Artemisia spp. – Wormwood

WormwoodArtemisia spp.

Artemisia = ar-tay-mis-ee-a, after the Greek goddess Artemis or after Queen Artemisia of Caria, Asia Minor;

Identification: There are many species of Artemisia in the area and they vary in shape from herbs to small shrubs. They are usually quite aromatic, and have alternate leaves, entire or dissected with tubular flowers. These plants are mostly grey in colour. They vary from 20 – 200 cm tall, most being less than 40 cm.

Distribution & Habitat: Wormwoods are usually found in dry places or in well drained south-facing slopes throughout the Rocky Mountain area.

Preparation & Uses: A. frigida. As with all species of Artemisia, the fruit and seed may be dried and pounded into meal to make pinal or eaten raw. The Hopi Indians used to roast the leaf with corn as a flavouring. Crushed leaves can be mixed with stored meat to maintain a good odour.

Tea made from the leaves was a good cure for colds, sore eyes and used as a hair tonic. The taste is strongly bitter but some people like it. This herb tea stops lipid per-oxidation, thereby protecting the liver from the “rancid fat syndrome” caused by continued donut and french fry consumption. It has also found use as a tea for frontal headache, especially if it is accompanied by indigestion. For headaches, a tea is drunk and a wash is applied to the area. The tincture (20 – 30 drops) lowers over-secretion of stomach acids. As its common name suggests, all wormwoods are excellent for ridding the body of worms, particularly pinworms and roundworms. An infusion of wormwood makes a refreshing bath to soak the feet in after a hard day on the trail.

Many Amerindian ladies used wormwood for controlling menstrual flow, and as a menstrual pad which would absorb and reduce skin irritation. The infusions of all Artemisia have a calming effect on the uterus, alleviating suppressed crampy menstruation, especially if associated with emotion difficulties. The foliage and flower were used as fumigant to revive a patient in a coma.

Leaves of wormwood were chewed by Blackfoot Indians and applied to wounds to lessen swelling. Bleeding nostrils were sometimes stuffed with soft leaves by these Indians. Vogel reports an Indian lady who cut off a finger as an offering and wrapped the bleeding stub in wormwood leaves.

This herb had the honour of being used as toilet paper, especially by children. It was also used as a foot deodorant.

One of the most important Amerindian uses of wormwood was for rituals. It is burned as an incense and the smoke is used to cleanse one s spirit. Wormwood is used as a flooring for sweatlodges and added to different smoking mixtures (e.g. kinnickinnick).

Even today, some people place this sage under their pillow to restore youth or help retain it.

The burning of wormwood as an incense was considered helpful by the Hopi Indians, as well as Tibetans, for “no-win situations”.

A. absinthium, absinthe

This herb is good for internal bleeding, as a vermifuge and to get rid of bad breath. It was also used by some people as an antidote for poisonous mushrooms (when it was usually combined with vinegar). The oil of this and other sages is used to make absinthe. A somewhat “narcotic” drink, absinthe is banned in most of the world.

Hutchens lists this herb as a tonic, stomachic, febrifuge, anthelmintic and narcotic. It will tune digestion and correct debilities of the liver and gallbladder. It is often given to people who get travelling sickness (5-30 drops of tincture; 3-4 times a day, an overdose causes stomach irritation). An infusion, 1 teaspoon in 1 cup of boiling water can also be used.

For external uses, the oil is good in liniments for sprains, bruises and lumbago. Fomentations are excellent applications for rheumatism, swellings, sprains and local inflammation.

A. vulgaris (mugwort, moxi)

A decoction can be made for colds, colic, bronchitis, rheumatism and fever. This decoction is also safe for suppressing menstruation.

The dosage is 1 teaspoon of herb to 1 cup boiling water, steeped for 20 minutes. Mugwort is used by acupuncturists for moxibustion.

A. campestris L. “of the pasture, from flat land”.

Blackfoot women would make a decoction of leaves in order to abort difficult pregnancies. Others would chew the leaves for stomach troubles. An infusion of the herb was used for coughs. It was usually dried and stored in a rawhide bag until needed. An infusion of the leaves was sometimes applied for eczema.

The spittle of the chewed herb was applied to rheumatic parts of the body and as an infusion of the root applied to back sores. When running, people sometimes chewed the leaves for their mentholating properties. This herb was sometimes rubbed on hide while tanning.

A. ludoviciana L. “from Louisiana, USA”.

The herb was a major ritual herb, and was often used to cleanse one’s body. The smoke was rubbed over the body to “enliven” the aura. Sweat lodges were often lined with this herb, which was sometimes rubbed onto the body or chewed with a drink as an infusion to relieve chest and throat constriction.

The leaves can be applied to blisters and burst boils for their cooling effect.