Archive for category Wormwood'

Artemisia absinthium

Artemisia absinthium, wormwood Family: Asteraceae Part used: leaves, flowering tops Artemisia absinthium L. is a hardy perennial sub-shrub, native to temperate Eurasia and North Africa and cultivated in gardens. The Flora of Turkey gives 22 Artemisia species, including Artemisia absinthium, Artemisia vulgaris, Artemisia santonicum and Artemisia abrotanum. Erect, woody stems (over 1 m) bear alternate, much divided, silvery leaves with silky soft hairs on each side. Tiny, rayless yellowy-green flowers occur in late summer in loose panicles which arise from the woody stems. It has a distinctive fragrance, thrives in sunny positions in poor soils and can become very woody. A similar species, native to Britain, is sea wormwood Artemisia maritima L. (syn. Seriphidium maritima (L.) Poljakov), which is widespread on coasts in Britain and northern Europe. It is smaller (to 60 cm) with strongly scented woolly divided leaves with blunt, narrow segments. Oval yellow-orange florets occur in August to October. Other species used Mugwort Artemisia vulgaris L, Roman wormwood Artemisia pontica L, tarragon Artemisia dracunculus L, southernwood Artemisia abrotanum L.. Southernwood Artemisia abrotanum has many woody stems with Read more […]

Wormwood: Identity

There is as usual some debate about the identity of the wormwood of the Ancients and the delineation of its range of actions is not without some contention. Beck at least translates the apsinthion of Dioscorides as Artemisia absinthium. Dioscorides (III 23) names three wormwoods: the ‘familiar’ wormwood of which the best grows in the Pontic region and Cappadocia; Seriphon absinthion thalassion, which is sea wormwood, ‘wormseed’ according to Beck; and a third kind that grows in Galatia called santonicon, which does the same thing as seriphon. Galen commends Pontic wormwood, with lesser leaves and flowers, above others ‘which are excessively bitter and loathesome’. The Arabic writers refer to Roman wormwood. Whether Roman wormwood shared identity with Pontic and whether the common broadleaved wormwood equated to the Pontic wormwood of Dioscorides and Galen were questions which exercised considerable debate among the Renaissance authors. Turner, for example, concludes not; Mattioli thinks it is (although of course his wormwood must be Roman by default). Parkinson, having laid out the different opinions on this as usual, and having identified nine wormwoods of his own day (Dodoens has six, Dalechamps 12) then cites Pena Read more […]

Wormwood: A Digestive Herb

Wormwood seems to be a herb par excellence for the whole digestive tract. Most authorities prize its actions in this respect. Dioscorides says it has astringent and warming properties; it is diuretic; it can purge the bilious elements through the stomach and bowel; is a preventive for nausea; drunk with hartwort or Celtic nard it is good for flatulence and stomach pains; and a daily infusion or decoction of three cyathi (135 mL) remedies lack of appetite and jaundice. He advocates two external applications for gastrointestinal conditions: plasters made with Cyprian cerate help chronic conditions of hypochondria, liver and stomach, and those with unguent of roses are used for the stomach. For spleen disease or oedemata, it is mixed with figs, soda and darnel meal, although it is unclear whether this is for internal or external use. Dioscorides reports the custom around Propontis and Thrace of making a wine, absinthitis, from wormwood, used for the conditions mentioned, only if the patient has no fever. The same wine is drunk in spring as aperitif to bring good health. The juice, however, should not be taken internally, at least not neat, ‘since it is bad for the stomach and gives headaches’ he says. In relation to the Read more […]

Wormwood: Broad Consensus

The Arabic writers mention varieties of absinthium from their own experience. Serapio says the best comes from the Indians, Ibn Sina prefers those from Armenia and the mountains of Turkey and speaks too of one from lordan ‘which smells nicely”. They mainly repeat the commendations of the ancient writers. Serapio includes its use for abscesses of the liver and stomach, repeats Galen’s lack of effect on phlegm in the stomach and Dioscorides’ warning about the juice as harmful to the stomach. He cites Mabix on opening obstructions, loosening the belly and curing jaundice because of its heat. It is Ibn Sina who talks about the dual properties of the plant and explains this effect; it stops (at least the one from lordan) diarrhoea thanks to an earth element in it and purges and opens up blockages thanks to the volatile element. Ibn Sina is ambiguous about taking the juice; wormwood, he says, is ‘a fantastic and lovely herb to repair appetite when taken as a broth and/or as a squeezed juice during ten days, each day 3 obols (1800 mg). As wine it strengthens the stomach and renders other benefits, or the herb, especially taken as a squeezed juice during ten days, each day 3 dirhams (8.925 g) helps jaundice and dropsy”. Yet Read more […]

Wormwood: Bitters

By Cullen’s time the bitters were acknowledged as a particular group of plants with specific actions. Cullen lectured on their capacities under both bitters and tonics, and he divides the bitters into hot and cold, amara calida and amara frigida, wormwood, of course counting among the calida. Bitters are seldom simple, he says, but combined with other qualities. More recently Schulz et al (1998) differentiate simple, aromatic, astringent and acrid types. ‘Proper tonics are bitters’ Cullen says. His appraisal both encompasses the applications we have met through the tradition above, other uses from the past to be covered below, and anticipate our modern conception of their bitter actions. On the common qualities he discusses, he offers his own experience, which does not always corroborate the general claim. The ‘common qualities’ include: 1. action on the stomach; increasing appetite for food and promoting digestion of it, the improvement depending upon an increase in tone of the muscular fibres, hence ‘restoring tone to that organ'; correcting acidity and flatulence, checking fermentation, and relieving the stomach from abundant mucus or phlegm. This improved state, communicated to other parts of the system improve Read more […]

Wormwood: Worms And Safety

An action associated with bitters in general and wormwood in particular is that of anthelmintic. Nevertheless, experience is not uniform. Dioscorides, notably, does not document wormwood as anthelmintic. He reserves the designation for seriphon, sea wormwood ‘boiled down either by itself or with rice and consumed with honey it destroys intestinal and round worms, gently purging the bowels’, although it is bad for the stomach, he adds. It will do the same boiled with lentil gruel, and moreover fattens the sheep (Dodoens extends this to beeves, sheep and cattle) that graze on it, presumably by ridding them of worms. Santonicon acts similarly. I can find no reference from Galen to the use of wormwood for worms, only sea wormwood, as Dioscorides. There is a small debate here about Galen’s declaring sea absinthium as of the same sort and taste similar to absinthium, while Dioscorides says seriphon, sea wormwood, more approaches abrotanum than absinthium. Mattioli says it is a case of deciding who is at fault, although Parkinson holds they cannot differ so much in judgment and that the place in Dioscorides or Galen is ‘perverted by some writer’s fault’. Pliny, however, does appear to commend wormwood for ‘worms of the Read more […]

Emmenagogue? Hormones?

Cullen notes a claimed, but to him unproven, emmenagogic action to the bitters. Wormwood is recorded with this property. The British Herbal Pharmacopoeia does not record this action for wormwood, despite such a property in both the sister herbs, Artemisia abrotanum and Artemisia vulgaris. Indeed there is no strong modern tradition for its use in this regard, even when designated emmenagogue, other than cautions against its use in pregnancy, carried by all our modern authors. Mills & Bone expand the caution to association with foetal malformation, and contraindication in breast feeding. Only Bartram recommends its use for abnormal absence of periods and Menzies-Trull for atonic vaginal discharge and leucorrhoea. Mills (1991), together with strong cautions, mentions its use for spasmodic dysmenorrhoea and relief of pain in childbirth. Wood lists it for amenorrhoea, infertility, menstrual cramps and painful parturition but does not discourse further, and Barker (2001) records an anecdotal transient worsening of premenstrual tension symptoms in susceptible individuals, preferring different plants to bring on delayed periods. Beyond this there is little discussion. Past tradition is only a little more fulsome with its Read more […]

Wormwood: Mental Health

The applications of wormwood continue with its reputation as a herb against melancholy. This action may well be as attributable to the effect of its bitter nature on the liver, as well as the general tonic effect so roundly affirmed from application thus far. There is support of a humoral nature for bitters working through the spleen in hypochondriac melancholy where an overheated spleen causes noxious vapours to rise to the heart and brain. Some modern authors, among them Chevallier, Menzies-Trull and Hoffman, refer to use in depression/melancholy but not a lot of guidance as to source is given. Grieve gives a recipe of 1 oz of herb infused 10-12 minutes in one pint of water taken in glassful doses to relieve melancholia, but again no source is offered. The tradition does not appear in the ancients. Hildegard is an early mention, with a recipe of fresh wormwood pounded and expressed through cloth added to wine cooked with honey, so that the wormwood overcomes the wine and honey flavour, to be drunk every other day, to check not only melancholy, but ‘it will ease sickness in the loins and make your eyes clear’. Serapio cites Mabix that an infusion or decoction, especially mixed with epithymum, will cure melancholy. Read more […]

Wormwood: External Use

It is remarkable how many instances are found through the tradition of external application of herbs, through a variety of inventive means, for more internal conditions; a mode of treating that is far less practised today; and wormwood has been no exception. For the more usual topical applications for skin and joints, for example, wormwood is not normally encountered among the more frequent recommendations. Bartram records an infusion of 1 oz to a pint applied to muscles in rheumatic pain, and Menzies-Trull refers to a number of external applications, but otherwise mention is rare. Given, however, wormwood’s strong gastrointestinal reputation, it is interesting to note Wood’s appraisal of the herb as having survived in modern American herbalism largely as a medicine for the muscular and skeletal system. He cites Cook’s enthusiastic recommendation of it as ‘a good fomentation in sprains, rheumatic and other sub-acute difficulties about the joints; and in bruises and local contusions/congestions’. Cullen records the reputation of bitters, especially aromatic bitters, in general as cleansing and healing foul ulcers, including checking of the progress of gangrene, and in fomentations for discussing tumours. The further Read more […]

Wormwood: Current Use

Wormwood continues to be used in traditional medicine in Europe. Guarrera (2005) sought out elderly people in rural areas of Central Italy and interviewed over 300 people in 175 localities. Use of the leaves as anthelmintic was reported in 26 localities and use for lack of appetite in 10 localities. One respondent referred to use of aerial parts as an effective antiemetic (one spoon infused in a glass for 5 minutes, and drunk morning and evening). Pelikan speaks of the wormwoods having a gesture of ‘swelling herbage’ combining with airy structures radiating outwards’, the astral sphere drawn deeply into the etheric forces of the plant. They are plants with many tiny flowerheads and permeated throughout by a bitter taste – ‘a strange synthesis’, says Pelikan, ‘producing volatile oils containing bitters’. Their attraction of the astral bestows a ‘stimulant and roborant principle’ for the gastrointestinal tract, promoting bile. If too much is taken, the astral that should be active in the metabolism reaches instead the nervous system, resulting in neurological dysfunction. Wormwood, with its deeply divided leaves, has to do with the intervention of the astral and the I (ego) in the digestive system, allowing good Read more […]