Bitter Wormwood: Growing Artemisia Absinthium

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Heidi Cardenas is a freelance writer and gardener in Lake County, Illinois, with a background in human resources. She has written about gardening for various online venues and enjoys The Herb Companion’s valuable resources.

I found a beautiful, 12-inch tall plant at a local nursery about four years ago. It had pungent, delicate yellow and green leaves growing from a central stalk. It was labeled artemisia. It was very pretty and I had to have it. I brought it home and planted it next to a small pond beside our deck. It grew to about three feet high that first summer.

Wormwood is an attractive herbaceous perennial.
Photo by Heidi Cardenas

It turns out that the plant is more commonly known as wormwood (Artemesia absinthium). I didn’t find out about the plant’s growing habits or anything much besides noting from its label that it is a perennial plant.

The following spring, there were about a hundred little artemisia seedlings in the lawn all around the original plant. I dug them up and moved them to a border garden alongside a fence, happy to have many free seedlings of such a beautiful plant, but now I had a perennial management problem. Contain the plants by cutting the tops before seeding? Move the plants to a contained area, pot them up or sink landscaping borders around their garden bed? Or pull them all up and reduce the group to just a couple of plants?

I ended up separating them and spreading them out further along the fence in the back yard. They grew almost four feet high and made a very nice screen, although not quite as thick as a hedge.

Artemesia is a good shrub for screening fences or undesirable views.
Photo by Heidi Cardenas

I didn’t use the foliage for food or medicine, but it can be distilled in cold water to make a deworming tonic for animals; it is a source of absinthol for absinthe; and it has many other medicinal uses. Wormwood is mentioned in the bible and other ancient texts. It’s an herbaceous perennial with a long history that is a versatile and interesting garden and landscape plant.       

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