Growing Wormwood


For my second post for Hagstone Publishing and Bush Hippies  Plant Spirit Ally Challenge, I was called to write about growing my Ally. Artemisia Absinthium, or Wormwood. May 24th is “Research Growth”

Growing the plants we work with is rewarding in so many ways and I’ll get into some of those at the end, but I want to start off by condemning myths of some having green thumbs, and others brown. To put it plainly, it’s just B.S. that makes people feel they shouldn’t bother trying to grow. The world needs plants and trees for food, air, shade, medicine, companionship, to beautify our space and so much more. To turn growing into an elitist club for people who supposedly have a special gift only means fewer plants in the world, and again, that’s nonsense.

                                   Wormwood babies in peat pots

I used to be one of those people who was sure she couldn’t grow a thing. And it hurt. I wanted to grow plants but failed repeatedly. Growing up in Florida our front and back patios were like tiny tropical jungles and the envy of the neighbors. I thought mom must’ve had a special gift. Every time I brought home a plant, it died. While I chose to specifically write about growing my Plant Ally, Wormwood, I’d like to talk a little about growing plants in general. If you’ve struggled, it might not be your fault at all. For one, you must start off with good seed or healthy starts. If you bought a plant at a supermarket or nursery, did everything for it that was necessary for it to flourish and it still died. It might be because it just wasn’t healthy enough to make it to begin with. This is another huge plus to starting your own from healthy seed. You control the plant’s wellbeing, food, and its environment from day one.  Other factors include trying to grow a plant in the wrong environment. Some are just not going to thrive in unsuitable conditions. Others might not be very fussy at all. We all know plants need some water to live, just like we do, but overwatering is another common reason plants die. The plant's roots don’t receive enough air, causing the plant to suffocate. It can also lead to root rot. Many plants love bottom watering, but others like rosemary take moisture from the air and don’t like wet roots. 

           Peat cups bottom watering in a plastic tray.

You can see how these wormwood plants soak from the bottom gradually.

So, it’s best to learn about the needs of the plants you choose to grow on an individual basis. For example, my D. Stramonium, and D. Wrightii are thriving in a compost and topsoil mix, my Hyoscyamus niger HATED it and was not doing well. All three, Jimson Weed, Sacred Datura, and Black Henbane are in the Solanaceae family. Knowing Black Henbane will grow on the side of the road, I didn’t think twice about using the same mix as I did with the others. I assumed she’d do fine. But Madame Henbane is now in a special container of Ocean Forest potting soil. She’s also been moved in the front flower bed by the door, which I suspect might have been another issue. Nightshades can be terribly vain. That’s another post.

Just because a local vendor or nursery sells a particular plant does not mean it is meant to grow in your region. These places are businesses, and they sell what is eye-catching. Now, that doesn’t mean you can’t grow plants from other places, it just means you’ll need to put in more effort than just sticking it in your front yard or in a pot of dirt. I personally have a love of native weeds, like wormwood, that are happy to grow almost anywhere. Learning so much can seem overwhelming. So, the Plant Spirit Challenge is an excellent opportunity to learn about one plant. What it loves, what it hates, where to plant it, what to feed it, how many hours of sun and how much water is too much, or not enough.

                                      Wormwood seedlings

Mistakes will be made and some of your plants will not make it. You’ll be sad, you’ll plant more. It’s just life. It does not mean you’re incapable of growing. You can learn to grow plants if you want to. Just the same as you learned to do all the other things you do well. Take all you’ve learned and apply it when it’s time to start your plant. And don’t assume it’s always Spring. Some like Atropa belladonna like to be Winter Sown. So be sure to sow at the right time. Winter sowing makes a great Winter Solstice or Yule tradition for seeds that need cold stratification and many others.

Plants overwintered in water jugs I get from my mom when they're empty. They act as mini greenhouses. We start many jugs on the Winter Solstice.  Wild Dagga inside a jug just before opening to transplant into the garden.

It would’ve been difficult for me to write an entire post on growing Wormwood alone, because it doesn’t require a lot. Artemisia absinthium is an herbaceous perennial in the Asteraceae or daisy family. It’s native to Eurasia and northern Africa and now grows throughout the United States as well. It is hardy in zones ‎4-9, which covers just about the entire U.S. Wormwood is considered an invasive weed and that can give the impression that it has no special requirements for growth. It’s not finicky but there are things to consider when growing caring for this plant. Wormwood seeds, like all seeds that are very small, should be carefully sprinkled on top of the damp growing medium of your choice and just tamped down a little. You shouldn’t cover them up. My most recent were started a few weeks before the Spring Equinox in a mini greenhouse on peat pellets.

                                      Winter Sow jugs

 I kept them moist by bottom watering them in trays when they looked dry. Bottom watering is a method of sitting a peat pellet, peat cups, or planter with holes in a tray of water and letting them soak up the water. It takes a little while for them to soak up all they need, so I sit them out, do other things and check back once in a while. Peat pellets will need far less time than a large pot obviously. But never leave plants sitting in water once they are full. The cups or pot will be heavy, and the soil will be moist and dark on top. If you’re keeping the plants in the tray, dump the water out when you’re done. I pour the leftover water into my watering can and use it to water other plants. 

Plants can soak for hours before they're wet all the way through.

 I sometimes add a little kelp or fish poop to the water if needed but some plants, especially weeds, can be easily over fertilized. Some it’s suggested not to fertilize at all. I gave the seedlings a splash of kelp in their watering trays once in a while and they did well.  I believe bottom watering is better for tender seedlings than top watering, but some people water in different ways and have success.

Wormwood germinates very easily, but it does prefer well-drained sandy soil. I chose to start mine in the greenhouse because I am on a prairie and the wind is brutal. I knew tiny surface sown seeds would never make it, at least they wouldn’t come up where I wanted them to. If you have nice well-draining soil and don’t have a wind problem, I’m a little envious. If you’re sowing your Wormwood seeds indoors or in a greenhouse like I did, you can start them six to eight weeks before the last frost date in your zone. If you’re sowing outdoors wait until the danger of frost has passed. This will also vary depending on where you live. The optimal temperature for germination is around 55-65 degrees Fahrenheit. You can water your ground and tamp the seeds down gently without covering them and they should come up for you in two weeks to a month, but don't give up if it takes a bit longer.

Tiny wormwood seedling in peat cup. These can be planted right into the ground when ready. 

I transplanted the tiny seedlings into compostable peat pots and let them grow bigger inside the greenhouse. I need my plants to be sturdy and of a decent size before placing them in ground or risk having them broken by the strong winds. Even still most mornings when I go out to check someone has a broken leaf or two. Once I felt confident, they had a strong structure I mixed composted manure and grass clippings with my crappy clay soil to aid with drainage and planted them in a patch of their own. Don’t be afraid to try even if your soil isn’t perfect. With some research and amending, you can still have a nice garden. It will be a lot more work, but I’ve never minded. If you’d like to get a soil test, the county extension office in many places offers this service for free.

Wormwood is not a companion plant for the kitchen garden. The chemical in its leaves is water soluble and washes into the soil with heavy rains, inhibiting the growth of garden plants, especially fennel, sage, caraway, and anise. Wormwood is also an enemy of seedlings and young plants. It is beautiful however and can be safely planted with more established ornamentals. It’s a very good pest repellent. Insects and small animals avoid it. If you’d like Wormwood to help you control pests, plant in containers around the border of your garden to keep the food you’re growing safe.

My Wormwood plants are still very small considering how big they can get. They grow from twenty-four to thirty-six inches tall. Spacing is around two feet apart. I currently have nineteen plants growing not counting the two I have designated as gifts who are still being pampered in the greenhouse. Once your Wormwood babies are of size, cut back an inch or so of old growth in Autumn. I will harvest the plants in their second year for more potent medicines and incense. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned from working with plants and making herbal medicines is patience. Once established your Green Fairy, will sleep in the Underworld during the Winter months, and return to you in the Spring.

The benefits of growing your own herbs would be an infinite list. But as I mentioned, one of the most important reasons is that you are in control. Many people selling seeds, plants, and herbs are also selling lies. For example, the number of “Occult” shops selling dried Mayapple, or American Mandrake, and labeling it as the European Mandrake that is traditionally associated with Witchcraft is infuriating. These plants are not the same medicinally or magically. If you grow it yourself, no matter what it is, you will always know what you have. This is not to say there aren’t reputable herb sellers, I buy from a few places when I need to, but the herbs are worlds apart from what I’ve grown myself.

Another the benefit is quality. We can’t always know how long-ago herbs were dried or if pesticides were used. Or even if the seller waited the proper amount of time before harvesting. Harvest time is after a couple of years with several herbs I know of. Many people don’t have patience, and some are seeing only dollar signs, so they may not be harvesting at the best time. Another thing to think about is depending on the plant, we may not know if it was ethically harvested. Growing your own ensures that your harvest is ethical. It also creates a nice environment for you.

I had always felt the Spirit and energetics of herbs through their smoke, teas, and topical application, but never heard their small voices until I grew them myself. They have much to tell us if we’ll listen. For example, I recently heard something like:

“You will give me fancy soil and a spot in front of the house if you want to see my flowers, ever.”  I have an incredibly dry sense of humor. Forgive me.

Lastly, depending on your region certain herbs won’t be available at your local nursery. I have two beloved garden stores that I frequent but they just don’t have plants like valerian, tansy, or mullein. They have vegetables and common flowers. Growing your own means having an abundance of what you want for your food, Spiritual practice, and medicine.

I hope you’ve learned a little about growing Wormwood, but more importantly, I hope I’ve inspires you to grow something, anything at all that isn’t a threat to your the local ecosystem so always check that out first. And it’s okay to fail. I have massacred my fair share and have left a trail of drugstore Venus Flytrap carcasses in my wake. Seed packages have lots of seeds in them so keep track of what you’re doing and what might have gone wrong and simply try again.

Here is a short list of growing resources. One of the best ways to learn is just to start doing it. Get your hands in the dirt. But I have to say The Spruce and SF Gate give a lot of good growing information that is easy to follow and understand. I have learned a lot from both websites. I will also link my most trusted source for medicinal and kitchen garden seeds. However, there are a lot of good seed sellers out there. So look around and talk to other growers. 

I’m not affiliated with any of the sites or shops below.

I have had nothing but success with seeds from:

 Strictly Medicinal Seeds

Botanical Interests

Have any questions, comments, or anything you'd like to add? I'd love to read your thoughts. 

Don’t forget to visit Hagstone Publishing and Bush Hippies to learn more about Plant Spirituality and to catch up with my wonderful Co-hosts!

Thanks for stopping by!



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