So silver is his hair, older brother of Mugwort. He too was friend to Artemis. While Mugwort is intuitive and a bit more gentle, her brother is one of the most harsh and bitter beings in the kingdom. Under his watch, the vermin and parasites of the world dare not tread. Under him, no invader may grow. Bitter may their waters become! When one walks in the wild with Wormwood as an ally, he offers his strength and protection to them. And yet despite his somewhat martial nature, he is also quite familiar with the more lunar skills of his sister. He too has peered beyond the veil. He knows much of death and Saturnian rites. He too will give visions, and so quick is he to point out one’s weaknesses when he does. He is the elder that puts you in your place and forces your to become stronger. His lessons will wake you in the dead of night and leave you shaking and covered in sweat.
Wormwood, or Artemisia absinthium, is an extremely bitter plant. It grows about four to five feet tall and five to seven feet wide. The leaves are silvery on both top and bottom, and it bears small, yellow flowers.
History and Lore
The genus Artemisia is named after and contains plants sacred to Artemis; goddess of hunting, the moon, and childbirth. Plants from the genus have frequently been used for various feminine issues and for lunar matters including divination. They have long been powerful allies to women.
Wormwood is mentioned in the bible several times in both new and old testaments, usually serving as a metaphor for bitterness. If you ever taste the plant, it will make sense. Perhaps the most notable quote is from Revelations 8:10-11.
“And the third angel sounded, and there fell a great star from heaven, burning as it were a lamp, and it fell upon a third part of the rivers, and upon the fountains of waters;
“And the name of the star is called Wormwood: and the third part of the waters became wormwood; and many men died from the waters, because they were made bitter.”
More modernly, Wormwood is most known for being the primary ingredient Absinthe. Here, it is what gives the liqueur its reputed psychoactivity. This drink is often referred to as the “Green Fairy”.
Cultivation and Harvest
Wormwood begins as an extremely small seed. It should be barely tamped into the surface of the soil and kept moist until germination, which usually only takes a couple weeks or less. A fine spray bottle can be helpful to keep form dislodging the small seeds during germination. A spray bottle may also help to prevent larger drops of water from breaking the delicate stems of freshly sprouted seedlings until they are larger and more durable. Alternatively, the seed may be scattered on a prepared spot of earth and allowed to come up on its own.
Once the plants become large enough to easily work with, they must be dramatically thinned out or transplanted. Wormwood should be given a great deal of space, up to four feet or more on each side. While most places seem to state that the plant only gets a couple feet wide, my own plants tend to quickly reach around six or seven feet wide each year. In addition to reaching a beastly size, the plant is allelopathic, meaning it releases chemicals that inhibit the germination and growth of neighboring plants if placed too close. The strength of this effect of course depends on the susceptibility of the other plants.
A yearly trim to about one foot, either before winter or in early spring, will help to keep the plant somewhat less unruly. Trimming and harvesting flowering tips before they go to seed is another great idea to prevent the plant from spreading like wildfire.
Wormwood’s potency is at peak just before the flowers fully open and turn to seed. While this is the ideal time to harvest it, the herb will be effective even if harvested before or during flowering, so long as the plant is nice and mature. Pollen may however be an issue for some individuals. The flowering tips and healthy leaves should be picked first thing in the morning and immediately dried or processed into medicine.
Due to its extreme bitter nature, Wormwood makes an excellent aid to digestion if taken as tea or tincture before a heavy meal. Some find it beneficial for IBS or Crohn’s Disease. Applied externally as an oil, ointment, or liniment, it has been used to help aches and pains.
I like to use it in tincture form (1:2, fresh flowers and leaves to 95% grain alcohol) to aid digestion and for my own long-term GI issues. For this I take 20-30 drops as needed, up to 2-3 times a day. Occasionally I will use the infused oil for an ache, but mostly I like to use it in pain oil blends or pain ointments containing other plants that boost its effects.
Care should be taken when using Wormwood, as toxicity may develop if taken in high doses or for an extended period of time. Thujone is neurotoxic and may increase risk of seizures, particularly if one is prone to them. It should not be used if pregnant or breastfeeding, or in children. It should also be avoided if there are stomach ulcers, or impaired liver or kidney function. In excess, it may irritate the stomach and increase the action of the heart (Kings American Dispensatory, 1989). This information is intended only for just that, informational purposes. It is not intended to diagnose, or suggest treatments or cures. Do not take any medications or herbs without consulting a doctor first.
Wormwood is a fairly common ingredient in certain fumigant recipes and may even be made into a smudge stick. It may be used for cleansing or protection. It is also often used in necromancy or divination, to call forth spirits. In this case it might even be infused into a red wine, which would be consumed and offered to the spirits as well. One basic necromantic incense recipe may be found at the end of the section on Henbane.
Less commonly discussed is Wormwood’s ability to aid dreaming. It’s possible that Wormwood’s effects on dreams are even more strong than those of its sibling, Mugwort, who tends to get the praise in this area. Wormwood induced dreams tend to be vivid and emotional, bringing up issues from your shadows that you need to face and deal with. Meeting the deceased in these dreams is also not uncommon. When using it for dreams, I tend to wake up drenched in sweat.
A common method of working with Wormwood is smoking it, either alone or in blends. Dried flowers tend to offer a more pleasant experience than leaves, if so. Smoking tends to produce a mild state of relaxation.
For dreaming, a tincture or tea seem to produce stronger effects than smoking. I often combine them, smoking a pipe of it while drinking either tea or water with tincture added to it (similar to how one would both smoke and drink Calea zacatechichi if working with it).
I ask thy gift,
If I let you bite my tongue,
I ask you let me quench it,
With dew of Elysia.
Let me see.
Peterson Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs of Eastern and Central North America by Steven Foster and James A. Duke
The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants by Christian Rätsch