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|
|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After nearly a century, the prohibition of the drink was repealed and absinthe is enjoying a comeback.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.