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 appetite and digestion, efficient liver and gall bladder function and resistance to disease. The tonic effect is acknowledged ‘with the ability to take hold more firmly of this part of the physical body, there is greater energy and enjoyment of life’. The volatile oil is toxic, Pelikan notes, as in absinthe, where, according to Rudolf Steiner, the air principle prevents the astral from engaging properly with the organs of the body, the reproductive organs being particularly damaged.

This remarkably powerful, warming aromatic bitter still has its place in contemporary use. The British Herbal Pharmacopoeia lists its actions as bitter, stomachic, choleretic and anthelmintic. Further actions of the constituents are added by Mills (1991). He refers to antiinflammatory antiseptic, astringent and tissue repairing capacities, which address both the gastrointestinal use and wider application. Weiss praises its gastrointestinal qualities roundly: it is ‘a very ancient, well proven stomach and gall bladder remedy’, for atonic and achylic stomach conditions, to aid food digestion and ease distension from gases; ‘one of the best remedies for biliary diskinesia’, for a troublesome gallbladder; it ‘holds a special place among drugs used to treat dyspepsia’, used for atonic states of the stomach and gallbladder, occurring particularly in asthenic patients; Wormwood is an excellent aid’ for conditions related to a weak stomach such as constitutional arterial hypotension; it is additionally recommended for influenza and weakness following infection. From current literature Wormwood appears to be a herb of choice in anorexia, achlorhydria in the elderly and to serve as a very useful bitter tonic for sluggish liver and associated conditions, following a long history of application. Wormwood seems to have a quite extraordinary association with ‘food’ that appears in no other plant. I have found it useful not only for patients with anorexia, but for individuals who have some unease in their relationship to food generally – for people who overeat and well as undereat, and it is probably quite unrelated, but so far each one has had a difficult relationship with their mother. There seems, following Wood, to be a possibly related dimension of use of wormwood as a temporary companion for help in aspects of ‘bitterness in life’. I have heard too, anecdotally of its use in a life too cushioned, to introduce a ‘bitter’ element for strength and toning. Should we here be pondering the twofold nature observed through the history of the herb?