Latin: Artemisia absinthium
Also Known As: Absinthe, Absinthium, Green Ginger, Old Woman, Crown for a King, Madderwort, Wormot
Habitat and Description: Wormwood is a perennial reaching heights of around 1 metre tall, growing quite happily in tubs or in the herb garden. It has deeply lobed leaves that are a silvery green in colour, slightly more silver than green on the undersides, with tiny silvery yellow flowers. The leaves are covered with very fine, silky hairs, and the whole plant has a familiar aromatic fragrance that is very deceptive – it smells as if it should taste quite good but the whole plant is unpleasantly bitter. Wormwood is native to Europe but will grow quite happily over here in the UK as my garden attests, as long as it has plenty of sunlight and reasonably dry, well drained soil.
It can be grown from seed, though it is possible to take stem cuttings as well during the summer. Prune plants in the late Autumn – they tend to die back around about now anyway so that usually reminds me to do the job. Wormwood is not a good neighbour to sage, fennel, anise or caraway – don’t plant it next to these four plants as it will inhibit their growth. I find Wormwood is quite a stroppy plant and will crowd out lower growing plants, so best to grow it at the back of the border and give it plenty of space to stretch out, or risk losing some of denizens of your herb garden.
Parts Used: The aerial parts
Constituents: Volatile oils (no surprise there!) consisting of alpha and beta thujone; azulenes such as chamazulene; sesquiterpene lactones including absinthin, artemetin and isoabsinthin; acetylines in the root; flavonoids such as quercetin 3 glucosides, and related; phenolic acids such as vanillic and syringic acids; and lastly, lignans.
Planetary Influence: Mars
Associated Deities and Heroes: Diana, Artemis, Aesculapius, Horus, Isis, Castor, Iris, Menthu, Pollux
Festival: I suspect probably Samhain due to its association with scrying and divination. It is also associated with Imbolc.
Constitution: Hot and dry
Spiritual and Energetic Uses: Wormwood is also useful in the treatment of some depression, as already mentioned in connection with the liver. It is very good for those who feel utter despair as a result of their life circumstances.
As a maiden herb, Wormwood brings courage and enthusiasm for life, that certain level of fearlessness that only the young possess before life teaches them a few unpleasant lessons. It is excellent for those who really struggle to express anger and instead turn it inwards, allowing them to express and release their frustration and their circumstances and see a better path to take. I’d be inclined to take it when you feel as if your life has been thrown up into the air and smashed, and you are now trying to put the pieces back together and figure out what to do next. Use in small doses though – I rather suspect this herb would not be kind to those who do not take it seriously.
Magical Uses:Wormwood is used to relieve anger, and allow the user to vent it in a more peaceful way. It can also be used in magic to prevent strife or war. Carried in a pouch, Wormwood is protective. Ancient lore used the plant to counter poisoning by Hemlock and various Toadstools.
It is also used in love charms and spells to draw a lover, and is associated with the Lovers card in the tarot. It is sacred to the maiden Goddess, and can be used for scrying and divination as part of an incense or perhaps a weak tea to drink before scrying, or a wash for the instruments used. It is used in women’s rites, probably especially those pertaining to rites of passage from child to maiden – probably would be a good addition to rites celebrating menarche. It is used in initiation rites, especially those prior to testing times.
Wormwood is used to increase psychic power, hence its use in scrying and divination – I rather think it has some associations with Samhain, as this is the time of year most commonly associated with forms of divination. Mind you, this makes sense in a way in light of the plant’s association with Artemis and Diana, two faces of the same witch Goddess, both of whom are represented by the Moon. Apparently if you burn the herb in graveyards, you can induce the spirits of the dead to rise and speak to you – another link with Samhain, if you ask me!
Actions and Indications: Due to its intensely bitter taste, Wormwood is often used as a digestive bitter, as a stomachic and choleretic. It has some anti inflammatory properties due to the presence of chamazulenes, so could be used to treat inflammatory digestive disorders. It is used to treat liver and gall bladder congestion where this has led to jaundice, and liver related depression, lack of appetite, nausea and vomiting. As it is warming, it is particularly good for those who suffer from a depressed autonomic nervous system, leading to impaired digestive function. In addition to all of the above, it can be used to treat diarrhoea and intestinal parasites.
Some use the plant as a cardiac stimulant, though I’ve had some difficulty verifying this. Some regard it as a circulatory tonic and stimulant – this would make sense considering its use to improve the digestion. It can be used to treat nervous exhaustion and other nerve issues such as neuralgia and depression as already mentioned. It can apparently be used to ease alcohol induced hangovers though your better bet, in my opinion, would be to dose up on milk thistle before you start drinking or simply not drink as much (I know, boring solution, but eminently practical!) This is another of those odd herbs that can be used to cure epilepsy but will also cause it if you use it in large enough doses (makes me wonder if this plant has some ties with Mercury!)
Wormwood has a strong antibacterial property – the root, though not often used in medicine, is extremely powerful and useful to ease infections of the throat and lungs. It eases pain and is very cooling and soothing. It can be used topically as an antiseptic.
As an emmenagogue, it can be used to stimulate absent menses where this is due to uterine stagnation which causes delayed menstruation. It can also be used to ease painful periods. It is used as a pain reliever during labour, and can be taken as a weak tea or applied as a rub to stimulate sluggish labour, when contractions are too weak.
A rub made with the essential oil can be used to relieve the pain of arthritis and related joint complaints, though the oil should NEVER be taken internally.
It can apparently also be used to ease benzodiazepine withdrawal for those who have become addicted to it. The leaf can be used as an infusion against malaria, as it inhibits the disease. It is extremely useful in the treatment of antibiotic resistant disease and deserves a much better reputation than it already has. I would recommend, however, that this herb is used cautiously by the layperson as the thujone content is poisonous and can be damaging in large doses.
Folklore: Most people with an interest in herbs will be well aware that Wormwood is the main ingredient of the infamous drink known as Absinthe, La Fee Vert or the Green Fairy, so beloved of artists, muses and general alcoholics of the Victorian era, especially in France. Absinthe is highly addictive, and can even cause insanity in large enough doses – Van Gogh apparently cut off his own ear under the influence of Absinthe. Puts me in mind of the old legend concerning spending the night on a certain mountain, whereby the pilgrim would return either mad or a poet – I rather suspect Absinthe draws certain parallels with the mountain. If taken by someone with a certain amount of mental fragility, it will crack the mind wide open, and could induce cracks in the mind of even the strongest person if taken in large enough or frequent enough doses. In small doses however, it is reputed to free poetry from the mind – rather a risky undertaking, if you ask me, especially considering that Absinthe is illegal in most parts of the world these days.
Wormwood’s Latin name of Artemisia is, quite obviously, named for Artemis, Goddess of the Moon and the Hunt – appropriate enough given some of our words for madness, such as lunacy, moon mad or moon struck. A fitting name for a plant that can be used to induce madness!
Apparently Wormwood marked the path the serpent took when it got kicked out of Eden. Another legend tells that Wormwood was given by Diana to the centaur Chiron, the famous healer of myth. Later folklore links the plant with the Mexican salt Goddess – women wore garlands of the herb on their head during the ceremonial dance to celebrate the Goddess.
Dose: No more than 4mls three times per day, or up to 2tsp of the dried herb in one cup of hot water drunk three times a day.
Contraindications: Not generally safe during pregnancy or while breast feeding. The thujone content is poisonous in large doses so if you are going to use this herb, use it with caution and respect or it will have the last laugh at your expense!