Centuries ago, the wormwood plant was offered to Artemis by ancient Greeks (The Roman Diana), the goddess of fertility. Of course, its notable effects on the uterus were the main reason for this fact.
In the 19th century, many remedies were used by trial and error, with absolutely no knowledge about their actual effects. Wormwood liquors, which were obtained from alcoholic cold extract, were thought of as a cure-all. These liquors spread to the point that there were many acute, chronic intoxications in France, even resulting in some deaths, such as the French poet Verlaine.
Today, we know that the wormwood plant contains toxic substances called tuyone, whose action is enhanced by alcohol since they dissolve pretty quickly. While in small doses it is stimulating, wormwood liquor, also known as absinthe, causes severe deterioration of the nervous system, addiction, hallucinations, convulsions, madness, and even death.
Absinthe is no longer used the way it used to be. However, there are alcoholic vermouths in whose composition the wormwood plant is still part. We advise against using these beverages since wormwood tuyones, enhanced by alcohol, are added to the widely known harmful effects of alcoholic beverages.
Wormwood Plant Scientific Facts
- Other names: Absinthe.
- French: Absinthe.
- Spanish: Ajenjo.
- Environment: The wormwood plant is common in mountainous areas of southern Europe, especially on roadsides and dry soils. It has been cultivated in the past.
- Description: Vivacious plant of the Compositae family, which grows from 40 to 80 cm high. The whole plant is covered with fine hair, which gives it a silver appearance. Its yellow flowers grow in flower heads.
- Parts of the plant used medicinally: Leaves and flower heads.
Healing Properties and Warnings
The use of the wormwood plant as a medicinal herb is free of the toxic effects of wormwood liquors. One of the reasons is that a robust bitter flavor will prevent a high intake of wormwood.
The plant contains bitter components (absinthine), an essential oil rich in tuyone, with vermifuge and emetic properties; however, it is toxic when taken in high doses, mineral salts (potassium nitrate), and tannins.
When correctly used, wormwood offers interesting medicinal properties, which are as follows:
- Gastric invigorator: The wormwood plant stimulates the stomach, increasing appetite and producing gastric juice like all bitter plants. It is thus recommended for people suffering from lack of appetite and dyspepsia (bloated stomach). However, it is not recommended for people who suffer from ulcers or those who have ruddy complexions since the increase of gastric juice is harmful to them. According to font Quer, “wormwood must be taken only when needed.”
- Choleretic: Since wormwood increases bile secretions, it exerts a favorable action on the liver, reducing its congestion and stimulating its functioning. It is helpful for hepatic insufficiency and when convalescing from viral hepatitis.
- Powerful vermifuge: Adults manage to take wormwood reluctantly; however, children refuse to take it. Other remedies are better for children.
- Powerful emmenagogue: The wormwood plant acts on the uterus (womb), producing menstruation. Moreover, it normalizes menstrual cycles. It is thus recommended for pale, weak young women who usually suffer from painful and irregular menstruation. Avicenna, the outstanding 11th-century physician, prescribed wormwood “to calm sour, biliary women.” In external applications, the wormwood plant is used as an insecticide.
WARNING! Do not exceed the recommended doses. In high doses, tuyone has convulsive and neurotoxic properties; it causes convulsion, delirium, vertigo, and shaking.
WARNING! Women must abstain from wormwood since it is likely to have abortifacient properties. Breast-feeding women must also refrain from this plant because it is eliminated through milk and is harmful to babies. It is not recommended for people suffering from gastro-duodenal ulcers or gastritis.
How to use Wormwood
- Infusion with 10-20g of plant per liter of water. A spoonful of any of the following plants may be added to make it less sour: licorice, peppermint, or anise. For digestion disorders, drink one or two cups daily before meals. For menstrual disorders, drink two cups of infusion a day during the previous week to the expected date of menstruation.
- Cold extract with some 100g of dry flowers in one liter of olive oil. Steep for one month. A teaspoonful of this oil with an empty stomach and another before lunch will render relevant results for gall bladder afflictions.
- Insecticide: Wormwood infusion is a good insect killer. Pets and plants can be sprayed with it. As a lotion is applied to the skin, it repels mosquitoes. Dried wormwood in little bags among clothes repels moths efficiently.
Southernwood Plant Benefits
- Other names: Lad’s love.
- French: Aurone, citronelle.
- Spanish: Abrotano macho, abrotano.
Southernwood is also known by the name of lad’s love (Artemisia abrotanum L.). It is not related to lavender cotton (though in Latin countries, they have similar names), which belongs to another botanical family. Southernwood is different from wormwood in that the former’s leaves are finer, and its aroma and flavor resemble that of lemon.
It has been widely cultivated in Europe as an aromatic and medicinal herb, and it is naturalized in North America. These are its applications:
- Scalp invigorator: A southernwood plant infusion (30g per liter) is applied with a massage on the scalp to strengthen hair follicles and prevent hair loss. It is part of several shampoos and cosmetic preparations.
- Vermifuge: Expels intestinal parasites and eases menstruation. Southernwood contains tuyones, like wormwood, and can substitute the latter since it has a more pleasant taste. It is taken in infusions like wormwood (10-20g per liter) and with similar cautions.
- Moth repellent, and as a perfume for clothes, when putting bouquets inside the wardrobe.
George D. Pamplona-Roger, M.D. “Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants.” George D. Pamplona-Roger, M.D. Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants. Ed. Francesc X. Gelabert. vols. 2 San Fernando de Henares: Editorial Safeliz, 2000. 428,429. Print. [wormwood plant]