The wormwood plant has played a central role in natural medicine and holistic healing for a long time. Because of the numerous wormwood benefits, healers considered it to be a universal cure throughout the Middle Ages.
In fact, wormwood benefits are so broad that wormwood earned the old German adage, roughly: “wormwood makes everything good”. Hildegard of Bingen also thought very highly of wormwood. She relied on wormwood benefits to treat both internal and external ailments. She called wormwood the “most important master for exhaustion”. Later, we will share how she used wormwood in her spring cleanse.
In this post, we look into the amazing medicinal wormwood plant, including:
- What is Wormwood?
- How Wormwood Benefits Work
- Wormwood Effects & Wormwood Side Effects
- Wormwood Benefits
- How to Prepare & Use Wormwood
- Wormwood & Hildegard’s Spring Cleanse
First, lets take a look at the wormwood plant.
What is Wormwood?
Wormwood (Artemisia Absinthium) is one of the most important medicinal plants in monastic medicine.
Wormwood is a flowering plant within the Asteraceae family. Also known as the aster, daisy, or sunflower family, this large family of plants includes nearly 2,000 distinct genera in 13 sub-families. The Asteraceae family contains other healing herbs such as Arnica.
Like many healing plants, wormwood goes by several different names. Some of the common names for the wormwood plant include: artemisa plant, artemisa herb, and the sweet annie herb or “sweet wormwood.”
Mugwort or Wormwood
The wormwood plant and the mugwort plant are related, but are different plants. The Artemisia genus is home to wormwood and mugwort and more commonly known healing plants like 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 and rocky soil in temperate regions of Europe, Asia, and North Africa. It is not native to North America, but was naturalized.
Wormwood grows in straight, stemmed branches of two to four feet high, in bunches with gray-fleecy leaves and pale yellow tubular flowers. It blooms 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 most bitter of the medicinal plants.
How Wormwood Benefits Work
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.
The active chemicals in wormwood include absinthin, anabsinthin (both bitter compounds), and a volatile oil that is 70% thujone.
Thujone is an active organic chemical that acts as an antagonist of the neurotransmitter GABA. GABA controls neuron excitability in your brain. When thujone limits GABA activity, your receptors in your nervous system become more active.
As a result, high doses of wormwood can cause excitability or nervousness and muscle spasms. In fact, toxic doses of thujone from wormwood in Absinthe is part of how Absinthe got its reputation for hallucinations and other effects.
For many years researchers thought thujone acted similarly to THC, the active hallucinogenic compound found in cannabis (marijuana). This was because thujone acts similarly to THC on the cannabinoid receptors. But, subsequent research has proven that the reaction is different and there is no psychoactive effect.
Wormwood’s other active chemical compounds include:
- acetylenes (chemicals that are naturally anti-parasitic)
- ascorbic acid (vitamin C)
- azulenes (aromatic compounds containing dark blue pigments)
- carotenoids (nutritional organic compounds)
- flavonoids like quercitin (bitter nutrient compound)
- phenolic acids (aromatic acids)
Wormwood Side Effects
In high doses, thujone may result in physiological responses such as muscle spasms and seizures. Other side-effects from high doses include:
- Cognitive Impairment
- Numbness in limbs
- Hallucinations & Disorientation
Thujone levels are closely regulated in the U.S., Canada, and the EU. As is the case with many herbal substances, however, the regulatory standards are inconsistent among the major jurisdictions.
In any case, the levels of thujone contained in alcohol such as absinthe, wormwood extract, wormwood tincture products, and other medicinal preparations made in the US, Canada, and Europe are well below the limits that would be considered toxic.
Folklore prescribes wormwood for general deficiencies in digestive juices and malaise. There is some research that indicates that wormwood benefits include easing the symptoms of crohn’s disease as well as small intestine bacterial overgrowth or SIBO.
In addition, you can also use a wormwood tincture externally for wound cleansing and treating insect bites. Other wormwood benefits include:
- Anti-pyretic (fever reducer)
- Chemotherapeutic (kills cancer cells)
- Anti-microbial & Anti-fungal (kills bacteria, viruses, and funguses)
- Anti-parasitic (kills parasites)
You can take our wormwood cure from Hildegard orally to treat appetite loss, indigestion, and minor gastrointestinal problems.
If you have bloating and cramping in the stomach and intestine area, consuming wormwood vermouth after your meals can be an effective treatment.
How to Prepare & Use Wormwood
In Germany, Hildegard’s wormwood cure is also known as the May Cure, because it is normally taken in Spring.
In fact, Hildegard believed in doing a thorough cleanse in the spring to bring balance in spirit, mind, and body. Her spring cleanse using her wormwood wine cure was an important part of the tradition of taking a spring cleanse. We will cover her spring cleanse in a moment. First, let’s look at how to prepare wormwood.
Preparing Wormwood Tea, Tincture, & Wine
You can prepare wormwood as tea or tincture. The best way for you to experience the wormwood benefits covered above is to start with dried wormwood. You can find wormwood essential oil, but wormwood oil is often too strong for most wormwood tea or wormwood tincture preparations. So you should not ingest pure essential oils of wormwood. In fact, this is true for most essential oils.
Wormwood essential oil may contain unsafe levels of thujone. You can safely consume tea or tinctures, however, as they contain only a trace amount of thujone.
Where to Buy Wormwood
Wormwood is available at most health food or natural food stores, herbal apothecaries, and online. There are a number of commercial wormwood products available. You can find wormwood products in many forms including: dried, essential oil, capsules, tablets, tinctures, and extracts.
As with most botanical products, it is best to work with an herbalist or natural medicine practitioner when first sourcing and using an unfamiliar herbal remedy. If they do not provide wormwood directly, they can usually recommend trusted brands or online sources.
How to Make a Wormwood Tea
Wormwood tea (“artemisia tea”) is a great natural remedy for digestive issues, low energy, or as a cleanse. If you think you have been exposed to a parasite, you can also use strong wormwood tea to kill any parasites in your system.
To make wormwood tea: combine 1/2 to one (1) teaspoon of dried wormwood herb per 6-8 ounces of water and steep for 5 to 10 minutes. As a rule of thumb take only such a small amount of wormwood herb as fits between three fingertips (max 1 gram) and start with a short steeping time (1 minute and increase up to 5-10 minutes maximum) to avoid that the tea becomes too bitter.
You can drink a freshly prepared cup of warm wormwood tea a maximum three times a day – half an hour before meals if you lack or to regulate appetite, half an hour after meals if you have digestive problems. The daily dosage is a maximum of three grams of wormwood herb.
The medicinal plant must be avoided during pregnancy and lactation as well as in the case of gastrointestinal ulcers or in case of allergies against composite family plants . It is also not recommended for children and adolescents under the age of 18.
With wormwood tea and tincture (in the recommended dosage), the body is not supplied with thujone in a toxic dose. Nevertheless, as a precaution (and always when using medicinal plants), the medicinal plant should not be used internally for a longer period of time, in the case of wormwood tea not more than two weeks. More information on precautions you will find below in this post.
When used and dosed as directed, there are no known side effects for wormwood tea.
How to Make a Wormwood Tincture
You can use the tea recipe to make a water-based tincture. Just steep the tea for 15-20 minutes to make a stronger solution. Store in a glass jar or tincture bottle, in a cool, dark place. For a stronger, alcohol-based version, prepare the following:
In sealable glass jar, combine 8 ounces of 80-100 proof grain alcohol (vodka) with 1 cup of whole fresh wormwood plant or dried wormwood. Cover and store in a cool, dry place for 4 to 6 weeks. Strain all plant matter out of the solution and store in tincture bottles.
Take 20-30 drops in water or tea daily for up to two weeks. 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.
How to Make a Wormwood Room Spray
Wormwood is naturally antimicrobial and anti-fungal, so you can use wormwood as a spring-cleaning preparation to ward off potential illness. You can also use an aerosol of wormwood to cleanse your home or office.
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.
How to Make Wormwood Wine
According to Hildegard, wormwood wine is a curing tonic that has strong regenerative and performance enhancing effects. She considered wormwood wine to be one of her most important remedies for general well-being.
How to prepare wormwood wine:
“And when wormwood is fresh, pound it and express the juice through a piece of cloth. Then moderately cook wine with honey and mix this juice into this wine, so that the wormwood juice overcomes the taste of wine and honey” – Hidlegard of Bingen, Physica, Cap. 109
Combine 1 liter of wine with 150 grams (5 ounces) raw, organic, unfiltered honey and 40ML (1.5 ounces) of wormwood juice. You can prepare wormwood juice according to Hildegard’s instructions, use prepared liquid wormwood solutions, or use the alcohol tincture from the recipe above. Alternatively, you can simply use 1-2 ounces of fresh or dried wormwood plant.
Bring the honey and wine mixture to a boil, stirring gently. Stir in the wormwood juice or plant and bring to a boil. After a brief boil, reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer for 5 minutes. Strain and store in a clean bottle with a good seal.
For optimal wormwood benefits, take 1-2 ounces of wormwood wine at a time. If you have specific digestive ailments or low energy, take daily for up to three weeks. For a general healing tonic or as part of Hildegard’s spring cleanse take every third day before your first meal, for the month of May. People with liver diseases and (dry) alcoholics should not take alcoholic wormwood preparations.
For other wormwood benefits, see our post on wormwood: natural remedies for gingivitis.
Hildegard’s Spring Cleanse
“He who cleans well, heals well” – Hildegard of Bingen
Hildegard understood the importance of clearing the way for the body to perform its natural function of detoxification. In her natural history book, Physica, she describes a natural cleanse consisting of the wormwood wine cure above.
The spring cleanse is a great way to support your body during the natural detoxifying and cleansing process that peaks as you transition out of the winter season. Her wormwood wine cure is a time-tested natural remedy that has been used in Germany for generations.
Why You Need a Spring Cleanse
According to Hildegard, it is best to begin a spring cleanse with the wormwood wine cure in the month of May. Spring is when the power of nature (Viriditas) becomes in full effect. Just as plants are subject to seasonal fluctuations that drive their life energy and cycle, you are also subject to a natural seasonal rhythm.
During spring your body shifts from its “winter operation” to its “summer operation.” Longer periods of sunlight reduce melatonin levels, which can reduce the impulse to sleep. As a result, we align our activity levels with the increased daylight. Occasionally, the transition is difficult. You may not feel like your energy and thus activity levels are naturally moving in alignment with the increasing daylight.
The transition from winter into spring usually runs smoothly, but some people will experience trouble adapting to the changing environment. For many, this means listlessness, fatigue, and lethargy. Hildegard recommended her spring cleanse to counter these effects and help build momentum to bound into spring with renewed energy and vitality.
Wormwood Benefits: Balance
Hildegard sought preventative and curative remedies that would bring balance among the bodily juices. She believed that an imbalance in our bodily juices creates poor energy and opportunity for illness and disease.
During transition seasons like spring and autumn, our bodies are more susceptible to the various imbalances Hildegard mentions throughout her work. Her spring cleanse helps prevent imbalances while stimulating renewal and higher energy levels.
“Drink the fresh wormwood with cooked wine and honey every third day while fasting from May to October. It checks a person’s melancholy, clears the eyes, strengthens the heart, does not allow the lungs to become ill, warms the stomach, purges the intestines, and makes good digestion possible.” – Hildegard of Bingen, Physica, Cap. 109.
Hildegard was clearly fond of the many wormwood benefits. She believed wormwood provided many important benefits, particularly to the kidneys. The kidneys are the foundation of stable health. Hildegard writes that kidneys are “our actual age organs.” Kidney weakness, as described by Hidlegard, often leads to dangerous vascular deposits that affect the brain, heart, and even eyes.
Other wormwood benefits that Hildegard noted as part of her spring cleanse include:
- Cleanses the kidneys
- Strengthens the immune system
- Stimulates digestion
- Promotes detoxification
- Improves energy
Whether you use wormwood for its general health benefits or for a specific ailment, you will enjoy the uplifting and cleansing wormwood benefits. Wormwood is a natural remedy. But it is still full of active chemicals. So keep in mind that wormwood may have some side-effects or other negative interactions. Consider the following precautions when using wormwood.
Wormwood is generally regarded as safe for you when used appropriately for short durations. You should not take in large amounts or long-term. Other wormwood precautions to consider:
- Do not take more than 3 grams or 60 tincture drops of wormwood per day.
- Your daily regimen should not exceed a period of 2 weeks.
- Do not consume wormwood during pregnancy.
- Wormwood is unsafe for pregnant women because it has uterine and menstrual stimulating effects.
- If you have a seizure disorder, consult your doctor before using wormwood.
- If you are taking medications, particularly anti-convulsants (for seizures), wormwood may interfere with these medications.
- To be safe, you should not use wormwood while breastfeeding.
- If you are known to have ragweed allergies (or other asteraceae plants) you may have allergic reactions to wormwood.
- Wormwood is not recommended for people with kidney disorders.