Wormwood is among the milder of the witches herbs, it does not contain deadly tropane alkaloids, and can be safely ingested as a tea or bitters. For many years my only contact with wormwood was through the dried herb packets I would pick up at the pharmacy, which I would make into salves and teas for both medicinal and ritual purposes. But this is only enough to build a superficial relationship with the spirit of the plant. To truly engage with Wormwood and its spirit, it is important to grow it.
My first task was to find African Wormwood- Artemisia afra, a potent medicinal herb which is indigenous to South Africa. It took me a while, as I was truly hoping to find it growing in the wild. It proved to be elusive. Eventually I found a few plants by chance at a local nursery, and brought home a handful of them. The leaves are quite different in shape to absinthium, and they are sweetly aromatic. The leaves are only mildly bitter in comparison to absinthium.
Artemisia afra or Wilde als is frequently used as a traditional medicine for colds, flu’s, headaches, asthma, indigestion, colic, intestinal worms and many other ailments. It is also a popular insect repellent and is used in many home-made pest sprays. While it is not toxic in the same way that the the other Witches herbs are ( the tropane containing Nightshades), the Thujone content can still be dangerous and it is not recommended to exceed a daily dose of 3g of dry herb.*
I like to chew the leaves after meals, and I enjoy making it into a soothing and calming tea prior to ritual. The energy of the plant is quite different to absinthium- a lot less devilish and a lot more like a benevolent crone. I refer to my three plants as the “The Three Sisters”. Her spirit is soothing, protective, and healing. I like to watch the branches sway in the wind letting off their aromatic scent.
The plants can become extremely large when planted in the ground, preferring a sunny position and regular watering (especially while in pots). As the winter months now approach I will be pruning my plants back and using the leaves in medicinal tinctures, ointments and herbal baths.
I planted Artemisia absinthium seeds in spring, shortly after a harrowing stint in hospital, instead of descent it was like trying to rise from darkest depths of hell. I had almost died, and I lost parts of myself in the underworld. The Wolf had bitten me and I was close to those shades of the otherworld and not for the first time.
I drink the Wormwood tea to travel to The Yaga- bitterest of hags and the bitterest of herbs, it always comes close to inducing vomiting, but I have to drink it.
The scent of the leaves can be deceptively pleasant, but eating them makes my whole mouth turn and I long to spit them out. Of course I never do. The ointment has a calming effect and is my most used and requested ointment, but the tea is too bitter. Some witches never ingest the scorpion- some actively advise against it, but this is fear-mongering. The dried herb can be purchased at the local pharmacy for use as a bitter tonic. It is also used for digestion, fevers and gastritis. Again it is wise to not exceed 3g of dried herb per day. *
The Herb is said to be sacred to Hekate, and is certainly more infernal than Wilde als, bringing up demons from inside and from the underworld. It’s primary use among witches is as a Necromantic herb, used to conjure up shades of the dead.
The Silvery leaves are striking, particularly by moonlight. Both the Wilde als and Absinthium are excellent additions to a lunar garden. I planted Mugwort during Autumn and the seedlings have started to come up- She is the Grandmother of them all- I might call her “cut-wife”.
*Medicinal Plants of the World- Ben-Erik van Wyk, Michael Wink