Other Names absinthium, absinthe wormwood, bitter wormwood, common wormwood, green ginger, grand wormwood, old woman
Wormwood is an herbaceous, perennial species of Artemisia native to Eurasia and Northern Africa. It has a hard woody rhizome and multiple straight stems reaching about a meter in length with leaves arranged in a spiral formation along their length. This gives it a rather bushy appearance. The leaves are silvery in appearance, green-grey above and white below with a fine covering of fuzz. The leaves are deeply toothed and feathery in appearance.
The flowers appear from July to October. They are yellow and interesting but not very pretty. They occur in clusters clinging close to the branch with their round faces pointing toward the ground. They eventually give way to a hard, dry seed that falls to the ground.
Wormwood can be found growing wild in many areas. Look for it in dry waste areas, between cracks and along rocky slopes where it can get good sun.
History and Folklore
The name Artemesia derives from the name of the Goddess Artemis. However, it is possible that this plant’s genus actually takes its name from a Persian queen, Artemesia.
The name absinthum may come from a word meaning “unenjoyable” referring to the bitter taste.
The name wormwood refers to the historic use of this plant as a cure for intestinal worms.
It is said that wormwood first grew from the path of the serpent as it exited the Garden of Eden.
‘While Wormwood hath seed get a handful or twaine
To save against March, to make flea to refraine:
Where chamber is sweeped and Wormwood is strowne,
What saver is better (if physick be true)
For places infected than Wormwood and Rue?
It is a comfort for hart and the braine
And therefore to have it it is not in vaine.’
~ Tusser 1577
Wormwood in the Garden
Wormwood may be grown from cuttings taken in early spring or late fall, root division in autumn or sown from seed. It enjoys full to partial sun in soil rich in nitrogen and does not mind a bit of drought. Plant it in autumn and it will come up for you in the spring.
Plant wormwood around the edges of your garden where it will discourage weeds and insect larvae at least two feet away from any other plants.
Wormwood is an excellent addition to a moon garden.
Harvesting & Storing Wormwood
For medical and magical use, cut the flowering tops off wormwood when they are in full bloom on a sunny day when the sun is at its peak. Hang to dry naturally in a place with good ventilation out of the sun. Once dry, store in tightly sealed mason jars in a dark cupboard.
To create a powder that also stores quite well and takes up less space, put the dried plant in your blender or use a mortar and pestle to get as fine a powder as you can, then sift your powder through a sieve to get all the twiggy bits out and store the result in tightly sealed glass herb jars out of the light.
It is important to store herbs in a cool, dry place away from light to protect their oils from being degraded.
Macerate wormwood and soak in wine for several days, then strain. Use this wine to induce visions, aid in astral projection, and divination. OR place several tablespoons of dried wormwood leaves and flowers in a jar, cover with light olive oil and seal. Let this steep for several weeks in a cool place, strain and use as an anointing oil for yourself or your divination tools. (See cautions on Healing With Wormwood below).
Wormwood flowers and leaves can be added to magical sachets for protection against accidents. Hang these in your car or carry them on your person.
Wormwood may also be used in spells to send harmful magic back on its sender and for spells for vengeance.
Combined with mugwort and burned, wormwood is useful for calling up spirits. Make sure the area is well-ventilated as the smoke can be very irritating to the eyes and throat and is toxic if inhaled. It is also said to be useful in banishing spirits.
Wormwood may also be used in love magic, as this old charm indicates:
‘On St. Luke’s Day, take marigold flowers, a sprig of marjoram, thyme, and a little Wormwood; dry them before a fire, rub them to powder; then sift it through a fine piece of lawn, and simmer it over a slow fire, adding a small quantity of virgin honey, and vinegar. Anoint yourself with this when you go to bed, saying the following lines three times, and you will dream of your partner “that is to be”:
“St. Luke, St. Luke, be kind to me,
In dreams let me my true-love see.” ‘
~ An old love charm
For safety’s sake, do not use wormwood essential oil for topical preparations. Use the dried or fresh leaves or flowers only.
Healing with Wormwood
Wormwood was a very popular healing herb in ancient times and remains popular with many herbalists. It is, however, not the safest herb in the pharmacopeia and should be used with extreme caution under the watchful eye of an experienced herbalist.
Wormwood has been used with varying degrees of success for the treatment of: intestinal worms, stomach pains, gas, indigestion, nervousness, gout, kidney stones, liver disorders, fevers, and general infections. It is also used to stimulate hunger and improve digestion generally and strengthen the immune system. In addition, wormwood has been used to strengthen contractions while easing labor pains1 and to bring on delayed menstruation and relieve related bloating symptoms. It has also been used to bring on abortions.
Wormwood was recommended by Nicholas Culpepper as a treatment for the stings of bees, wasps and scorpions and snakebites.
Wormwood has shown some promise in studies relating to the treatment of Crohn’s Disease.
Pure wormwood oil is very dangerous and should not be taken internally.
Do not take wormwood for more than 2 weeks at a time.
Pregnant women who would like to stay pregnant and women who are trying to become pregnant should not use or handle wormwood.
Side effects and signs that it is time to reduce or discontinue your use of wormwood include nausea, vomiting, insomnia, excessive thirst, restlessness, vertigo, dizziness, trembling, numbness of the extremities, delirium, paralysis, convulsions and seizures.
Cooking with Wormwood
Wormwood is most famously known as the main ingredient in absinthe. It is also used in flavoring several other liquors including bitters, vermouth and pelinkovac. In the past it has been used to flavor mead and beer as well.
In Morocco, wormwood is added to mint tea.
In Korea, the fresh young leaves of wormwood are macerated and the juice used to flavor songpyeon, a steamed dumpling traditionally eaten during their autumn thanksgiving festival.
Wormwood Around the House
Wormwood can be useful in herbal combinations designed to repel pests, especially insect pests including fleas and moths. The dried leaves and flowers can be used in sachets hung in closets or stuffed into your pet’s pillows. Alternatively, steep macerated fresh, or crushed dry wormwood leaves and flowers in apple cider vinegar for several days, strain and use as a spray to keep pests away.
Planting wormwood around gardening areas will help prevent the growth of insect larvae and grubs in the soil as it releases compounds in the soil that are unpleasant to them. However, it may also inhibit the growth of other plants, so keep this in mind when you are planting for this purpose.