The Benefits of Wormwood

Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium), also known as mugwort, is a bitter herb found in Eurasia, North Africa, and North America. The plant has been used therapeutically since ancient times. In fact, the name “wormwood” comes from its traditional use as a means to cleanse the body of harmful organisms.

Wormwood Quick Facts
Scientific Name Artemisia absinthium
Other Names Mugwort, absinthium
Family Artemisia
Origin Eurasia and Northern Africa; Naturalized in Canada and the Northern United States
Benefits Harmful organism cleansing

You may have heard wormwood mentioned in conjunction with absinthe, the green, highly alcoholic drink made popular during the 19th century and associated with famous (and often troubled) writers and artists like Vincent Van Gogh, Ernest Hemingway, Oscar Wilde, and Edgar Allan Poe. Habitual abuse of the drink was thought to cause absinthism, a much-hyped condition identified by hallucinations, sleeplessness, and other mental issues.

Thujone, one of the compounds found in wormwood, was believed to be responsible for these negative effects, but modern scientific methods have called this idea into question. Traditionally-produced absinthe had an alcohol content of up to 80% (160 proof!), and the 19th century’s production standards were notoriously lax. It’s more likely that absinthism was simply a fancy name for regular-old alcoholism combined with poisoning from impure production methods and toxic additives.

After nearly a century, the prohibition of the drink was repealed and absinthe is enjoying a comeback. Absinthe is the most notorious use of wormwood in alcoholic beverages, but it’s not the only one. Wormwood is also used as a flavoring in vermouth and bitters.

Although I don’t recommend consuming wormwood in the form of 160 proof alcohol, wormwood is a therapeutic herb and its use extends as far back as the early Roman era. Traditional Asian and European medicine use wormwood and its extracts for a variety of purposes, including ridding the body of harmful organisms.

Wormwood and Harmful Organisms

Harmful organisms contamination and infection are a serious health problem in every country in the world, not just in developing countries. Organisms of all sorts can contaminate food and water, causing health problems in both people and animals. Wormwood contains several compounds, most notably artemisinin, that are resistant to harmful organisms. These compounds produce an environment that is actively hostile to harmful organisms and discourages them from thriving.

Harmful organisms are not just a problem for human health. For the farmer who has hundreds or thousands of livestock, the cost of pharmaceuticals that target harmful organisms can be bank-breaking. Wormwood might be able to help. Study results suggest that wormwood extract may be a natural alternative to commercial drugs for eliminating intestinal invaders in ruminants like sheep.

Additional Benefits of Wormwood

The benefits of wormwood are not limited to its effects on harmful organisms. Wormwood also contains compounds known to stimulate digestion by supporting liver and gallbladder function. The benefit is magnified when combined with other digestive herbs such as peppermint and ginger. Wormwood also supports healthy circulation and soothes irritation. Research also suggests that wormwood may even have neuroprotective properties.

Like many other plants, wormwood is a concentrated source of antioxidants. The antioxidant activities of wormwood support its traditional uses in Europe, which include wound healing. Animal studies have even found that wormwood’s antioxidant action helped revitalize some of the enzyme activity in rats that had been decreased by lead exposure.

The Yale University School of Medicine performed a study in which patients with digestive ailments were given either a placebo or an herbal blend containing wormwood for a ten-week period. This double-blind, placebo-controlled study observed that the patients who took the herbal blend reported improved mood and quality of life, which is a not a common side effect of conventional western medications.

Wormwood Side Effects and Precautions

While the notion of wormwood-induced absinthism has been discredited, the possibility remains that thujone, or some other compound within wormwood, could have potentially toxic effects. However, this is only true if consumed in absurdly high quantities, or if it interacts medications or a preexisting condition. In normal doses, wormwood remains completely safe for most people. As a precaution, women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should avoid wormwood. Due to its potency, don’t take the essential oil of wormwood internally.

Tips for Growing Wormwood

Fresh wormwood can be hard to find in stores, but you can easily grow your own. Growing your own has the bonus of allowing you to control the quality of the herb. Wormwood grows well, even in less-than-ideal conditions. It grows best in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 4 to 9, which means that it can be grown almost anywhere in the United States. Once established, the herb requires minimal maintenance.

Wormwood grows from either seeds or seedlings. If started from seeds, plant indoors first and transfer outside after sprouting. Plant seedlings after the last frost in spring in full sun. Wormwood prefers dry soil. Water occasionally, but don’t overdo it. Wormwood is not typically vulnerable to disease, but overwatering can lead to root rot.

Harvest wormwood in July or August on a dry day after the sun has evaporated all the moisture on the plant. To harvest, remove the upper green portion, leaving behind any lower stem parts and all insect-eaten, discolored, or damaged leaves.

Simple Wormwood Tea

I shouldn’t need to say that absinthe is not the best way to incorporate wormwood into your diet. It’s staggeringly high alcohol content more than cancels out any possible benefit of the herb. So, with the green fairy off the table, what’s the best way to consume wormwood?

A simple tea is a common and effective way to take this herb. Wormwood is extremely bitter, so you’ll probably drink this for its therapeutic properties, not casual enjoyment.

Simply put ½ to 1 teaspoon of fresh or dried wormwood leaves in a cup of hot, but not quite boiling, water. Steep for 4 or 5 minutes and strain out the leaves. Don’t use more than a teaspoon per cup or let it steep for too long. Otherwise, the tea may become too bitter to drink. You can attempt to sweeten the tea with stevia or raw organic honey, but you may find it only improves the flavor a little bit. You can also blend with other herbal teas like peppermint or anise to improve the flavor.

Here’s a tip: After they cool a little, the wormwood leaves you strain from your tea can be used as a poultice. Apply them to wounds, rashes, or insect bites for natural relief.

Other Sources of Wormwood

If you can’t find wormwood leaves or if you just can’t take the taste, then supplementation is your next best option. Wormwood can be found as a standalone supplement or combined with other botanicals. One such product is Global Healing Center’s own Paratrex®. Paratrex is a blend of all-natural ingredients, including wormwood, formulated to promote the cleansing of harmful organisms. As always, only buy pure, natural, quality supplements from companies you trust, and consult your trusted healthcare practitioner before starting a new supplement routine.

Winter Self-Care

When you feel those dreaded flu symptoms coming on, you want to take something you know will stop sickness in its tracks. According to a recent study, your options now include herbs. A new study shows a combination of echinacea and elderberry is as effective as the conventional antiviral medicine Tamiflu in the early treatment of influenza. In the study, 473 patients with flu symptoms for less than 48 hours were randomly given either a syrup containing echinacea herb and root supplemented with elderberry for ten days or Tamiflu for five days followed by a placebo for five days. Observing the two groups at one, five, and ten days of treatment to see who had mild or no symptoms, researchers found a similar number of patients had recovered in both groups. Researchers even noted a small trend towards a higher percentage of recovered patients after ten days of treatment with the herbal syrup. Early intervention is key with any flu treatment, so consider keeping a bottle of echinacea/elderberry extract on hand just in case.

Dandy Tummy Bitters Recipe

These homemade bitters with fennel seeds and dandelion root should be taken before or after a meal to help stimulate digestion.

Take a drop or two of these dandelion bitters before or after a meal to help with digestion.

Is your digestive system ready for a big feast? Just a drop or two of any bitter herb on the tongue will help stimulate healthy digestion before or after a meal. In addition to dandelion’s bitterness, the aromatics from the fennel, ginger, and orange will help with uncomfortable post-dessert bloat.

Learn more about bitter plants, and which ones you can plant in your home garden, in the article Health Benefits Of Bitters.

Ingredients:

• 2 parts dandelion root
• 1 part fennel seed
• 1/2 part ginger root
• 1/2 part orange peel
• 1 glass jar with lid
• Enough 100-proof vodka to fill your glass jar
• Cheesecloth

Instructions:

1. If using fresh plants, harvest and clean your herbs before chopping and grinding them.
2. Fill a clean glass jar halfway with the fresh, ground herbs. If tincturing dried herbs, only fill the glass jar one-third of the way because dried roots will expand.
3. Pour the vodka over the herbs until the jar is full, and be sure your herb mixture is completely covered.
4. Label your jar with the name of the herbs, date, alcohol strength, and plant parts used.
5. Allow the tincture to sit for 6 to 8 weeks, shaking the jar often to keep all the plant material submerged.
6. Strain the finished tincture through cheesecloth to separate the herbs from the liquid, bottle the liquid in amber dropper bottles, and label.

Winter Health Benefits Of Echinacea And Sage

Beautiful Echinacea and earthy sage both have extensive historical uses. They’re easy to grow, and — in the case of Echinacea — you’re helping to cultivate and restore an endangered plant if you grow certain cultivars. The health benefits of Echinacea and sage are particularly helpful in winter, as both plants can be used for respiratory ailments and to ease sore throats.

Health Benefits of Echinacea

Members of the genus Echinacea have been used most effectively as an internal application against the common cold, fatigue, upper respiratory infection. Practitioners often recommend Echinacea for a sore throat, strep throat, tonsillitis, bronchitis, flu symptoms, canker and cold sores, swollen lymphatics, septic conditions, and gangrene. Externally, as an ointment or poultice, it’s been used for boils, eczema, bee stings, and snakebites.

Echinacea is not, contrary to popular belief, useful to take day in and day out as a preventative. The compounds within this plant marshal our white blood cells to move efficiently toward a place where our body is losing a battle with infection.

Contraindications: Echinacea may be detrimental to those with autoimmune diseases. People who have allergies to chamomile, marigold, yarrow, ragweed, chrysanthemum, or daisy, or people who have asthma, might develop allergic reactions to Echinacea.

Growing: Three species of Echinacea are most commonly grown and used medicinally: Echinacea purpurea, E. pallida, and E. Angustifolia. Newer hybrid cultivars grown for interesting color may not have the same potent medicinal properties as these three traditional species. The perennial prairie plants are in danger of overharvesting and loss of habitat, so source Echinacea responsibly or grow it yourself — it’s easy to do.

Echinacea seeds germinate best when given a period of stratification (cold conditioning). Either store the seeds in your refrigerator before planting, or direct-sow untreated Echinacea seeds four to six weeks before your average last frost. Sow seeds in full sun or partial shade, and keep the soil well-drained. Echinacea will thrive almost anywhere and will require very little tending, as long as it’s not overwatered.

Harvest notes: All parts of the plant are useful; however, it is the root that has primarily been used in traditional applications. Harvest leaves just as the flower is developing; harvest flowers just as they’re unfurling, and dig the roots either in spring or fall after they’ve had three or four years to become established.

Health Benefits of Sage

One of the most prized herbs on our farm, the health benefits of sage far exceeds its culinary flavoring. Sage (Salvia officinalis) is high in volatile oils, which makes it especially good for ailments in the digestive system, for bleeding gums and tongue inflammation, sore throat, laryngitis, tonsillitis, gas, chronic diarrhea, ulcer, and excessive salivation.

This wonderful plant is also well known for its work on the reproductive system. It has been talked about and researched for some time in regard to menopausal hot flashes. It does indeed cool the experience of a hot flash while also providing a tonic to the underlying endocrine imbalance in the adrenal glands.

Sage is also useful for missed cycles and a lack of sufficient bleeding in them, for morning sickness, preventing yeast infections, and for cysts in the breasts. Because of its ability to decrease fluids in our bodies, sage is often used to decrease the flow of breast milk while weaning a child to solid foods.

Sage behaves differently depending on the temperature at which it’s served. A warm sage tea will encourage secretions in the body, stimulating sweating to reduce a fever. A room temperature tea will allow the antibacterial qualities of sage to shine — this is how you want to serve your sore throat tea (see the sage tea recipe below). A cold tea will decrease the flow of secretions and cause tissues to dry.

In the nervous system, sage has applications for canker sores, memory improvement for Alzheimer’s patients, treating symptoms of arthritis, headache, and insomnia. For the circulatory and lymphatic systems, sage has benefits for lipoma, hair loss, dandruff, excessively dry skin, and blood stagnation. In the urinary tract, it can help with cystitis and stones.

Contraindications: Sage should not be taken long term or in excessive doses during pregnancy. Except for in small amounts in food, it should be avoided during lactation. Avoid internal use of essential oil or alcoholic extracts during this time as well; the thujone in sage stimulates blood flow to the pelvic area, thus promoting menstruation and possibly causing miscarriage.

Growing: Sage grows well in full sun and cooler climates, so plant in partial shade (if you have hot summers) and in well-drained, slightly acidic soil. Prune plants to 4 to 6 inches as soon as they begin to grow the first year, and pinch back stem-tips two or three times during the first summer to encourage branching.

Plants become woody and less productive after three or four years, so you can replace them or root a few stem cuttings each year.

Harvest notes: The leaves are used for medicine, and the flowers are a delicious edible. Collect leaves on a dry day just before or just as the plant is beginning to flower. You can harvest leaves during the first year after the plants become established.

Hang small bunches of sage upside down to dry in a well-ventilated area out of sunlight or dehydrate leaves in a 150-degree-Fahrenheit oven. Store your sage in airtight containers.

Keep your dried sage on hand for a hot or room-temperature tea or to use as a garnish or flavoring in a variety of warming winter dishes.

Sage Herbal Tea for Sore Throat

For sore throats, my absolute favorite remedy is sage herbal tea served lukewarmly. Remember that temperature does matter when it comes to this plant, and lukewarm is where it’s at its best in fending off bacteria. In our house, if someone has a mild sore throat, we make a strong sage tea with honey and lemon, and the throat heals very quickly. When a sore throat is a little more serious, we use sage herbal tea as a gargle and combine it with a pinch of salt and cayenne. The gargle is used every couple of hours and is also effective.

Sage Tea Recipe: To brew an infusion of our own sage herbal tea at home is not just as easy as throwing a tea bag in some hot water. To obtain the most medicinal benefit from your herbs, consider different methods depending on the part of the plant that’s being brewed.

When using leaves, fruits, flowers, and roots high in volatile oils (such as sage), heat water in a tea kettle and then pour over the herbs. (On the farm, we use a mason jar and brew teas by the quart for simplicity.) Cover and let steep for at least 10 to 20 minutes. Then, strain, (let cool to lukewarm for sage) and drink, or store in the refrigerator for one to two days.

Looking for more ways to use Echinacea?

We often use Echinacea for a sore throat. If we need to be away from the house while one of us is suffering from a sore throat, I will often make an Echinacea spray. The best part about this throat spray is that it can fight the infection while providing a soothing, numbing sensation.

Ingredients:

• 2 tablespoons Echinacea tincture
• 2 tablespoons raw honey
• 1 tablespoon warm water
• 2 drops essential oil of your choice (peppermint, eucalyptus, or tea tree are great options)

Mix all ingredients together and pour into a small spray bottle (preferably glass).

Store the bottle in the refrigerator, and it should keep for a couple months.

Always shake before spraying. Use as needed.