If Wormwood sounds familiar, it might be because of its curious mention in apocalyptic religious texts. But Wormwood is not some elusive, ancient symbol of the end of the world. Wormwood is real and it's real good for you. A traditional, useful herb used throughout history, Wormwood is a must for any historic or herb garden. And, for the gardener who loves to feature something fascinating, functional and absolutely easy-to-grow, Wormwood is a particular treat.
Start With Seeds: Since most lawn and garden centers won't be selling Wormwood starter plants, it's best to start with seeds. Wormwood is the common name for herb varieties Artemisia vulgaris and Artemisis absinthium.
Yes, you read that right. Absinthium. As in that mysterious botanical beverage with a strange green hue and associated with even stranger effects upon consuming.
To get high quality seeds, skip purchasing "absinthe" seeds from unreputable merchants hoping to capitalize off the allure of the absinthe connection. Instead, opt for a reliable seed supplier with a reputation for consistently meeting the needs of avid gardeners with quality products.
When To Sow: As a perennial herb, Wormwood will develop a deep and complex root system. This is where nourishment is derived, keeping the plant thriving year after year. Seeds can be sown indoors or out. But note that Wormwood seeds are incredibly tiny. If sowing outdoors take care! Best germination temperature is about 55-65 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Sowing Indoors: Time sowing seeds in starter pots about 6-8 weeks before last expected frost.
- Sowing Outdoors: Time sowing seeds directly on the surface of the soil when weather has warmed and all danger of frost has passed.
Sowing Depth: Because Wormwood seeds require light in order to germinate, they are sown on soil's surface.
- Starter Pots: Scatter about 3-5 seeds on soil surface of starter pots left uncovered and placed so they will receive direct lighting.
- Direct Sowing: Scatter seeds in the outdoor area designated for your future Wormwood plant. Make sure that the area does not receive excessive shade.
What To Expect: Once seeds germinate, Wormwood will undergo a few changes as it grows into the fullness of maturity.
- Germination: Seeds will sprout as early as 7 days or take as long as 21 days. In other words, be patients with any seeds that seem to be taking their time.
- Thinning: There may come a time to thin out some of the seedlings. How do you know which to keep and which should go? After all, you don't want to get stuck with a dud! Taller doesn't necessarily mean better! In other words, if you have to choose between a tall, spindly fellow or a shorter one with foliage of a richer shade of green, by all means go with the short one. Dark green colors, well-shaped leaves, and an overall balanced appearance is the beginning of a strong Wormwood plant.
- Maturity: Eventually, Wormwood, if left to its natural behavior, will grow into a bush about 3-4 feet tall and a diameter of about 2 feet. With a silver tint to rich green leaves, it is an attractive addition to any garden. Well, almost. But we will get to that in a bit.
Maintenance: Wormwood prefers a bit of shade. Prime temperature is in the 70-77 degree Fahrenheit range. But Wormwood is generally rather hardy even if soil conditions are rather poor. Nevertheless, be kind to your Wormwood. Add a bit of compost to the soil, work it in well and toss in a bit of sand or other organic matter if you need to improve drainage. Although there is not much that can do harm to a vigorous Wormwood bush, too much water can cause root rot. So make sure that soil drains well.
Once established, Wormwood will be with you for a long time. It will wilt and disappear from the surface of your garden each Winter. Underground it is biding it's time, waiting for Spring to arrive.
Be A Good Neighbor: As mentioned earlier, Wormwood is a great addition to any garden, almost. There are a few plants that will not consider Wormwood a good neighbor. Edible plants in the garden will absorb some of the natural chemical properties of Wormwood that are present in the soil. This will inhibit their growth. So take care with your arrangement.
- Good Neighbor Plants: Carrots, onions, leeks, rosemary and sage.
- Bad Neighbor Plants: Anise, caraway, and fennel.
Good-Bye Bugs: Wormwood is toxic to a variety of garden pests. If planted in strategic areas, an organic gardener will find Wormwood is very useful as a sentry, keeping away unwelcome guests such as:
- Cabbage loopers & cabbage maggots
- Flea beetles
- Tomato Hornworms
- Carrot fly
You may even see a decline in larger pests like mice. One very beneficial use of Wormwood is to brew up a batch of Wormwood tea and use it as a natural pesticide spray throughout an ornamental garden. But it shouldn't be used on edible plants.
Take Care: Although Wormwood does have beneficial health uses, it is important to remember that, in essence, it is considered a poisonous plant. Practical precautions will prevent nasty side effects like headaches. Ingesting the plant directly can even cause convulsions or nerve damage. It also has an aroma that dogs find attractive. Keep pets and children safe by selecting an appropriate site in the garden for your Wormwood plant.
Harvesting: Once you have grown those tiny little seeds into a healthy, full Wormwood bush, what in the world do you do with it? Well, you harvest upper portions of healthy green growth. Leave behind the thicker, woody stems that will eventually push forth new growth.
Uses: Traditionally, Wormwood was used to make botanical spirits. In medical studies it has shown promise at destroying cancer cells, treating anorexia, alleviating insomnia and providing relief for digestive disorders. Ancient civilizations used it as a treatment for internal parasites. But here's what a modern gardener can do with a bit of Wormwood greenery:
- Tea: Let 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of dried or fresh leaves steep in 1 cup of hot water for about 5 minutes. Too much green and too much time steeping will result in an already very bitter herb becoming absolutely too bitter to even sip. Sweeten with honey, add a dash of peppermint and use as relief for digestive upset or as a treatment for internal parasites. You may find it stimulates your appetite so enjoy before a meal.
- Poultice: Wormwood leaves make an effective treatment for wounds and rashes that result from insect bites or stings. Steep as you would for tea. Allow the leaves to cool. Then apply directly to the affected area for 10-15 minutes.
A Healthy Dose Of Poison: Wormwood has been fascinating the public for centuries. 19th century literature is filled with tales that romanticize the drink most often associated with Wormwood, absinthe. Although such stories are filled with the hype of hallucinations and strange mental disturbances, Wormwood is actually a very beneficial herb.
Societies all over the world still use the herb today to treat humans and animals, ridding them of harmful organisms. When used properly, people who once were affected with compromised liver and gall bladder function bounce back and thrive. The plant's properties improve circulation and provide a rich dose of antioxidants. The important thing is to remember that a little bit goes a long way. Too much Wormwood is not a good thing. But a cup of tea every other day does a body good.