What is wormwood all about? Today Chris Marano discusses wormwood uses in a video shot at the Clearpath Herbals Medicine Garden

What is wormwood? In the video below you will see Chris Marano at the Clearpath Herbals Medicine Garden in Montague, Massachusetts on a beautiful hot summer day. He is standing in front of a row of wormwood (Artemisia absinthium), a first cousin to common mugwort and sweet annie. If you know anything about plants and live in the northeast, then you know how common mugwort is. It’s everywhere. Wormwood is not weedy in our area. Compared to mugwort, wormwood is more woody and shrub-like, and doesn’t grow as tall.

Wormwood is well known in some circles because of absinthe, the infamous distilled liquor derived from its leaves (see its scientific name). Absinthe, notoriously famous among the Parisian art community of the late 19th century for its super bitter taste and allegedly more-than-just-drunk, mind-altering effect, created a lot of controversy and backlash from conservative groups who had issues with Bohemian culture. The backlash led to it being banned for nearly a hundred years, but its mind-altering effects and bad health reputation were greatly exaggerated, In fact, since the 1990’s it has once again gained in popularity among micro-distilleries and connoisseurs of exotic liquors. It’s a little too bitter for my taste, which is why it is often drunk with a cube of sugar behind your teeth. This intense bitterness is also the major source of its medicine.

Many Artemisia species are inaccurately labeled as sage. Artemisia species range throughout much of North America, especially the prairie states, and they are often dried and tied into bundles to be used as a sage-like, ceremonial smudge medicine.

Wormwood medicine is very effective in that form for cleansing an environment of toxicity, but it is most effective medicinally when taken internally. I know you can’t feel or smell this right now through the video camera, so you will have to take my word that it’s resinous and aromatic. I’m not sure how to describe it, except to say that it smells Artemisia-like, and it’s not at all subtle. You might have to get up close to it, but its fragrance permeates throughout the leaf, stem and inconspicuous white flowers. Right now it is in full flower in this video, but it’s hard to tell unless you get really close.

What is wormwood used for medicinally? A look at its leaf medicine

The medicine that it’s famous for is in the leaf and I would harvest the leaf right now if I needed it this year. Wormwood is superior antiparasitic anti-worm medicine, hence the name wormwood. It is considered an anthelmintic, which means it is lethal to worms. It’s also a vermifuge, meaning that it makes the intestines, and particularly the colon, intolerable to worms and other parasites. Wormwood helps to flush and cleanse the system. It is superior medicine if you think your intestines are compromised by parasites. It’s used in herbal protocols for amoebic dysentery and for food poisoning. I put it in a blend with other major antiparasitic herbs to make as comprehensive a complement of ingredients as possible, to be able to work against the majority of organisms that are parasitic to us.

Anytime somebody asks me to prepare an herbal emergency kit for overseas travel, I always include my stock antiparasitic formula. Wormwood is one of the top ingredients in that formula.

What is wormwood root used for?

In addition, more underrated and largely unknown, the root of wormwood is also superior antibacterial medicine. So whereas I would be using the leaf as an antiparasitic agent, I’d be using the root alongside other antibacterial herbs like Baikal skullcap, goldenseal, hyssop, andrographis and isatis. Wormwood root is useful medicine for bacterial illnesses, with an emphasis on mucus membrane tissues, such as the respiratory and digestive system. The white coloration of the plant is an indicator that its medicine is making a bee-line for mucus membranes.

What is wormwood doing in the garden

Wormwood also has an effect on other plants nearby. One of its chemical constituents — thujone — is allelopathic, meaning that it deters many other plant species from growing near it. Here again and similar to its antiparasitic and antimicrobial capablities, Wormwood “personality” is one that makes a distinction between self and others. It says, “This is my territory, stay out!” This is one of its key signatures.

That’s what you want in an antiparasitic herb. “Here I am. This is my territory. You stay out.” Black Walnut is similar in this way and also contains strong antiparasitic medicine.

What is wormwood like from a taste standpoint

The taste of this plant is considered a fragrant bitter, meaning that while it has very intense bitter properties, it also contains aromatic essential oils. It therefore demonstrates properties of many essential oils, which is, among other things, that of a radiating, dispersing, antibacterial and antimicrobial nature. Bitterness on the other hand is cooling and descending. When the dual properties of bitterness join with strong aromatic fragrance, it is described as being a fragrant bitter. One of the common denominators of fragrant bitter herbs is that they are usually antiparasitic and anthelmintic. In addition to wormwood, sweet annie, elecampane, and black walnut are all considered fragrant bitters.


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The first online herbal medicine course from Clearpath School of Herbal Medicine, Foundations of Western Herbalism, Part 1 , begins with a systematic and comprehensive exploration of human beings and human health through the lenses of Western/European and First Nations/Native American health modalities while also interweaving principles and practices with contemporary scientific and medical understanding.

Learn more about this online herbalist course here. You can watch an introductory video and take a deeper look at the information you will learn from this course.

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