Its common name comes from its ability to act as a wormer in children and animals.
Wormwood (artemisia absinthium). Absinthium is Latin for "without sweetness." Its actions are bitter tonic, carminative, anthelmintic (worming) and anti-inflammatory (1). Bitter properties make it valuable as a digestive stimulant. It is often thought of as a worming herb due to its name. Externally it can be a good rinse for fungal or bacterial infections of the skin.
The perennial plants are of no use as forage due to their bitterness that seems to permeate the animals who have ingested them. It has been said that the few wild animals that have fed on them are said to have a bitter taste when eaten. The plants grow on roadsides and waste places in the US. The whole herb is used, meaning the leaves, tops and seeds, which can be gathered in July and August, when the plant is in flower and then dried.
Its common name comes from its ability to act as a wormer in children and animals. It was used in granaries to drive away weevils and insects, and was used as a strewing herb to drive away fleas. In traditional folk medicine, Wormwood preparations were used internally for gastric insufficiency, intestinal atonia, gastritis, stomach ache, liver disorders, bloating, anemia, irregular menstruation, intermittent fever, loss of appetite, and worm infestations. The primary chemical constituents of Wormwood include essential oil (absinthol, azulenes, camphene, cineol, isovaleric acid, pinene, thujone, sesquiterpene lactones, absinthin), bitters (absinthium), flavonoids (quercetin), and polyacetylenes (2).
"The intensely bitter, tonic and stimulant qualities have caused Wormwood not only to be an ingredient in medicinal preparations, but also to be used in various liqueurs, of which absinthe is the chief, the basis of absinthe being absinthol, extracted from Wormwood. Wormwood, as employed in making this liqueur, bears also the name 'Wermuth' - preserver of the mind - from its medicinal virtues as a nervine and mental restorative. If not taken habitually, it soothes spinal irritability and gives tone to persons of a highly nervous temperament. Suitable allowances of the diluted liqueur will promote salutary perspiration and may be given as a vermifuge. Inferior absinthe is generally adulterated with copper, which produces the characteristic green colour" (3).
Some consider it a safe wormer when used properly. It can be a powerful remedy for the treatment of worms, especially tapeworms, threadworms and roundworms from horses, dogs and cats. However, long-term continuous use of small doses of wormwood can be harmful to an animal's kidneys, liver and nervous system. The FDA lists Wormwood as unsafe for internal use. It is also contraindicated in pregnant or lactating animals. Only use this herb if working with an experienced practitioner.
1. The New Holistic Herbal by David Hoffman, printed by Element Inc., 1991.
2. A Modern Herbal by Mrs. M Grieve, Dover Publications, Inc., NY, 1982.