Wormwood (Artemisia Absinthium) is one of the most important medicinal plants in monastic medicine. It was considered a universal cure with a broad spectrum of medical uses throughout the Middle Ages. From this storied past, wormwood earned an old German adage, roughly: “wormwood makes everything good”.
Hildegard of Bingen thought very highly of wormwood for its internal and external applications, calling wormwood the “most important master for exhaustion”.
Spring Cleaning with the Wormwood Cure
Wormwood is a flowering plant within the Asteraceae family. Also referred to as the aster, daisy, or sunflower family, this large family of plants includes nearly 2,000 distinct genera in 13 sub-families. Asteraceae may sound familiar, as other healing herbs such as Arnica are also in the family. Within the same genus as wormwood, Artemisia, other common healing herbs include mugwort and sage.
In Central Europe, wormwood is cultivated in home gardens, just as it had been by monks in monasteries throughout the Middle Ages. Wormwood also grows naturally in arid soil in rocky ground in temperate regions of Europe, Asia, and North Africa. It is non-native, but has been naturalized in North America.
Wormwood grows in straight, stemmed branches of two to four feet high, in bunches with gray-fleecy leaves and pale yellow tubular flowers that bloom from early summer through early autumn. The leaves are covered in oil-producing glands, which is why this prolific producer of volatile oils is known for being one of the bitterest medicinal plants.
Wormwood’s bitter power
The bitter and aromatic properties of wormwood are why it has historically been used in alcoholic beverages such as absinthe, vermouth, and even as a substitute for hops in beer. In Hildegard medicine, wormwood is used primarily for its bitterness and aroma to help fortify digestion.
The constituents of wormwood include absinthin, anabsinthin (both bitter compounds), and a volatile oil that is 70% thujone. Thujone is an antagonist of the neurotransmitter GABA, which can inhibit receptor activation resulting in elevated neuron activity. In high doses, thujone may result in physiological responses such as muscle spasms and seizures. For this reason, thujone levels are regulated in the U.S., Canada, and the EU, although as with many herbal substances, the regulatory standards are inconsistent. Generally, the levels of thujone contained in alcohol such as absinthe, tinctures, and other preparations are well below their active limits.
Application of Hildegard’s Wormwood Cure
In Germany, Hildegard’s wormwood cure is also known as the May Cure, because it is normally taken in Spring, over an extended period of time.
Folklore also prescribes wormwood for general deficiencies in digestive juices and malaise. In addition, it can also be used externally for wound cleansing and treating insect bites.
Hildegard’s wormwood cure is taken orally to treat loss of appetite, indigestion, and gastrointestinal problems. It is often used in conjunction with other herbs to address gallbladder disorders and flatulence. In case of bloating and cramping in the stomach and intestine area, consuming wormwood vermouth after the meal has proven to be very effective.
Preparation of Wormwood Cure
Wormwood can be prepared as tea or tincture. Pure essential oils of wormwood may not be ingested, since these may contain unsafe levels of thujone. Tea or tinctures, on the other hand, contain only a trace amount of thujone and thus can be safely consumed. Dosage should not exceed 3 grams or 45 tincture drops of wormwood per day and the daily regimen should not exceed a period of 4 weeks.
Preparing a Tea or Tincture
Combine one (1) teaspoon of dried wormwood herb with 1/8 liter (4 to 4.25 ounces) of water and steep for 10 minutes. To address a loss of appetite, take 30 minutes before each meal. For those with digestive problems, take after meals twice daily. As a substitute for tea, take 15 drops of the wormwood tincture mixed with a glass of water.
Wormwood Room Spray
Wormwood can be used as a spring-cleaning preparation to ward off potential illness. Due to its antimicrobial and antifungal properties, an aerosol containing wormwood can help cleanse your environment during times when your household has been subjected to recurring colds.
Combine one (1) teaspoon of dried (or 2 teaspoons fresh) wormwood along with chopped thyme, rosemary, and lavender together with 2-3 cloves. Add 1/2 liter of apple cider vinegar. Allow the mixture to sit for 3 to 4 weeks in a cool dark place. Strain the juice into a mist or spray bottle. Lightly mist your living areas each morning to help create a clean air environment and strengthen the immune system.
Wormwood is generally regarded as safe when used appropriately for short durations. Wormwood should not be taken in large amounts or long-term.
This herb has been declared unsafe for use during pregnancy due to its uterine and menstrual stimulating effects. Due to the lack of sufficient reliable information, wormwood should not be used while breastfeeding.