Range: Britain, Europe, North Africa, and western Asia. Now also in N. Amercia.
Habitat: Waste land, rocks and screes. Plants are longer lived, more hardy and more aromatic when they are grown in a poor dry soil.
The genus is named Artemisia from Artemis, the Greek name for Diana. In an early translation of the Herbarium of Apuleius we find:
“Of these worts that we name Artemisia, it is said that Diana did find them and delivered their powers and leechdom to Chiron the Centaur, who first from these Worts set forth a leechdom, and he named these worts from the name of Diana, Artemis, that is Artemisias.”
The Common Wormwood held a high reputation in medicine among the Ancients. According to the Ancients, Wormwood counteracted the effects of poisoning by hemlock, toadstools and the biting of the seadragon. The plant was of some importance among the Mexicans, who celebrated their great festival of the Goddess of Salt by a ceremonial dance of women, who wore on their heads garlands of Wormwood.
With the exception of Rue, Wormwood is the bitterest herb known, but it is very wholesome and used to be in much request by brewers for use instead of hops. The leaves resist putrefaction, and have been on that account a principal ingredient in antiseptic fomentations.
The intensely bitter, tonic and stimulant qualities have caused Wormwood not only to be an ingredient in medicinal preparations, but also to be used in various liqueurs, of which absinthe is the chief, the basis of absinthe being absinthol, extracted from Wormwood. Wormwood, as employed in making this liqueur, bears also the name ‘Wermuth’ – preserver of the mind – from its medicinal virtues as a nervine and mental restorative. If not taken habitually, it soothes spinal irritability and gives tone to persons of a highly nervous temperament. Suitable allowances of the diluted liqueur will promote salutary perspiration and may be given as a vermifuge. Inferior absinthe is generally adulterated with copper, which produces the characteristic green color.
The drug, absinthium, is rarely employed, but it might be of value in nervous diseases such as neurasthenia, as it stimulates the cerebral hemispheres, and is a direct stimulant of the cortex cerebri. When taken to excess it produces giddiness and attacks of epileptiform convulsions. Absinthium occurs in the British Pharmacopoeia in the form of extract, infusion and tincture, and is directed to be extracted also from A. maritima, the Sea Wormwood, which possesses the same virtues in a less degree, and is often more used as a stomachic than the Common Wormwood. Commercially this often goes under the name of Roman Wormwood, though that name really belongs to A. Pontica.
Wormwood is a very bitter plant with a long history of use as a medicinal herb. It is valued especially for its tonic effect on the liver, gallbladder and digestive system, and for its vermicidal activity. It is an extremely useful medicine for those with weak and underactive digestion. It increases stomach acid and bile production, improving digestion and the absorption of nutrients. It also eases wind and bloating and, if taken regularly, helps the body return to full vitality after a prolonged illness.
The leaves and flowering shoots are anthelmintic, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, antispasmodic, antitumor, carminative, cholagogue, emmenagogue, febrifuge, hypnotic, stimulant, stomachic, tonic and vermifuge. The plant is harvested as it is coming into flower and then dried for later use. Use with caution, the plant should be taken internally in small doses for short-term treatment only, preferably under the supervision of a qualified practitioner. It should not be prescribed for children or pregnant women. See also the notes on toxicity.
The extremely bitter leaves are chewed to stimulate the appetite. The bitter taste on the tongue sets off a reflex action, stimulating stomach and other digestive secretions. The leaves have been used with some success in the treatment of anorexia nervosa.
The plant is applied externally to bruises and bites. A warm compress has been used to ease sprains and strained muscles.
A homeopathic remedy is made from the leaves. It is used to stimulate bile and gastric juice production and to treat disorders of the liver and gall bladder.
The fresh or dried shoots are said to repel insects and mice, they have been laid amongst clothing to repel moths and have also been used as a strewing herb. An infusion of the plant is said to discourage slugs and insects. The plant contains substances called sesquiterpene lactones, these are strongly insecticidal.
Known Hazards: The plant is poisonous if used in large quantities. Even small quantities have been known to cause nervous disorders, convulsions, insomnia etc. Just the scent of the plant has been known to cause headaches and nervousness in some people. The plant contains thujone. In small quantities this acts as a brain stimulant but is toxic in excess. Absinthe, popular in the nineteenth century in Europe, caused several cases of brain damage and even death and was banned in most places in the early twentieth century.
As always, a disclaimer needs to be posted as a warning to all to take any information found in these pages as hypothetical or theoretical in nature. In no way is any of this information to be construed as offering medical advice or treatment for any illness, however minor or serious. A licensed physician should be consulted before beginning or ending any course of medical treatment.