WormwoodsBotanical Name: N.O. Compositae The Wormwoods are members of the great family of Compositae and belong to the genus Artemisia, a group consisting of 180 species, of which we have four growing wild in England, the Common Wormwood, Mugwort, Sea Wormwood and Field Wormwood. In addition, as garden plants, though not native, Tarragon (A. dracunculus) claims a place in every herb-garden, and Southernwood (A. abrotanum), an old-fashioned favourite, is found in many borders, whilst others, such as A. sericea, A. cana and A. alpina, form pretty rockwork shrubs.
The whole family is remarkable for the extreme bitterness of all parts of the plant: 'as bitter as Wormwood' is a very Ancient proverb.
In some of the Western states of North America there are large tracts almost entirely destitute of other vegetation than certain kinds of Artemisia, which cover vast plains. The plants are of no use as forage: and the few wild animals that feed on them are said to have, when eaten, a bitter taste. The Artemisias also abound in the arid soil of the Tartarean steppes and in other similar situations. 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.'
WORMWOOD, COMMON Absinthium
(Artemisia absinthium LINN.)
Click on graphic for larger image Botanical Name: Artemisia absinthium (LINN.)
Family: N.O. Compositae Description Cultivation Parts Used Constituents Medicinal Action and Uses Preparations Synonym: Green Ginger.
Part Used: Whole Herb.
Habitat: Europe, Siberia, and United States of America. The Common Wormwood held a high reputation in medicine among the Ancients. Tusser (1577), in July's Husbandry, says: '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.' Besides being strewn in chambers as Tusser recommended, it used to be laid amongstuffs and furs to keep away moths and insects.
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. An Old Love Charm '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." ' Culpepper, writing of the three Wormwoods most in use, the Common Wormwood, Sea Wormwood and Roman Wormwood, tells us: 'Each kind has its particular virtues' . . . the Common Wormwood is 'the strongest,' the Sea Wormwood, 'the second in bitterness,' whereas the Roman Wormwood, 'to be found in botanic gardens' - the first two being wild - 'joins a great deal of aromatic flavour with but little bitterness.'
The Common Wormwood grows on roadsides and waste places, and is found over the greater part of Europe and Siberia, having been formerly much cultivated for its qualities. In Britain, it appears to be truly indigenous near the sea and locally in many other parts of England and Scotland, from Forfar southwards. In Ireland it is a doubtful native. It has become naturalized in the United States.
Description: The root is perennial, and from it arise branched, firm, leafy stems, sometimes almost woody at the base. The flowering stem is 2 to 2 1/2 feet high and whitish, being closely covered with fine silky hairs. The leaves, which are also whitish on both sides from the same reason, are about 3 inches long by 1 1/2 broad, cut into deeply and repeatedly (about three times pinnatifid), the segments being narrow (linear) and blunt. The leaf-stalks are slightly winged at the margin. The small, nearly globular flowerheads are arranged in an erect, leafy panicle, the leaves on the flower-stalks being reduced to three, or even one linear segment, and the little flowers themselves being pendulous and of a greenish-yellow tint. They bloom from July to October. The ripe fruits are not crowned by a tuft of hairs, or pappus, as in the majority of the Compositae family.
The leaves and flowers are very bitter, with a characteristic odour, resembling that of thujone. The root has a warm and aromatic taste.
Cultivation: Wormwood likes a shady situation, and is easily propagated by division of roots in the autumn, by cuttings, or by seeds sown in the autumn soon after they are ripe. No further care is needed than to keep free from weeds. Plant about 2 feet apart each way.
Parts Used: The whole herb - leaves and tops - gathered in July and August, when the plant is in flower and dried.
Collect only on a dry day, after the sun has dried off the dew. Cut off the upper green portion and reject the lower parts of the stems, together with any discoloured or insect-eaten leaves. Tie loosely in bunches of uniform size and length, about six stalks to a bunch, and spread out in shape of a fan, so that the air can get to all parts. Hang over strings, in the open, on a fine, sunny, warm day, but in half-shade, otherwise the leaves will become tindery; the drying must not be done in full sunlight, or the aromatic properties will be partly lost. Aromatic herbs should be dried at a temperature of about 70 degrees. If no sun is available, the bunches may be hung over strings in a covered shed, or disused greenhouse, or in a sunny warm attic, provided there is ample ventilation, so that the moist heated air may escape. The room may also be heated with a coke or anthracite stove, care being taken that the window is kept open during the day. If after some days the leaves are crisp and the stalks still damp, hang the bunches over a stove, when the stalks will quickly finish drying. Uniformity in size in the bunches is important, as it facilitates packing. When the drying process is completed, pack away at once in airtight boxes, as otherwise the herbs will absorb about 12 per cent moisture from the air. If sold to the wholesale druggists in powdered form, rub through a sieve as soon as thoroughly dry, before the bunches have had time to absorb any moisture, and pack in tins or bottles at once.
Constituents: The chief constituent is a volatile oil, of which the herb yields in distillation from 0.5 to 1.0 per cent. It is usually dark green, or sometimes blue in colour, and has a strong odour and bitter, acrid taste. The oil contains thujone (absinthol or tenacetone), thujyl alcohol (both free and combined with acetic, isovalerianic, succine and malic acids), cadinene, phellandrene and pinene. The herb also contains the bitter glucoside absinthin, absinthic acid, together with tannin, resin, starch, nitrate of potash and other salts.
Medicinal Action and Uses: Tonic, stomachic, febrifuge, anthelmintic.
A nervine tonic, particularly helpful against the falling sickness and for flatulence. It is a good remedy for enfeebled digestion and debility.
Preparations: Fluid extract, 1/2 to 1 drachm. Wormwood Tea, made from 1 OZ. of the herb, infused for 10 to 12 minutes in 1 pint of boiling water, and taken in wineglassful doses, will relieve melancholia and help to dispel the yellow hue of jaundice from the skin, as well as being a good stomachic, and with the addition of fixed alkaline salt, produced from the burnt plant, is a powerful diuretic in some dropsical cases. The ashes yield a purer alkaline salt than most other vegetables, except Beanstalks and Broom.
The juice of the larger leaves which grow from the root before the stalk appears has been used as a remedy for jaundice and dropsy, but it is intensely nauseous. A light infusion of the tops of the plant, used fresh, is excellent for all disorders of the stomach, creating an appetite, promoting digestion and preventing sickness after meals, but it is said to produce the contrary effect if made too strong.
The flowers, dried and powdered, are most effectual as a vermifuge, and used to be considered excellent in agues. The essential oil of the herb is used as a worm-expeller, the spirituous extract being preferable to that distilled in water. The leaves give out nearly the whole of their smell and taste both to spirit and water, but the cold water infusions are the least offensive.
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 colour.
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. All three species were used, as in Culpepper's time. Dr. John Hill (1772) recommends Common Wormwood in many forms. He says: 'The Leaves have been commonly used, but the flowery tops are the right part. These, made into a light infusion, strengthen digestion, correct acidities, and supply the place of gall, where, as in many constitutions, that is deficient. One ounce of the Flowers and Buds should be put into an earthen vessel, and a pint and a half of boiling water poured on them, and thus to stand all night. In the morning the clear liquor with two spoonfuls of wine should be taken at three draughts, an hour and a half distance from one another. Whoever will do this regularly for a week, will have no sickness after meals, will feel none of that fulness so frequent from indigestion, and wind will be no more troublesome; if afterwards, he will take but a fourth part of this each day, the benefit will be lasting.' He further tells us that if an ounce of these flowers be put into a pint of brandy and let to stand six weeks, the resultant tincture will in a great measure prevent the increase of gravel - and give great relief in gout. 'The celebrated Baron Haller has found vast benefit by this; and myself have very happily followed his example.'
WORMWOOD, ROMAN Botanical Name: Artemesia pontica
Family: N.O. Compositae Part Used: Herb.
Roman Wormwood (Artemesia Pontica) is not indigenous to this country, being a native of Southern Europe. It grows about the same height as the Common Wormwood, but has smaller and more finely cut leaves, the segments being narrower, the upper leaves more resembling those of Southernwood; the leaves are white with fine hairs on both upper and under surfaces. The flowers, which blossom in July, are numerous, at the tops of the branches, and are darker and much smaller than those of Common Wormwood.
This is the most delicate though the least strong of the Wormwoods; the aromatic flavour with which its bitterness is mixed causes it to be employed in making the liqueur Vermuth.
Medicinally, the fresh tops are used, and also the whole herb, dried. Much of the A. Pontica in commerce is A. maritima.
Culpepper considered the Roman Wormwood 'excellent to strengthen the stomach.' Also that 'the juice of the fresh tops is good against obstructions of the liver and spleen. . . . An infusion of the flowering tops strengthens digestion. A tincture is good against gravel and gives great relief in the gout.'
Dr. John Hill says of this plant that it is the 'most delicate, but of least strength. 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.'
WORMWOOD, SEA Botanical Name: Artemesia maritima
Family: N.O. Compositae Description Part Used Medicinal Action and Uses Synonym: Old Woman.
Parts Used: Young flowering tops and shoots.
Habitat: In Britain it is found as far-as Wigton on the West and Aberdeen on the East; also in north-east Ireland and in the Channel Islands.
The Sea Wormwood, in its many variations of form, has an extremely wide distribution in the northern hemisphere of the Old World, occurring mostly in saltish soils. It is found in the salt marshes of the British Isles, on the coasts of the Baltic, of France and the Mediterranean, and on saline soils in Hungary; thence it extends eastwards, covering immense tracts in Southern Russia, the region of the Caspian and Central Siberia to Chinese Mongolia.
Description: It somewhat resembles Artemesia Absinthium, but is smaller. Thestems rise about a foot or 18 inches in height. The leaves are twice pinnatifid, with narrow, linear segments, and, like the whole plant, are covered on both sides with a white cottony down. The small, oblong flower-heads - each containing three to six tubular florets - are of a yellowish or brownish tint; they are produced in August and September, and are arranged in racemes, sometimes drooping, sometimes erect.
Popularly this species is called 'Old Woman,' in distinction to 'Old Man' or Southernwood, which it somewhat resembles, though it is more delicate-looking and lacks the peculiar refreshing scent of 'Old Man.' Dr. Hill says of this species: 'This is a very noble bitter: its peculiar province is to give an appetite, as that of the Common Wormwood is to assist digestion; the flowery tops and the young shoots possess the virtue: the older Leaves and the Stalk should be thrown away as useless. . . . The apothecaries put three times as much sugar as of the ingredient in their Conserves; but the virtue is lost in the sweetness, those will not keep so well that have less sugar, but 'tis easy to make them fresh as they are wanted.' The plant abounds in salt marshes in which cattle have been observed to fatten quickly, and thus the herb has acquired the reputation of being beneficial to them, but they do not eat it generally, and the richness of maritime pasturage must be regarded as the true reason of their improvement under such circumstances.
Part Used: The flowering tops and young shoots are used, collected and dried in the same manner as Wormwood.
Medicinal Action and Uses: The plant possesses the same properties as the otherWormwoods, but is less powerful. It is a bitter tonic and aromatic.
Although it is not now employed in regular medical practice, it is often made use of by country people for intermittent fever, and for various other medicinal purposes instead of the true Wormwood.
Thornton, in his Family Herbal, tells us that:
'beat up with thrice its weight of fine sugar, it is made up into a conserve ordered by the London College, and may be taken where the other preparations disgust too much.'
It acts as a tonic and is good in worm cases, and Culpepper gives the following uses for it:
'Boiling water poured upon it produces an excellent stomachic infusion, but the best way is taking it in a tincture made with brandy. Hysteric complaints have been completely cured by the constant use of this tincture. In the scurvy and in the hypochondriacal disorders of studious, sedentary men, few things have a greater effect: for these it is best in strong infusion. The whole blood and all the juices of the body are effected by taking this herb. It is often used in medicine instead of the Roman Wormwood, though it falls far short of it in virtue.'