have the women wear head garlands entwined with Wormwood while they ceremoniously danced together.
An old folklore that is sometimes still practiced, is to mix Wormwood with marjoram, thyme, virgin honey and vinegar before you go to bed on St. Luke’s Day and anoint yourself with it to dream of your true partner “that is to be”. It will only work, however if you repeat the following chant three times:
“St. Luke, St. Luke, be kind to me,
In dreams let me my true-love see.”
Wormwood was also intentionally used in large scale brewery’s instead of hops, before the FDA deemed it “unsafe” for consumption, because it resisted putrefaction.
Potential Early Health Issues
During the prohibition, about the same time that Wormwood was being used in brewery, it has been said that the key ingredient, absinthin, was known to cause brain damage and even death, which resulted in it being banned in the 20th century–this was later found to be a myth (although large amounts of distilled absinthe can cause severe side effects) and wild conspiracy thought of by the Prohibitionists and the wine industry.
Popular Variations & Common Uses:
Besides being a common ingredient for brewing beer and distilling alcohol, Wormwood has most famously lent it’s uses to the French spirit Absinthe, but because of the extremely dangerous oil absinthol that the it contains it has been banned in most countries (including the U.S.). The oil absinthol and the active ingredient thujone has been proven to contribute to nerve depression, severe mental impairment and even the loss of all reproductive function if used over a long period of time.
Wormwood flavoring can also be found in the German drink Vermouth and is also commonly used in the flavoring of food today, however it is used in much smaller quantities and is ever hardly concentrated.
An alternative use for Wormwood comes in the form of commercial and residential landscaping. The towering three to four foot herb is a favored filling technique for professional landscapers and the yellow blooms that the herb produces in the summer time is a bonus when looking for that extra pop of color.
In terms of general benefits of the herb Wormwood, it has been proven to help with many things, however it is mainly used in the holistic aspect of medicinal use. It is most commonly consumed either as a hot tea or a tincture to be taken before meals and is favorably used for:
- Stimulating the digestive tract and gallbladder function
- Effective trigger of producing excessive amounts of bile which aids in the function of the gallbladder
- Typically mixed with peppermint and/or caraway (in a tea) to aid in the calming of heartburn and IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome)
- Expelling of intestinal worms
- Stimulate feminine menstruation.
- Stimulates cerebral hemispheres and directly stimulates the cortex cerebri which may aid in nervous diseases like neurasthenia
- Common muscle relaxant
- May help to quicken the process of childbirth and help with the expulsion of the afterbirth (it is not recommended however due to the toxicity of the herb)
- Known to treat anxieties by being used a mild sedative
- Stimulates poor circulation and aids in the relief of painful rheumatic joints by using the leaves a compress
- Stimulates/remedies a poor appetite
Wormwood has become a highly popularized herb that is commonly used in the prominent and ever growing field of holistic medicine. Like mainly organic herbs, Wormwood has been known to help in the overall general function and cleanliness of many internal organs.
Legal status & potential side effects:
While Wormwood is openly bought and sold at markets both online and off, it is the active ingredients and natural oils that the herb contains that make it a potential dangerous product.
The key ingredient Thujone, which is a chemical similar to that of tetratetrahydocannibinol or THC that is active ingredient in the illegal substance marijuana, has been found to be unsafe by the FDA because of Section 801A in the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act of 1972 that bans the specific additive of thujone in any food product (alcohol being included).
This is mainly the reason the illegal status of the alcohol Absinthe that is still banned in the United States as well as many European countries (excluding the United Kingdom, Spain, Portugal, Andorra, Sweden, Denmark and the Austro-Hungarian Empire).
Is it All Hype?
However, the overall hype of Absinthe is characterized as being overplayed and over exaggerated. The psychoactive abilities of the alcohol are not as bad as previously thought and the addictive allegations (mainly due to the presence of the active ingredient Thujone that is present in the controlled substance marijuana) are far fetched and false.
As long as the consumer who purchases the herb is only intending to use it for personal use and not for whole sale profit of the concentrated, distilled substance that is Absinthe, then the issues of legality are moot.
The complete list of ingredients found in the herb Wormwood are as follows:
(absinthol, azulene,s glycosides, flavonoids, thujyl, thujone, sesquiterpene lactones)
Because Wormwood contains such active and controversial ingredients, the potential side effects are subject to the individual. These side effects include:
- Diarrhea (from the excessive production of bile and the secretion of the intestines, meaning to empty the bowels quickly)
moderate to heavy sedation
- It should not be taken over a longer period of time than four weeks or larger amounts in a single period because it can cause nausea, vomiting, insomnia, restlessness, vertigo, tremors and seizures.
- It may be habit forming due to the active ingredients found in it and should not be taken over long periods of time
- Those with pre-existing ulcers or gastritis conditions should not consume wormwood due to the irritable properties it contains which may exacerbate these conditions excessive use of the herb may result in nerve damage
As with any new health regiment, you should always consult a health care physician before proceeding with any introduction of a new or medicinal substance; it is best to consult a professional who has extensive knowledge or experience with medicinal herbs. If any adverse effects due occur after consuming Wormwood, the consumer should stop consumption immediately and consult a health care professional.
Typical Dosage/Usage & Preparation:
As stated above, Wormwood should not be taken for more than four weeks at a time and only the recommended dosage should be taken to avoid adverse side effects.
Wormwood can be consumed many different ways, but the most typical and effective way to get results is by drinking it in a tea or consuming it by tincture.
To Compose an Herbal Infusion of Wormwood Tea:
- Take a 1/2 a full teaspoon (also 2.5 to 5 grams) worth of crushed herb
- Add to 1 cup (also 250 ml) of boiling water
- Let steep in boiling water for ten to fifteen minutes
- (optional) Steep with peppermint or caraway or any other masking herb to the mix to help conceal the bitter flavor of the boiled Wormwood and also to achieve a more poignant form of health benefits (i.e. IBS, heartburn, etc.)
- A total of three cups (750ml) of Wormwood tea may be consumed daily and should not exceed use longer than four weeks.
To effectively add a tincture:
- Form a concentrated/distilled extract of the herb Wormwood
- Add 10-20 drops of extract to a glass of water (250ml)
- Take at least ten to fifteen minutes before each meal (this is meant to help with stimulating a poor appetite)
Important: Do not exceed use of extract longer than four weeks and take no more than three times a day and take no more than one 250ml glass of diluted tincture before each meal.
The consumption of Wormwood by smoking has no effect what so ever and should not be used regularly as a sedative.
Product Cost & Market
Wormwood can be found both offline and online and is mostly commonly sold by noted herbalists or natural food shops in bulk. By buying in bulk, you have a better chance for saving per bundle. Also, concentrated tinctures can be purchased online or in food stores as well.
The going cost for bulk Wormwood, whether they be organic, dried, or mixed ranges from about $4 to $10 dollars and is most commonly sold in concentrated tinctures. Most are infused with pleasing flavors such as walnut or peppermint to mask the bitterness.
It may also be found in capsulated forms at any store that contains a generic vitamin aisle.
Wormwood is fairly inexpensive and can even be grown in a simple herb garden for an enthusiast and it is the best way to access fresh Wormwood during its optimal growing season which is mid-summer, specifically June to August when the herb is picked and dried.
To Grow Wormwood:
As with almost any herb, a shady area is idyllic. All seeds, roots should be sown by mid autumn (to achieve optimal ripeness of the seeds) and placed at least two feet apart to allow natural expansion of growth. Nothing else is required in caring for this herb, as it naturally grows wild in most parts of the U.S anyway and is meant to be a withstanding plant, most commonly used in professional landscaping.
Keep free of weeds and expect an explosion of growth to come mid May or early June.
Each plant should be gathered, and separated in July or August and dried in the traditional form of drying flowers by hanging from a clothesline or any suspended wire that has access to fresh air and sun.
Before drying effectively, the upper green portion of the flower should be separated from the lower parts of the stems which will be discarded and eliminate any insect eaten or discolored leaves. Loosely bundle in groups of six that match in both size and length (this is important when packing the groups of stalks together) and fan out to allow the air to get to each individual stalk.
Hang on any wire or line with access to air on a day with plenty of sun and warmth, however hang in half shade so as not to tinder the leaves. If dried in direct sunlight, the aromatic properties of the Wormwood (which is the most prized part of collecting Wormwood) will be lost.
It is a general rule that all aromatic herbs should be dried in a temperate setting that does not exceed 70 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit.
If there is no available sun to dry the herb, use a covered shed or greenhouse that is properly ventilated to expel the moist, warm air. To substitute the warmth of the sun, a anthracite or coke stove may be used to heat the room, but take caution to keep all windows open for proper ventilation.
Finishing the Process
If the leaves are still crisp the stalks are not fully dried, hang over a stove, with enough distance between stove and herb to avoid it catching on fire, and they will quickly dry.
After the drying process is complete, it is crucial to store the dried herbs, (equal in length and size) in air tight boxes to avoid the absorption of moisture from the air (typically the herb is capable of absorbing back 12% of the moisture, ruining the batch).
From then you may enjoy you’re fresh Wormwood and either crush it down to make for tea or process further to use the extract in a tincture.
While the Greeks and Romans believed it a bitter substance that would aid only if one was bitten by a sea dragon, consumed a poisonous mushroom or seeking for your one true love, Wormwood is a fantastic herb that can be used to aid in several areas of health related issues. Mostly drunk in the form of a peppermint or caraway tea, it can help aid in digestion, clear the intestinal tract, aid in the relief of IBS, help prevent liver dysfunction, gallbladder function and as a mild sedative.
The herb contains the ingredients thujone and absinthol and should be taken with precaution. The use of Wormwood should not extend longer than the duration of four weeks and and no more than three cups of Wormwood tea should be consumed at one time.
Find an Expert
As always, it’s best to consult a health care professional or someone who has expert knowledge in the consumption of herbs as a means of holistic medicine. As with several herbs, Wormwood may have adverse side effects, such as diarrhea, nerve damage (with excessive use) and moderate to heavy sedation. If any of these side effects persist, you should stop consumption of the herb immediately.
Though most commonly associated with the French spirit, Absinthe (due to its active ingredient of absinthol) , Wormwood was most traditionally used in brewery’s instead of hops until the FDA deemed the presence of such ingredients like thujone to be ‘unsafe’ for public consumption.
It is available for whole sale purchase at most health food stores in the form of capsules and concentrated tinctures. It is also simple to grow Wormwood and is best harvested in May or June; early summer.