Wormwood - Artemisia absinthium:
Wormwood grows into a woody shrub, with distinctive and attractive pale bluish
green leaves, which smell somewhat medicinal when bruised.
This plant is a hardy perennial, and prefers full sun. Vigorously cut it back a couple
times a year to keep the resulting shrub from getting too woody or taking over. One
plant can supply quite a lot of wormwood.
The herb has a somewhat medicinal smell as it hangs to dry, which may be annoying if
it is hanging in a high-traffic area of your home.
Extract of wormwood containing absinthe is found in a few European alcoholic
beverages (notably Strega), but due to health hazards from internal ingestion of
absinthe, this use is fading fast. A turn of the century potent alcoholic drink
called Absinthe was popular in Paris; frequent users were strongly prone to violent
or self-destructive behavior well beyond that seen with plain alcohol. Today, very
small amounts may be found in vermouth, as a flavoring which goes a long way.
Internal or culinary use is strongly discouraged, especially long-term.
Medicinal Uses in Folklore:
Taken internally, wormwood is said to help aid gastrointestinal
digestion, but there are less toxic
remedies available. It may well be potent against parasitic intestinal worms,
hence its name. On the short term, it may be soothing to the nervous system.
It may promote menestruation, as well as help cool down fevers. It is also said to
help the liver.
Poultices to help heal bruising may be effective. Either place the wormwood in
boiling water, allow the resulting liquid to cool, and use that, or wrap the wormwood
in a cloth, run warm water over this, and apply to the injured area, over unbroken
skin, for fifteen minutes. This appears to be most effective before the full bloom of
bruising occurs. (As I have seen no data one way or the other as to whether the toxic
component of wormwood can cross the skin barrier, frequent external applications
are not recommended.)
"Absinthe makes the heart grow fonder" relates to early observations on the aforementioned
beverage and its desired effect (which was not always its actual effect).
Scanning the Scientific Literature:
NOTE: This is one of the 'Problem Herbs'.
The bitter taste of wormwood comes from absinthin and anabsinthin. Another constituent
is thujone, an oil known to cause convulsions in rats in relatively low concentrations.
One half ounce of wormwood oil caused convulsions and unconsciousness in a human
foolish enough to tempt it. Long term use builds up toxic effects.
Wormwood pollen is an extremely common allergen, often resulting in upper airway
distress. People allergic to mugwort tend to be allergic to wormwood as well.
In ancient Greece, this herb was sacred to Artemis, while Culpeper declares this to be
an herb of Mars.
Wormwood is not to be confused with 'sweet wormwood' (Artemesia annua),
found in many parts of the world, especially China. In the early 1970s
Chinese scientists recognized this second herb's potential for treating malaria and
isolated the active principle, artemesinin or qinghaosu.
- Culpeper, N. Culpeper's Color Herbal.
- Tyler, V.E. The Honest Herbal.
- Gibbons, E. Stalking the Healthful Herbs.
- Gniazdowska B. Doroszewska G. Doroszewski W.
[Hypersensitivity to weed pollen allergens in the region of Bygdoszcz].
[Polish]. Pneumonologia i Alergologia Polska. 61(7-8):367-72, 1993.
- Iwasaki E. Baba M.
[Classification of allergens by positive percentage agreement and cluster
analysis based on specific IgE antibodies in asthmatic children].
[Japanese]. Arerugi - Japanese Journal of Allergology. 41(10):1449-58, 1992 Oct.
- Trevett A. Lalloo D.
A new look at an old drug: artemesinin and qinghaosu. [Review].
Papua New Guinea Medical Journal. 35(4):264-9, 1992 Dec.
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Last Updated: March 7, 1999.