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The Wonderful World of Wormwood!

I’m so happy that today you get to meet Larissa! Following is a guest post from her about a valuable plant in Alaska, but a little about what Larissa offers first. Her friendly blog at Alaska Herbal Solutions will give you great info on useful plants. She does serious research and brings it to you in a delightful, easy reading manner that also includes the technical goodies.

She even has a page of videos! And herbal how-to’s! Yep, this woman has it together. So enjoy this post that she gifted us with, and then check out her website.

Today Larissa is telling us about wormwood and its uses. She sent wonderfully illustrative photos of this herb. Wormwood doesn’t just pop up everywhere in Southeast Alaska, although I have read that it occurs throughout the area. I have found wormwood on gravel river bars up the Stikine River. It might be a good addition to your garden, so that you have a supply close by.

Here’s Larissa - enjoy!

The Wonderful World of Wormwood!

Hi there! My name is Larissa, over at Alaska Herbal Solutions . I live on the Kenai Peninsula and love Alaskan herbs and plants. In addition to teaching people about the food and medicinal uses of Alaskan plants, I make products of only ingredients that grow in Alaska. One day I was searching for an article about harvesting devil’s club and found Alaska Floats My Boat. After getting what I needed, I wandered around the website some more.

“This information is wonderful!” I thought to myself. So I contacted Jo to see if I could help her write an article about any herbs she didn’t have down in Southeast Alaska. The one she wanted was artemisia, or wormwood, so here it is!

Disclaimer: This article is informational only. The information is not meant to diagnose, treat, or cure any disease or illness. Any information should be discussed with your doctor before trying.

Wormwood has a distinctive smell to go along with a distinctive leaf.

Wormwood is one of my favorite herbs and there are several different types in Alaska. The ones pictured in this article are Artemisia tilesii. The other two, that I’m aware of, are A. frigida and A. artica artica (yes, there are two “articas” in there). In the world, there are between 200 and 400 plants in the Artemisia genus - not all of them have the same uses. Here in Alaska, wormwood is also known as stinkweed, mugwort, Caiggluk by the Yupik, caribou leaves, prairie sagewort, and wild sage.

I tend to find wormwood in rocky outcroppings while I'm hiking. They seem to grow nicely in well drained soil if you're going to try to transplant them.

Another defining feature of wormwood is the silver underside.

Food Uses for Wormwood:

Wormwood is extremely bitter, so it’s best used as a spice. I like to replace regular sage with it when I’m cooking.

You may be thinking “Isn’t artemisia what they make absinthe out of?” Yes, and no. There is a specific strain called A. absinthium that is used to make absinthe, so if you were excited to go make some, I’m sorry to burst your bubble and tell you that it doesn’t grow up in Alaska. However, you can still use it in brews for beer and other alcohols. Other than that, wormwood is so bitter that it doesn’t make a good food source. Plus it also has some components that cause problems when it builds up in your system. I’ll go over those more in the cautions section.

Medicinal Uses for Wormwood:

Medicinal actions - Anthelmintic, antimicrobial, aromatic, bitter, emmenagogue, hepatic, stimulant, tonic, vulnerary, carminative. The genus name Artemisia comes from Artemis, the Greek Goddess of wild animals, the hunt, vegetation, chastity and childbirth. This is thought to be assigned to plants that helped bring on menstruation for women, which all of the wormwood that grow in Alaska can definitely help with. Drinking the tea during particularly painful menstruation or if it’s late (make sure you’re not pregnant) is very helpful.

One of my favorite uses for wormwood is as an insect repellent. This is especially useful if I’ve forgotten my bug spray. I take the leaves, crush and rub them between my hands to get the juices coming out. Then I rub the juices over all of my exposed skin to keep those pesky bugs away. You can also plant it on the perimeter of your garden to help keep pests away.

For colds, a tea can be made to drink or gargle. Combine it with yarrow, chamomile (pineapple weed), white clover buds, and spruce tips to pack a whammy against that cold! The volatile oils of it can also help clear up sinuses, so mix it with yarrow, spruce tips, and juniper in a steam bath.

Topically, it can be used for sore muscles, it works well with devil’s club or arnica. It can also be used on cuts and scrapes due to its antimicrobial properties. If you don’t want to make a salve out of it, you can add it to a bath.

As the common name suggests, a tea of wormwood can help get rid of worms in the digestive system. Drink a cooled down tea to get help your body expel them. Additionally, it can help with digestion in general.

There is also promising research that wormwood can be used to help with cancer. I wrote a whole article on it here if you want to read up more on it.

Here is what the flowers of wormwood look like in late summer.


Internally, wormwood should be used in moderation and small doses. Besides being in the asteraceae (daisy) family meaning you should avoid using it if you’re allergic to daisies, it also contains thujone in the leaves. Thujone, also known as absinthol, is the volatile oil that makes Absinthe dangerous (the A. Absinthium has the most from what I can gather, which is why it’s made from that strain specifically). It can build up in your system with use over time, which is why it should be used moderately.

A big thank you to Jo for letting me write this article for Alaska Floats My Boat. As a special thank you for reading my post on Alaska Floats My Boat, I have a PDF just for you! Sign up for my weekly newsletter here and you will receive a complimentary PDF about 15 Alaskan Weeds That Are Useful.

Thank you so much for reading this article, I hope you found it helpful,


And a few related links from Alaska Beachcomber at Alaska Floats My Boat:

Food and Medicine from Nature index

Harvesting Devil’s Club Root

Devil’s Club Sun Tea

Making Devil’s Club Salve and Tincture

Wild Tea

Devil's Club Sun Tea

Some of you have been writing in to ask about how to make devil's club tea. There's several ways to go about it and happily one of the easiest methods is also my favorite! Sun tea is a simple, gentle process.

Fill a jar with cool drinking water. Add several spoonfuls of dried devil's club inner bark. You can also add some dried mint at this point for flavor.

To see how to prepare devil's club bark go to Harvesting Devil's Club Root. For tea you can use the inner bark of the stalk, so you don't need to dig the root. Just be sure to wear appropriate gloves and eye protection to handle devil's club stalks! Dry the bark in a dehydrator, a barely warm oven, or on racks above the wood stove. Keep the temperature low and air moving through the bark bits.

The dried bark bits can be ground finer in a coffee grinder and then ironed into tea bags. (See Wild Tea for photos of filling tea bags.)

Give it a stir, and then set the jar out in a sunny, safe location. A jar of water can create a magnifying glass which can start a fire when the sun shines through it, so I set mine out on the metal boat deck.  The towel and pot holder are just for the photos.

Over a few hours or the course of the day the tea will become a lovely, light golden color.

Strain the tea, add flavors if you like - honey and lemon for you? - and sip a cup while relaxing. Devil's club tea has a medicinal taste. There is usually a light sheen of plant oil on the surface of devil's club tea, which is normal and not harmful. Refrigerate any remaining tea and use it up over the next couple of days.

Devil's club tea is invigorating for some people and gives a gentle lift for others. I like to have a cup to bring myself back after a long, strenuous task or if I am feeling generally wrung out.

Sun tea is a great way to make devil's club tea, but not the only way. You can make devil's club tea by pouring boiling water over the dried inner bark (an infusion), or make a decoction by simmering it. Each method creates a slightly different product.

 Devil's club is a powerful plant, and it's many sharp spines are a reminder to handle it with physical and spiritual respect in every step.

There are many articles on the medicinal qualities of devil's club: Ryan Drum, National Geographic, and Juneau Empire are a few.

Devil's club can lower blood sugar when used internally. If you have any reason to have concern there then check with your doctor.

Wishing you a sunshiny day,

Alaska Beachcomber

More posts about wilderness food and medicine:

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.  The material on this site is provided for informational purposes only and is not medical advice.



Processing and Using Nettles

On this precious, sunshiny, Southeast Alaska day I grabbed up my daypack and fishing pole and followed a muddy path through last year’s dry grass to a river. Trout made quick splashes, piquing my interest in a trout dinner. It was not to be, though, because fish protein is pretty easy to come by in this area, and young nettles diverted my attention away from the water. Young nettle greens are delicious, and are used as medicinal herbs. They are only available for a limited time, so I pulled gloves and scissors out of my pack and set to work gathering.

New greens in springtime provide nutrients that refresh our winter-laden bodies. Stinging nettles are one of the best. Nettles are high in:

Young nettle plants found near a river.

Minerals: Calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese

Vitamins: A, B6, and K

Plant protein, chlorophyll, fiber, and carbohydrates

Nettles contain many other nutrients that our bodies need small amounts of.

I have long thought of nettles as a women’s herb because of women’s need for calcium, iron, and magnesium, but nettles are a men’s herb, too. Nettle root mixed with saw palmetto was compared to the drug finasteride in a large clinical trial in Germany testing effectiveness for enlarged prostate. The nettle-saw palmetto blend was as effective as the generic drug, and without side effects.

Other clinical trials have shown stinging nettles efficacy in treating arthritis, hay fever, asthma, seasonal allergies, hives, chronic venous insufficiency, and more. Herbalists employ nettles to treat eczema, congestion, arthritis, rheumatism, gout, allergies, circulation problems, hair loss, kidney stones, bleeding, PMS, bladder infections, and anemia, among other maladies.* Stinging nettle is also a diuretic.* Stinging nettle is a spring tonic.* This is a good plant!

As I mentioned in the last post, stinging nettles are armed with stinging hairs. Wear gloves if you gather nettles, and if you are going to harvest your large garden patch then wear long sleeves and eye protection, too.


Since cooking or drying removes the sting, nettles can be eaten steamed, and in soups, stews, and casseroles. Add steamed nettle leaves to omelet’s, lasagna, pesto, and anywhere that you would use cooked spinach.

Young stinging nettle plants with their red-purple leaves. A little later in the season the red is gone and all of the leaves are dark green. This patch was near a beach.

Putting up Nettles

Rinsing the Nettles

Rinse stinging nettles thoroughly. The early growth is close to the ground and tends to be gritty. I triple rinse, dunking the nettles into a large bowl of cold water, agitating gently, lifting out by (gloved) handfuls, draining in a colander, and then changing the water in the bowl to rinse again. Later in the spring, while harvesting new leaves off of taller plants, one rinse is usually sufficient. I find it helpful to give the rinsed leaves a whirl in the salad spinner before steaming or drying.

Blanching and Freezing

Blanching and freezing young shoots saves these luscious greens to add to falltime and early winter dishes.

Stir a batch of stinging nettles into boiling water, cover, time for 30 seconds to 1 minute (I blanch for one minute, but have read that thirty seconds is adequate). Lift the nettles out and do a quick cold-water dunk to stop the cooking process. Strain in a colander. Press out the excess water.

Blanched young leaves will lose their reddish tinge to the boiling water, so don’t be alarmed if the water turns color.

Make meal-size and ingredient-size packages in freezer bags or by vacuum packaging. If you are vac-packing then watch that the juice doesn’t get sucked out of the bag and foul your vac-packer. If you are using freezer bags then work the nettles solidly down into the bag, pressing out all of the air before sealing the bag. Label with the date, and store in the freezer for up to six months.


Dehydrator - Lay the leaves out on the racks. Dry on low heat.

Hanging - Collect stems with new growth, rubber band the base of the stems in small bunches, and hang them upside down in a warm place where air can circulate through them. Once dry, strip the leaves off of the stems with gloved hands. The stems may be composted or added to a nettle soak.

On racks – Lay nettle leaves on mesh racks in a warm area out of direct sunlight. A small fan set on low may help them dry faster.

For all methods, when the leaves are crispy and brittle they are ready to store. Crunch them up and store them in tightly sealed glass jars away from light. They last up to one year.

Using Dried Nettles


Pour a cup of boiling water over 1 to 2 teaspoons of dried nettle leaves (a mesh infuser works well to contain them) and allow to steep for 5 to 10 minutes.

For sun tea put ¼ cup nettle leaves into a quart jar and fill with water. Put the lid on and place the jar in a sunny location for the day. Strain the leaves out, and refrigerate the sun tea to use over the next few days as iced tea, or heated for hot tea.

Nettle may be used as a tea by itself, and it also combines well with other herbs. I add it to the red clover blossom, field mint, eyebright, and violet leaf collected here in Southeast Alaska.

Nettles are energizing to some people, so evening use might keep you awake at bedtime.

Winter Food

Dried nettle leaves can be added directly to soups or stews during cooking.

Pour warm water over dried nettles to reconstitute them, and then use them as you would use cooked asparagus in any recipe.

Powdered nettle leaves can be a nutritious bonus in bread, added to green drinks and smoothies, used as a thickening agent, and stealthily incorporated into the family diet.

As a Relaxing Soak

Put dried nettle leaves into a mesh bag and add to your hot bath or footbath. This is where you can put older leaves and stems to good use and effect. Regular nettle soaks are said to ease arthritic conditions.*

Other Uses

Nettle plants are high in nitrogen, and a great addition to the compost pile.

Nettle stems contain enough long, tough fibers that they are used to make paper, rope, and cloth.


  • The gritty cystoliths formed in older nettle leaves cause kidney irritation. Use only new growth for internal use.  
  • Handle fresh stinging nettles with gloves.
  • As with most things, moderation is a good idea.


*The information provided on this site is for informational and educational purposes only, and should not be used to diagnose or treat illnesses, ailments, or diseases, nor to substitute for professional medical advice. This information has not been evaluated by the FDA and is not intended to treat or prevent disease. If you have a medical condition or suspect that you do, then consult with a certified medical professional.

Further reading

http://www.herballegacy.com/Vance_Stinging_Nettle.html - an amazing set of articles by Kassie Vance (copy and paste the address onto your browser)

"Medicinal Plants of the Pacific West" by Michael Moore

"Discovering Wild Plants" by Janice Schofield

http://www.ryandrum.com/threeherbs1.htm - an article by Ryan Drum (copy and paste the address onto your browser)

Wishing you the happiest spring foraging,

Alaska Beachcomber

You might like:

Food and Medicine from Nature (index to more articles)

Foraging Nettles; Tasty Spring Greens