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Sunday, May 20, 2012


Sea wormwood likes salty ground, so can be found in coastal areas and in salt marshes along with marsh samphire. It is a close relation of wormwood, Artemisia absinthum, sweet wormwood, Artemisia annua, mugwort, Artemisia vulgaris, tarragon, Artemisia dracunculus, southernwood, Artemisia abrotanum, field southernwood, Artemisia campestris and Artemisia cina known as the producer of Levant wormseed among others. It is a member of the daisy Asteraceae or Compositae family.
  It is sometimes referred to in Britain as Old Woman, with southernwood being it counterpart, the Old Man. This is because the plants resemble each other.
Sea wormwood is a hairy plant with fine cottony hairs growing all over it. It is native to Europe including the British Isles, and parts of Asia including Pakistan. It flowers between August and September growing to heights of around two feet tall. A synonym for the genus is Seriphidium maritimum.                                                                            
  As it is closely related to wormwood, which is poisonous in large amounts, it is likely that the same applies to this plant.  Some people are affected just by the smell of the plant and suffer from headaches and nervous agitation. However the leaves are edible and have been used as a flavouring agent.                 
   The medicinal uses of sea wormwood are similar to those of wormwood, although it is said not to be as potent. It is mainly used as a tonic for the digestive system, intermittent fevers and as a vermifuge (to get rid of intestinal worms), although it is said not to be effective against tapeworms. The same is true of Artemisia cina or Levant wormseed.
   The leaves and flowering tops are used for worms and also as an antiseptic for external use, and to relax muscles cramps and to stop spasms. They have also been used to calm nervous irritation, reduce flatulence, promote the menstrual flow, to aid digestion and for fevers.
   Traditionally the plant has been harvested when it comes into flower and dried for later use. The flowers which are closed and newly opened contain the vermicide, santonin.           
 The growing shoots of the plant are said to repel insects and mice and other rodents, and were once used as a strewing herb. An infusion of the shoots and aerial parts of the plant can be used to discourage garden pests such as insects and slugs.
  In Arabic Sea wormwood is called Afsanteen and is used as a deobstructant and is used for stomach problems including worms, and flatulence and for jaundice. Externally it is applied as an antiseptic to wounds. In the Quran it is described as being used to fumigate houses along with frankincense, or with myrrh and thyme for the same purpose.
   In traditional Arabic medicine the leaves are said to have cooling properties and the powdered plant is administered for worms. The plant’s twigs are also used as a broom.
The chloroform extract of the root has been shown to have anti-malarial properties, and it has been traditionally used for this in the Pakistani province of Khyber Pakhtoonkwha (formerly the North West Frontier Province).                                                            
  Some people use the plant to relieve pain, and smoke it although they have reported having vivid dreams under its influence and have found it “stimulating.”
  Writing in the 17th century, the English herbalist, Nicholas Culpeper has this to say about it. (The annotations are mine.)
“Government and virtues. This is an herb of Mars. It is a very noble bitter, and succeeds in procuring an appetite, better than the common Wormwood which is best to assist digestion. The flowery tops, and the young leaves and shoots, posses the virtues; the older leaves, and the stalks, should be thrown away as useless. Boiling water poured upon it produces an excellent stomachic infusion; but the best way is, taking it in a tincture made with brandy. For lighter complaints, the conserve, such as directed to be made of field southernwood, agreeably answers the purpose. The apothecaries usually put three times as much sugar as of the ingredients in their conserves; but the virtue is lost in the sweetness: those will not keep so well that have less sugar, but it is easy to make them fresh as they are wanted. The power and efficacy of Wormwoods in general are scarce to be credited in the vast extent of cases to which they may be applied. Hysteric complaints have been completely cured by the constant use of this tincture. In the scurvy, and in the hypochondriacal disorders of studious sedentary men, few things have greater effect; for these it is best in strong infusions; and great good has risen from common Wormwood, given in jaundice and dropsies. The whole blood, and all the juices of the body, are affected by taking Wormwood. Women using it whilst suckling, their milk turns bitter. The shops make use of this instead of the *Roman Wormwood, and have done so for more than a hundred years; †Parkinson complaining in his time that the physicians and apothecaries made use of it instead of the former, though it fell short of it in virtue.”
*Roman wormwood referred to by Culpeper is Artemisia pontica.
John Parkinson (1567-1650) apothecary to Charles I of England and also a herbalist.

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