Everyone knows the drink, but the wormwood herb is rather unknown. Here, you can learn everything you need to know about cultivation, care and harvesting of the bitter medicinal herb.
Formerly known as a coveted medicinal plant and today more as a pretty ornamental plant, wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) is rarely found in home gardens today. On his way back to the beds, we will show you what to consider when planting, care and use of this diverse plant.
- Wormwood: characteristics and origin
- Wormwood varieties
- Planting wormwood: location and procedure
- Propagating wormwood
- Caring for wormwood
- Harvesting wormwood
- Storing and preserving wormwood
- Effects and ingredients
- Usage in teas, etc.
Wormwood: characteristics and origin
Wormwood is best known for its use in the production of absinthe, a spirit consisting essentially of anise (Pimpinella anisum), fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), and wormwood. Botanically, Artemisia absinthium belongs to the daisy family (Asteraceae) and is closely related to mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) and berwort (Artemisia abrotanum). Wormwood is native to drier areas of Europe, northern Asia, as well as northern Africa. The rather inconspicuous plant with matte green and silvery grey pinnate leaves can reach a height of up to one metre and forms small yellow flowers on panicles from July onward. In the cold season, the perennial plant is wintergreen and perennial. Over the years, an eyrie forms and wormwood reaches shrub-like proportions. Nowadays, wormwood is mostly found in flower beds as a native ornamental plant, but it also has valuable properties as a medicinal plant.
There are very few wormwood varieties since the plant has hardly been cultivated. In garden centres, you’ll mainly find the yellow-flowered true wormwood without further indication of variety. In recent years, the following two varieties have been selected from wild wormwood.
- ‘Lambrook Silver’ reaches a growth height of 100 cm and blooms white from July to September. The foliage is turquoise green with a silver sheen and finely pinnate.
- ‘Lambrook Mist’ grows as a compact plant up to 80 cm tall and does not take up as much space over the years. The flowers are silvery-yellow in colour, the foliage is finely pinnate.
Planting wormwood: location and procedure
Planting undemanding wormwood is relatively simple. In the following lines, you’ll find out where exactly the medicinal plant feels most comfortable.
Wormwood in garden beds
Wormwood prefers loamy-sandy and favours chalky, well-drained soils in sunny locations. It is particularly comfortable in lower-nutrient soils, such as rock gardens or prairies, and can grow into a bushy eyrie. However, wormwood is solitary, so other plants should be kept at a sufficient distance (about 45 cm), as it can inhibit their growth. When planting, moderate fertiliser application with slow-release fertiliser is sufficient. Our Plantura All Purpose Plant Food is ideal for this purpose.
Growing in pots
Wormwood can also be kept individually in a pot. If it stands protected from the rain, the risk of mildew infestation is also significantly reduced. Use a growing medium such as Plantura Organic Herb & Seedling Compost for growing. However, potted wormwood should be overwintered indoors and protected from frost, otherwise there is a risk that the substrate will completely freeze through and damage the roots.
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There are several options for propagating wormwood. In addition to sowing, well-developed plants can also be propagated by dividing the eyrie or via cuttings. We explain exactly how these methods work here.
The simplest way to propagate is to split the eyrie in the spring, using a spade to divide the existing cane into pieces of any size and replant them directly. Also, if wormwood becomes lazy in flower, dividing is a good way to rejuvenate it.
Propagation by cuttings
Wormwood can be propagated just as easily with cuttings. To do this, cut off a few unwoody shoots with a sharp knife in the summer and remove the leaves to the tip. Then let the cuttings take root in sandy and consistently moist substrate. High humidity is important here, because cuttings without roots cannot absorb water, but lose it through the leaves. You can keep high water saturation in the air by covering with a transparent plastic hood. After a few weeks, the small rooted cuttings can be moved outdoors.
Propagation by sowing
You can also sow wormwood in trays from February to July. To do this, you need to spread the brown, elongated seeds on damp, nutrient-poor growing soil and press down so that there is contact with the substrate. The seeds are light germinators, so do not cover them with soil when sowing. Put the growing containers in a bright place without direct sunlight and keep them moist regularly. A clear plastic cover increases the humidity inside, making it easier for the seeds to germinate. Germination should occur at 10 to 18 °C after two to three weeks. The seedlings can be replanted from a size of about 5 cm.
Caring for wormwood
On the whole, wormwood is an undemanding plant, but it is also happy to receive attention in terms of care.
Except for extended periods of drought, wormwood does not require watering, as the plant naturally has a low water requirement. However, waterlogging and excessive moisture in the substrate should be avoided at all costs with this drought-tolerant plant.
The herb is also extremely frugal in terms of nutrient requirements, after planting it usually has enough nutrients from its compost to last throughout the year. Regular applications of mulch, such as with lawn clippings or leaves, are sufficient to provide nutrients for wormwood after the organic matter has decomposed. Alternatively, a small ration of mature compost or our Plantura All Purpose Plant Food in the spring at budbreak will ensure needs are met. For post-fertilisation then simply work 30 to 50 g/m2 granules superficially around the plant and water lightly.
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Pruning in spring or autumn promotes shoot renewal, branching and rejuvenation of the herb. Pruning is also recommended for controlling its spread. Moreover, fresh, unwoody shoots can be cut continuously, for medicinal use. However, you’ll achieve the highest content of active ingredients if you prune the plant as it flowers.
Since wormwood contains tannins and bitter substances, it is hardly ever attacked by diseases or insects. In wet years mildew occurs, which does not threaten the plant, but reduces its vitality. However, biological remedies – such as a plant broth made from horsetail (Equisetum arvense) or baking soda – can be used to keep the fungal disease at bay. For the broth, soak 300 g of fresh or 30 g of dried horsetail in 10 litres of water for 24 hours, then boil for 15 minutes. Diluted with water in the ratio 1:5, the cooled broth can be sprayed several times against fungal diseases.
This medicinal plant is wintergreen and frost-hardy from -20 to -25 °C and can therefore be overwintered outdoors. Some mulch or foliage will ensure wormwood’s survival even in more severe temperatures. In pots, the plant is best overwintered in a conservatory or indoors, or alternatively, well insulated with bubble wrap and plant material to protect it from the weather.
Once the wormwood has developed enough foliage, the plant can be harvested regularly. Usually this is only the case in the second year after sowing. Harvesting is best done during flowering from June to September, as this is when the content of ingredients is highest. Then, using garden shears, cut both leaves and flowers on the stem and lay them out to dry.
Storing and preserving wormwood
The dried leaves and flowers can be stored for a long time in airtight jars and used as a spice or for making tea. To do this, either loosely tie the cut stems together and hang them outside, protected from the weather, or strip the leaves and flowers from the stems and spread them loosely on a sheet of greaseproof paper or newspaper. Gentle drying without direct sunlight best preserves the valuable ingredients.
The fresh herb can be preserved for a long time by placing it in high-proof alcohol (you can learn more about the use of wormwood below). The active ingredients last particularly long in dark vials.
Effects and ingredients
The leaves and flowers of wormwood contain essential oil, which smells strongly herby and somewhat pungent. The smell drives away moths and flies in the house and pests in the garden. However, it also keeps beneficial insects such as earthworms and decomposing microorganisms at bay. Therefore, wormwood should not be added to compost.
The typical bitter substances of wormwood have a positive effect on digestion, bloating and cramps in the stomach and intestines. However, since wormwood contains thujone, a neurotoxin, in its essential oil, long-term use should be avoided. Pregnant women should completely refrain from consuming wormwood. A daily dose of 3 g in teas or 50 drops of a tincture is considered safe. Even as a spice in dishes rich in fat, the consumption of wormwood is not dangerous, but even promotes the work of the gastrointestinal tract.
Usage in teas, etc.
The many uses of wormwood make it an attractive addition to home gardens. In the following section, we present various applications of the herb.
Wormwood as a medicinal plant
Wormwood has been known as a medicinal plant since ancient times, especially in alcoholic extracts or tea. Hildegard von Bingen described wormwood and its effects in detail and recommended it for all kinds of ailments, both for external and internal use.
To this day, the tea, consisting of one teaspoon of wormwood herb to 125 ml of boiling water, has proven itself against loss of appetite and digestive problems. After 10 minutes of infusion, you can drink one cup daily before or after meals.
The alcoholic tincture is made by soaking fresh wormwood leaves and flowers in Korn schnapps. After four to six weeks, filter out the plant material and fill the tincture into opaque vials. For digestive problems, it is recommended to take 10-50 drops one to three times a day.
Wormwood in alcoholic beverages
Wormwood is also used to make brandies and liqueurs for consumption and to aid digestion. For this purpose, the fresh herb is left to stand in Korn schnapps, vodka or other high-proof alcohols for up to six weeks. Absinthe and Martini are probably the best-known drinks made with wormwood.
In decoctions and broths
Wormwood also has a deterrent effect on many insects and is therefore used in the form of liquid broth against pests and pathogens. To do this, simply ferment 300 grams of fresh or 30 grams of dried wormwood either pure or together with tansy (Tanacetum vulgare L.) in an airtight container with 10 litres of water in a sunny place. Filtered, the broth can be sprayed directly against pests such as ants, aphids, and caterpillars and is also effective against infestations of columnar rust (Cronartium ribicola) on gooseberries (Ribes uva-crispa) and currant bushes (Ribes sp).