Wormwood

Wormwood (Qing Hao)Wormwood (Qing Hao)

Botanical Name: Western – Artemisia absinthium, A. pontica, A. maritima. Eastern – A. annuae.

There are several well known varieties of wormwood. While they are each similar in medicinal properties and appearance they each also have particular attributes. Vermouth and absinthe are both made from wormwood plants. Only the herb rue, said to be the most bitter of all the herbs, is considered more bitter than the wormwoods. It is famous in China for effectively treating malaria and malarial types of diseases.

Below is an overview of Wormwood (Qing Hao), combining and interpreting the best of Western Science, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Shamanism, Folklore and more. Gain a balanced and thorough understanding of the healing properties of Wormwood (Qing Hao).

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Western

Western Name: Wormwood

Also Known As: Common Wormwood (A. absinthium or A. vulgaris): Green Ginger, Absinthe, Grand Wormwood, Crown for a King. Roman Wormwood (A. pontica): European Wormwood, Bitter Weed. Sea Wormwood (A. maritima): Old Woman (in reference to its resemblance to southernwood plant, commonly called ‘old man,’ which old woman resembles).

Organs/Systems: Stomach

Key Western Actions & Medicinal Uses: Bitter, Antispasmodic, Anti-inflammatory, Antibacterial, Digestive, Antiseptic, Stomachic, Febrifuge, Antiparasitic, Nervine. Digestion, loss of appetite, gall bladder disorders, intestinal spasms, skin disorders, insect bites, fever, stimulates sweating.

Eastern

Pin Yin: Qing Hao (A. annuae)

Also Known As: A. annuae – Sweet Wormwood, Sweet Annie, Ching Hao.

Meridians: A. absinthium – Stomach, Spleen, Liver. A. annuae – Kidney Liver, Gall Bladder.

Key TCM Actions & Medicinal Uses: Common wormwood (A. absinthium) – Clears Heat/Transforms Damp: fever, headache, vomiting, bloating, seasickness. Strengthens the Stomach and Spleen: stimulates appetite, flatulence, cramping, fatigue, anemia. Promotes Urination: edema, urinary difficulties. Enhances Labor: for difficult labor. Clears Toxins: benefits the skin, snakebite, roundworm, bruises, leprosy, rheumatic pain, tumors, cancers. Sweet Wormwood (A. annuae/ Qing Hao) – Clears Summer Heat: Summer Heat with fever, headache, dizziness, vomiting and stifling feeling in the chest. Clears Fever due to Deficiencies: blood deficiency or febrile diseases with unremitting fever, night fevers, and no sweating. Cools Blood/Stops Bleeding: purpuric rashes, nosebleeds due to heat in the blood. Checks Malarial Disorders: alternating chills and fevers of malarial disorders.

Basic Habitat/Botany:

Wormwoods are a member of the genus Artemisia. They are herbaceous, perennial plants with fibrous roots and about 180 different species. The plants mentioned here are all very similar but there are a few differences to note:

  • Artemisia absinthium: Has yellow pale flowers that are clustered in leafy and branched panicles. The leaves are spirally arranged and are greenish-gray above and white below. The flowers have a musty aroma.
  • Aretimisa pontica: Has blue-green stems, grows to be two feet tall and bears tiny yellow flowers.
  • Artemisia maritima: Is common in sea marshes and appears similar to the plant southernwood, but its gray-green leaves are more delicate and it has yellow flowers.
  • Artemisia annua: Has stems that are erect brownish or violet brown. The plant is hairless with leaves that are 3-5 cm long and divided by deep cuts into 2-3 small leaflets. The leaves are intensely aromatic. This genus has small yellowish-green flowers and is native to China.

A. absinthium is native to temperate regions of Eurasia and Northern Africa. It has become naturalized in Canada and the Northern United States. It will grow naturally on uncultivated, arid ground, on rocky slopes or at the edges of footpaths and fields. The plants like shady areas.

Wormwood (Qing Hao)Parts Most Frequently Used: Whole Above-ground Plant (Leaves and Tops), Oil

Flavors/Temps: A. absinthium – Very Bitter, Astringent, Cold, Dry. A. annuae – Very Bitter, Cold.

Caution: The compound thujone can cause convulsions and kidney failure if overdosed.

History/Folklore: Common wormwood (A. absinthium) is famous as an ingredient in the hallucinogenic liqueur absinthe. The liqueur Vermouth is made from Roman Wormwood (A. pontica) which has a very aromatic flavor. The word “Vermouth” is derived from the German Word “wermut” which means wormwood.

The Ancient Egyptians and Greeks used a different recipe for making absinthe that was recommended by early physicians as a digestive and liver cleanse. Winners of sporting events in Rome drank a wine containing wormwood to remind them that victory was bitter as well as sweet. The genus name, “Artemisia” is derived from the Greek name for Diana, “Artemis.”

In Biblical days it was considered a symbol of pending calamity and sorrow.

“Bitter as wormwood” is an old saying that derives from the plant’s very bitter taste.

Roman wormwood (A. pontica) is the most delicate and least powerful of all the wormwoods. Culpepper considered this varietal “excellent for strengthening the stomach” and good for treating gout.

Sea wormwood (A. maritima) is said to be particularly useful for increasing the appetite. Only the fresh flowery tops and young shoots are recommended, the older leaves and stalks are said to be useless. It is not as strong as the Roman, Common or Chinese Qing Hao varieties of wormwood.

Qing Hao (A. annuae), is named after the plant’s dark green leaves and its tall stalks. It is a common weed in Southern China. It has a sweet aroma that gives the plant its common western name of “sweet wormwood” and it has also been used to kill lice, brighten the eyes, and heal itchy scabs and oozing sores as well as ease what the Chinese call “heat lodged in the joints.”

One of the largest research efforts for any Chinese herb was taken to study the powerful antimalarial effects of Qing Hao (Artemisia annuae) by Professor Yu Youyou in Beijing. The study isolated a new type of sesquiterpene lactone that resolved the problem of drug-resistant malarial strains. The compound was later named artemisinin and is found in the plant’s leaves. It is at its highest levels when the plant is in flower. This compound has also been found to be excellent for treating certain parasitic diseases (schistosomiasis and clonorchiasis) commonly encountered in China and Africa.

The oil produced after the artemisinin has been removed, called huang hua oil (yellow flower oil) has been shown to have strong antifungal capabilities for treating funguses that attack the skin.

In Mexico, the Great Festival of the Goddess of Salt is celebrated by dancing women who wear garlands on their heads made of wormwood.

The compound thujone, found in wormwood excites the central nervous system and can cause convulsions and other adverse effects if too much is taken.

The plant’s leaves resist putrefaction allowing them to become a principal ingredient in antiseptic formulas.

According to old folklore traditions wormwoods counteracted the effects of poisoning by hemlock and toadstools.

Wormwood is the traditional coloring agent for the green dumplings eaten during the Korean thanksgiving festival called Chuseok.

An old love charm recommends drying marigold flowers, a sprig of marjoram, thyme and a little wormwood before a fire and then rubbing them into a powder and simmered over a slow fire on St. Luke’s Day. Add a small amount of honey and vinegar. Anoint yourself with the blend before you go to bed and repeat “St Luke, St. Luke, be kind to me, in dreams let me my true-love see” three times and you will then dream of the person who will become your true love.

The Chinese herb, Qing Hao, is not recommended for long decocting times as it decreases the herb’s effectiveness.

Key Constituents:

Essential oils (including Thujone), Terpenoids (including Azulene, Tanacetone), Sesquiterpines, Flavonoid Glycoside, Hydroxycoumarins, Polyacetylenes, Tannins, Organic acids.

Did you know?

Potency

The leaves of A. annuae (Qing Hao) are the most potent part of the plant. Good quality is young, green and fragrant.

Facts

Digestive Tonic

As a bitter digestive tonic common wormwood (A. absinthium) can be used in small doses before or after meals to aid digestion.

Fun fact!

Bitter, Bitter, Bitter

All species of the genus Artemisia (mugworts, tarragon, southernwood, and the wormwoods, too!) are known for being bitter.

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