WORMWOOD

Family: Asteraceae (Compositae), Artemisia absinthium L.

Modified from: Simon, J.E., A.F. Chadwick and L.E. Craker. 1984. Herbs: An Indexed Bibliography. 1971-1980. The Scientific Literature on Selected Herbs, and Aromatic and Medicinal Plants of the Temperate Zone. Archon Books, 770 pp., Hamden, CT.

Wormwood, Artemisia absinthium L., is an erect-growing perennial herb native to Europe and naturalized in northeastern North America. The plant is cultivated commercially in the central and northwestern United States. Also called common wormwood, absinthe, absinthium, and madderwort, the species is known for its aromatic leaves. Reaching a height of 1 to 1.5 meters, the multibranched, shrubby-looking plant has grayish-green leaves and yellow flowers that bloom from summer to autumn.

The reported life zone of wormwood is 5 to 211Cdeg;C with an annual precipitation of 0.3 to 2.7 meters and a soil pH of 4.8 to 8.2 (4.1-31). The plant can grow in both poor dry or deep rich soils.

Plantations of wormwood last from seven to ten years, peaking in production during the second or third year (14.1-8). The herb can be harvested twice a year, during the late spring and during full bloom (4.3-48). Plants for oil production are partially dried before distillation.

The extracted essential oil, ranging from 0.5 to 1% of the fresh weight of the plant material, appears to be strongly influenced by environmental conditions. Some volatile oil constituents include: thujone, phellandrene, thujyl alcohol, cadinene, and azulene (1.7-130, 14.1-10, 14.1-32). The bitter principle in wormwood comes from absinthin and anabsinthin (14.1 -10).

Wormwood has been used as a flavoring agent in alcoholic beverages, such as vermouth, bitters, and liqueurs. In the past, it was sometimes used in place of hops in the manufacture of beer. Until use of the product was curtailed in 1912, the essential oil was in great demand for the manufacture of the French liqueur absinthe (14.1-31). The plant is sometimes grown as an ornamental.

The dried leaves, flowering tops, and essential oil of wormwood have traditionally been used as an anthelmintic, antiseptic, antispasmodic, carminative, sedative, stimulant, stomachic, and tonic (11.1-136). Wormwood has also been used to improve blood circulation, as a cardiac stimulant, as a pain reliever for women during labor, and as an agent against tumors and cancers (13.1-101, 14.1-13). Folk remedies call for the employment of wormwood against colds, rheumatism, fevers, jaundice, diabetes, and arthritis. Regular use of wormwood can become addicting. The plant contains glycoside, known to be poisonous, and the volatile oil is a central nervous system depressant. Overuse of wormwood can initiate nervousness, stupor, convulsions, and death (11.1-96, 11.1-136). Wormwood is known to be allergonic and can cause contact dermatitis. The plant is recognized as a moth and insect repellent.

Artemisia cina, levant wormseed, and Artemisia maritime contain santonin, an effective compound against round worms. Artemisia pontica L., an erect, gray perennial that reaches a height of 1 meter, is native to southeastern Europe and naturalized in eastern parts of North America. This plant has been used in the manufacture of vermouth and as a medicinal plant against colds and as a bitter stomachic. Artemisia annua L., sweet wormwood, is a native of eastern Europe that has sweet aromatic leaves and reaches a height of 2 to 3 meters. The plant is grown as an ornamental but the essential is reported to have strong antifungal and antibacterial activity (4.3-48), and artemisinin, the nonvolatile sesquiterpenelactone, has activity against malaria.

For further information, see Artemiaia annua link to Artemisia annua in New Crops.

[Note: References listed above in parentheses can be found in full in the original reference].


Aromatic and Medicinal Plants Index

Last modified 6-Dec-1997