Wormwood is anywhere from 30 cm to a meter (12 in – 3 feet) tall.
The leaves are greyish green and are covered in fine hairs.
The tiny clusters of light yellow flowers bloom from early summer to early autumn.
Meaning of the Name
The official name of wormwood is Artemisia. Artemisia is named after the Greek goddess named Artemis. She was the twin sister of Apollo and daughter of Zeus and Leto. Artemis was the goddess of hunting and of wild animals. In Roman mythology Artemis is called Diana.
Absinthium means “without sweetness”. This is an extremely bitter tasting herb.
Wormwood comes from the German word “wermut” which means “preserver of the mind”. They used to think that this herb was good to boost mental capability.
Actually that is quite contradictory with the fact that absinthe, the alcohol drink (in which wormwood was a main ingredient) was banned in many countries because it caused hallucinations.
Wormwood is especially recommended for people struggling with a weak digestion. This herb stimulates the appetite.
Drink a cup of wormwood tea for this purpose. A half teaspoon crushed leaves is enough for a cup of tea. Wormwood tea does not taste very good. It is quite bitter.
About 20 drops of wormwood tincture added to a glass of water is said to do wonders for an upset stomach.
To make wormwood tincture add 60% alcohol to a jar filled with dried wormwood flowers and leaves. Strain the mixture a week or so later and your wormwood tincture is ready.
Some like to burn dried wormwood leaves. The fumes are said to be cleanse the air. Wormwood tea can be poured on rocks in a sauna for the same purpose.
Externally wormwood has been used to treat bruises and insect bites.
Women who are pregnant or are breastfeeding should not use wormwood. As always consult your physician if you have any concerns.
In Folklore and History
According to an old Christian legend wormwood grew in the tracts of the serpent as he crawled out of the Garden of Eden.
In the Bible wormwood is used as a symbol for the consequences of sin.
In Southern Europe during the Middle Ages there was a superstition that wormwood could be used to pursue a woman.
If a man desired a special woman he could place wormwood in her bed.
The woman would not be able to sleep. She would get out of bed totally hexed by the wormwood and seek the arms of the man who had put the wormwood in her bed.
In Germanic paganism wormwood was a symbol for grieving. Wormwood was thrown on the funeral pyre and wormwood was placed on graves.
In Germany during the 16th century many believed the fumes from burning wormwood would protect the newborn infant from the devil. It was told that the fumes would prevent the devil from taking the baby.
In France some people believed that placing a wreath made from wormwood on the baby’s head would protect the child from witchcraft. This superstition was practiced as late as the 19th century.
In Scandinavia there was a superstition that you could prevent a baby from getting lice if you rubbed the baby’s head with wormwood before the child was 12 weeks old.
Others believed that a little wormwood in the pocket of their clothing would prevent ill-wishers from putting a spell on them.
Pedanius Dioscorides (40-90 AD) was a Greek physician who wrote a five volume encyclopedia about healing herbs. According to Dioscorides wormwood had advantages beyond a medicinal herb.
He stated that if you added wormwood to the ink mice would not nibble on the paper. He also claimed wormwood was excellent to use as a moth repellent.
Dioscorides suggested a solution for reducing erotic yearnings. If a man who needed to control his need for intimacy he was to boil wormwood in water, strain and drink as tea in the morning.
Dioscorides recommended wormwood as a remedy for sea sickness. For that purpose he suggested to add wormwood to a drink and consume the mixture before the voyage.
Pliny the Elder
Pliny the Elder (23-79 AD), a Roman naturalist and author had views concerning wormwood. He proclaimed that wormwood was an excellent remedy to fight pinworms.
According to Pliny wormwood was an herb travelers should take into consideration. He was of the opinion that if you put wormwood in your shoes you would be able to walk great distances without feeling tired.
Pliny recommended wormwood for indigestion. He said wormwood would promote the appetite and make the feces softer.
Absinthe – the Drink
The alcoholic drink named Absinthe is often referred to as “the Green Fairy”. Wormwood is one of the main ingredients in the drink. Absinthe also contains the herbs green anise and fennel.
Absinthe originated in Switzerland in the late 18th century.
Absinthe was poured into a glass. A special absinthe spoon was placed on the glass. On the spoon they put a sugar cube. Ice cold water was slowly dripped on the sugar cube until it dissolved in the drink.
In France the drink became extremely popular. The 5 PM hour became known as “the Green Hour” in the 19th century.
Absinthe became the favored drink in many countries in continental Europe. Many places in the United States started to serve absinthe as well.
Petitions presented absinthe as a dangerous drink which destroyed the brain. It was claimed that the thujone in wormwood damaged the brain.
During the early 20th century many countries banned absinthe. France banned absinthe in 1914, Switzerland in 1910 and the United States banned absinthe in 1912.
Today most countries have lifted the prohibition of absinthe. Actually a few countries never did make absinthe illegal, among them Great Britain and the Czech Republic.
The United States lifted the ban in 2007 under certain conditions; among them that the drink must be “thujone free”.
“Absinthe has a wonderful color, green. A glass of absinthe is as poetical as anything in the world.
What difference is there between a glass of absinthe and a sunset?”
“After the first glass, you see things as you wish they were. After the second, you see things as they are not. Finally, you see things as they really are, and that is the most horrible thing in the world.” Oscar Wilde
“The first month of marriage is the honeymoon; the second is the absinthe-moon.” Voltaire