What is wormwood?Wormwood is the common name for Artemisia absinthium, the plant whose aromatic oil is used to make absinthe. Although absinthe contains extracts from a whole variety of different plants, wormwood oil is the key ingredient of the famed green drink, and perhaps the reason why absinthe is quite unlike any other liquor ever produced.
Wormwood is a wild plant of the daisy family. Native to Europe, it can now be found in many other parts of the world, especially North America. Wormwood is a perennial plant that flowers year after year. It grows between 30 to 90 cm (12 to 36 in) tall and has small, yellowish flower heads.
Wormwood's secretBut the otherwise ordinarily-looking wormwood plant holds a secret: its aromatic leaves and flowers are naturally rich in the terpene thujone, an aromatic, bitter substance believed to induce an inexplicable clarity of thought, increased sense of perception, enhanced creativity, inspiration and the ability to "see beyond" -- as all the famous absinthe drinkers amongst nineteenth century poets, writers, painters and other artists discovered.
But wormwood's unique properties fascinated humanity long before the plant was first used to make absinthe in 1792. Because of its powerful effects on both mind and body, wormwood has been valued as a versatile medicinal plant since at least 1600 B.C.
Ancient medicinal plantThe Egyptians used the plant as an antiseptic, a stimulant and tonic, and as a remedy for fevers and menstrual pains. In ancient Greece, apsinthos (the Greek name for wormwood) was prescribed for such ailments as rheumatism, anemia and menstrual pains, and sometimes as a means of aiding child birth. The philosopher Hippocrates even recommended wormwood as a cure for jaundice.
In the Middle Ages, the plant was used to exterminate tapeworm infestations while leaving the human host uninjured, even rejuvenated, by the experience.
Since the time of the Romans, wormwood has also been known to aid digestion, and as an effective treatment for upset stomach. In the eighteenth century, a certain Dr. John Hill, describing a German feast of that day, noted:
"The wormwood wine, so famous with the Germans, is made with Roman Wormwood, put into the juice and work'd with it; it is a strong and an excellent wine, not unpleasant, yet of such efficacy to give an appetite that the Germans drink a glass with every other mouthful, and that way eat for hours together, without sickness or indigestion."
To this day, Bedouin Africans sell wormwood in a Cairo market as a remedy for ill health. The Bedouin also burn wormwood leaves as incense around their newborn children to give the child a life of good health.
In 1990, it was claimed that the scientific community finally recognized that wormwood extract is as good as chloroqine for the treatment of malaria.
Absinthe wormwood should not be confused with so-called "common wormwood", which is just another name for mugwort. The wormwood plant from which absinthe is made is artemisia absinthium.
Description of Wormwood plantWormwood is a rustic herb. The whole herb is 60 - 120cm tall and has a grey-white color. The leaves are divided into long lobs. The flowers are light-yellow and they have a powerful perfume due to the etheric oil they contain. It blooms from July to September. It is highly spread in Eurasia and the Middle East and it grows on dry and uncultivated lands.
Only the leaves and the high stalks are used for medical purposes. The leaves must be picked before blooming, in May - June, and the flowers in July - August, when the blooming is complete. Drying must be done in the shade, in dry and breezy places.
Properties and benefits of Wormwood plantWormwood contains absinthine, bitterish glucose, absinthol, tannin, chlorophyll and malic acid. The essence contains thujone, tanacetone, azulene and cadinene (which increase the muscular tonus and activates over the areas where the epileptic crises appear). It also contains vitamins B6 and C. it is a powerful tonic, antiseptic, antidiarrheic, antipyretic and it regulates the menstruation.
TreatmentsBecause it is a digestive tonic, wormwood increases bile secretion when it is administrated as infusion. If it is administrated as powder (0.5 - 2g in honey or sugar) it helps the human body reduce fever.
Infusion is also good against belly worms and oxiuris. For intestinal worms, the wormwood tincture is recommended to be administrated in 9 days long cures.
The bitter compounds and volatile oil components have an excitant action over gastric secretion, they are anti-inflammatory and anthelmintic. Wormwood increase diuresis and can be used as a laxative.
Internally, wormwood is recommended for the treatment of liver insufficiency, kidney oedema, anemia and absence of the menstrual cycle. It is also good for anxiety and gout and it is generally good for all the diseases that involve the retention of water in tissues.
Wormwood is a good cicatrizing. The infusion can be used to treat ulcerations and the oil can be applied on wounds.
Externally it is also used to treat hemorrhoids and vaginitis.
MixturesThe infusion is prepared out of one spoon of herb boiled in 250ml of water. It must be drunk cold before each primary meal and because of its bitter taste it can be sweetened with honey or sugar.
The tincture is recommended for gastritis, anorexia, asthenia, fever, flu, pneumonia, intoxications and infections with Giardia. It can be prepared from 25g of mashed herb macerated in 120ml of 75o alcohol for 8 days. One spoon of tincture dissolved in 100ml of water must be administrated 3 or 4 times a day.
The flowered heads are used to make "absinthe" and some liqueurs and vermouths.
Wormwood is occasionally used as a spice. Its bitterish taste is perfect for mixing it with fat fish or pork, goose and mutton. The most important use is for preparing stuffed goose which is a traditional meal for Christmas in Germany.
CautionIts consumption is not recommended for pregnant women or in cases of acute intestinal disorders. The wormwood treatment mustn't be prolonged because it can cause digestive and neural disorders.
The wormwood mixtures must be administrated only when they are needed and overdoses can cause headaches and inflammations on the gastric mucous membrane.
Wormwood powder can be irritant, which is why it is recommended to use a protection mask when dealing with the herb.