Wormwood – characteristics, cultivation, use and curative effects

Wormwood - by Valérie75, own work , CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=875331

The common wormwood is one of the herbs that gained prominence, especially in liquid form – whether as a tea for various stomach problems or as alcohol in the form of wormwood schnapps or the notorious absinthe. It is therefore one of the economically important herbs that are used both for the production of remedies and for liquors.

Profile of Wormwood:

Scientific name: Artemisia absinthium

Plant family: composite, asters

Other names: grand wormwood, absinthe, absinthium, absinthe wormwood

Sowing time / Planting time: March – May

Flowering period: July – September

Harvest time: June – September

Location: sunny to full sun

Soil quality: dry, rather sandy, calcareous and nutrient-poor soils

Use as a medicinal herb: stomach and intestinal complaints, liver complaints, constipation, bile problems, flatulence

Use as spice herb: hearty meat dishes such as pork knuckle or rabbit, liquors, herbal wine

Plant characteristics and classification of Wormwood

Origin and distribution of common wormwood

The area of origin was probably in Siberia. The herb is relatively widespread today and is very common in southern and eastern Europe. Other wild occurrences are known from Western and Northern and Central Europe, North Africa and much of North and South America. The common wormwood is usually found in plains but also in higher altitudes. In foothills, it can be found up to the subalpine stage.

Plant order of Artemisia absinthium

Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) is a plant of the asters family (Asteraceae). The herb also belongs to the genus Artemisia. This genus includes about 500 species, including other well-known herbs such as southernwood (Artemisia abrotanum), mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) or the tarragon (Artemisia dranunculus).

Look and characteristics of wormwood


Common wormwood is a herbaceous, perennial plant that can reach heights of growth up to 150 cm (60 in), but is usually much smaller (between 50 and 100 cm (20 and 40 in)). It has a characteristic and aromatic smell due to its essential oils. In the soil, the plant forms an ocherous to medium brown root from which more or less strong lateral roots depart. The roots are relatively flat.


The leaves of wormwood differ from bottom to top. The underlying leaves have a mostly triple pinnation and are long-petiolate. In contrast, the top-sitting leaves are only one or two times pinnate and rather short-stalked. As a rule, the lower leaves are significantly larger than the upper ones. All leaves have a dense hairiness on the leaf surface


During flowering, which is usually to be expected from the end of July to the end of September, wormwood forms yellow flowers. The flower heads are grouped in strongly branched panicles, each of which stands in small and almost round baskets. Striking features are the silky hairy sepals


To the point of fruit ripeness, wormwood forms yellow to ocher-colored nut fruits, which have an elongated shape. These contain the mostly brownish and slightly urn-shaped seeds.

Wormwood – cultivation and care

Wormwood likes warm and sunny locations with permeable, dry and slightly calcareous soils. Optimal are slightly sandy or even gritty soils that are well-aerated and ensure rapid drainage. Loamy soils should therefore be optimized with some aggregates such as vermiculite, lava chippings or pumice.


Wormwood can be propagated via seeds as well as cuttings. Since the herb is a light germ, seeds are only loosely strewn and lightly pressed into the ground to prevent it from flying away. After a germination period of about 10 to 21 days, the first cotyledons show up. When cultivating several plants in the field, care should be taken to maintain a planting distance of at least 25 cm (10 in).

When planting, care should be taken to ensure that there is enough space for the neighboring plants – wormwood forms powerful shrubs without pruning and adversely affects the growth of other plants by excreting from the roots (so-called root exudates). Therefore it does not belong in herbal spirals or species-rich herb gardens. However, the herb is compatible with other plants such as the storksbill, fountain grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides) or pinks (Dianthus). Other herbs that tolerate the company of wormwood are other species such as southernwood, rue or other plants of the rue family (Rutaceae).


For the propagation by cuttings, a piece of the plant of about 10 cm (4 in) in length is sufficient. Put into the ground it forms roots after a short time. In addition, wormwood propagates even through sprouts of the root or by division of the rhizome.


Wormwood needs little water compared to many other herbs. Therefore, do not water daily. Keeping it constantly damp is just as damaging as waterlogging. Even if the plant does not need much water, it should be watered at least every two days, especially on warm and hot days. Powerless hanging leaves are usually a sign that the plant needs moisture. However, the herb usually recovers quickly.


For the fertilization of the herb cattle or horse manure suit best, which are admixed before sowing. In normal garden soil without fertilization usually adding some compost or small amount of commercial NPK fertilizer is sufficient. If manure or compost is used, it usually does not need to be fertilized.


For wintering wormwood is only brought into the house, if it is kept in pot culture (see article herbs overwinter properly). It is hardy and just needs easily covered with leaves or mulch before the frost.

Pests and diseases

Aphids or other insect pests are not a problem for wormwood, because the essential oils are so intense and “deterrent” that the plants are mostly spared from vermin. It can sometimes be observed, because some insects actually avoid the plant. This effect is used by some in the household, in which wormwood is used in the form of bunches or fragrance bags for the prevention and expulsion of moths and mosquitoes.

Wormwood manure

For this reason, wormwood has been proven by natural gardeners in the form of manure or broth for natural control of rust and mites on other plants. To produce a manure fresh wormwood leaves are shredded with pruning shears and poured into a bucket or a barrel with plenty of water and loosely closed with a suitable cover. The wormwood-water mixture is allowed to soak for about 3 weeks. During this time, an unpleasant-smelling liquid manure arises, which is ready when the manure no longer foams. For use as a pest control agent, one liter (33 fl oz) of the Wormwood slurry is stretched with 10 liters (2.6 gal) of water and then the affected plants are poured therewith.

Wormwood and its use

In addition to gentian, wormwood is one of the herbs in Europe that has the strongest bitterness among all herbs. The bitter substances in wormwood are in the end, responsible for the health-promoting effect. The bitter-value of wormwood is around 20,000 (for comparison: gentian 30,000, and hoarhound about 4,000).

The highest aromatic and healing power unfolds wormwood at harvest time from June to September.

Wormwood in the kitchen

Wormwood, unlike e.g. basil, parsley or dill is not a classic aromatic herb and therefore plays a rather minor role in everyday kitchen life. The spicy-tart and bitter taste is not only strict and individual, the flavor does not fit with most dishes. In fact, wormwood is important in the good bourgeois cuisine, which relies on hearty dishes. It goes well with fat-rich foods such as ham hock, goose or rabbit. However, it is used very sparingly because of the intensive spiciness. Wormwood has a very unique aroma, which can quickly neutralize the aroma of other herbs.

On the other hand, it is far more popular as an ingredient in herbal wines or absinthe. Absinthe consists of wormwood and a number of other herbs, including anise, fennel, coriander, nutmeg, speedwell, lemon balm, angelica and hyssop. Due to the thujone content of wormwood, absinthe was long banned in many European countries. The reason for this is that the frequent use of absinthe, however, led to delusions, dizziness and delirium. In 1998, the absinthe ban was lifted in many countries and absinthe is allowed to be produced and sold again. However, there are regulations in the EU regarding the thujone content of absinthe – depending on the alcohol content of the spirit drink. In 2007 absinthe is also imported and produced in the U.S.

Wormwood as a medicinal herb

Wormwood has been used since antiquity against many diseases and disorders. Just like today, it is used for headache, inflammation and menstrual pain due to its antiseptic, antibacterial, anticonvulsant and circulation-promoting effects. And last but not least, the herb is considered the home remedy for upset stomach, indigestion, loss of appetite and flatulence.

Hildegard von Bingen went a step further and mystified wormwood. She recommended fumigation with the herb against evil witches and demons. But even liver and kidney complaints were known to her, so that it was recommended as a wine used as a sedative.

In herbal books of the early 15th / 16th century wormwood was already used as a remedy for upset stomach, constipation and bile problems. It was administered with caraway as wine to treat flatulence. It was also recommended to better tolerate larger amounts of alcohol. Also, treatments for cold fever (presumably malaria) are known. External applications were cervical ulcers or pain in the eyes.

Wormwood has many medically interesting properties to which the following healing effects are attributed:

  • antiviral (partly)
  • appetizing
  • bile flow promoting
  • blood circulation
  • carminative
  • immune system strengthening
  • liver protective
  • toning

Wormwood has a high content of bitter and tannin acids, which stimulate the production of digestive juices in the stomach, gall bladder and liver and have proved helpful in the absence of appetite, flatulence and make oily meals more digestible. Either it is served directly as seasoning to eat or drunk as wormwood tea. Wormwood is generally regarded as one of the best medicinal herbs for general digestive problems and can, among other things, relieve symptoms that occur in disorders of lipid metabolism.

Preparation of wormwood tea

  • pour one to two teaspoons of wormwood herb or leaves with a cup of boiling water
  • let it steep for ten minutes.
  • then strain and drink in small sips.
  • drink one to three cups daily.

Wormwood can be used for many ailments and diseases. These include:

  • bad breath
  • bloating
  • bruise
  • earache
  • gall bladder problems
  • general weakness
  • jaundice
  • kidney weakness
  • promoting contractio
  • open woundsns
  • promoting menstruation
  • sprains
  • stomach weakness
  • strengthening the circulation
  • worms


Nursing and pregnant women should refrain from consuming wormwood – or at least discuss it with their attending physician – as it can cause premature labor. Too high doses can also cause symptoms of poisoning, including: vomiting, convulsions and diarrhea. Therefore, wormwood should always be used only to the recommended extent.


Ask your doctor or pharmacist. Visiting this page can not replace the visit to the doctor. For serious or unclear complaints, consult your doctor.

Buy Wormwood – What is there to pay attention to?

Wormwood is available to buy in many variants in various specialist shops. If you want to grow your own plants, you can purchase seeds or smaller plants relatively easily. Seeds are available at most home improvement centers and plant centers. Plants are usually found in all major plant markets and rarely in selected health food stores. The prices, both for the plant and for the seed, are relatively cheap.

For users who directly need wormwood for seasoning or healing purposes, dried herbs can be purchased from the herbal specialist or even from many online shops. In part, some tea makers also offer stomach or gall tea. The medically effective bitter and tannin remain well preserved, so no special storage conditions must take into consideration. Care should nevertheless be taken to ensure that the herbs are flavor-sealed and packaged.

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