Wormwood belongs to the family of Compositae and to the genus of Artemisia (yes, the Greek goddess, also known as Roman Diana). There are different kinds of wormwood, but we will be focussing here on the common wormwood (artemisia absinthium).
Common Wormwood is a popular plant with many useful qualities. It can be found all over Europe and Siberia, growing on road sides and waste places. It has silvery, deeply cut leaves and likes shadowy places.
Wormwood is known as carrying very bitter leaves and flowers. Still, it would sometimes be favored in brewing in stead of hop. It is also an important part of the strong liqueur absint. Even so, wormwood is of old considered a very wholesome, cleansing and healing plant. Antiseptics were made out of its leaves and tops, as well as tinctures, extracts and infusions. All kinds of healing virtues were ascribed to these. When carrying seeds, wormwood was strewn across the room (together with rue) to get rid of vermin and diseases. It was also put between cloths and furs to keep away moths and other insects. Wormwood can even help fight poisoning by hemlock, toadstools and ‘the biting of the seadragon’, according to Mrs. Grieve (see Sources).
Some Dutch lore about the plant: in Limburg (southern Netherlands), people used to make a small cross out of wormwood and wear it as an amulet. Large wreaths were made out this plant too, and worn around the waist like a girdle. This way, one would be protected against evil and disease. It was also thought to protect against thieves, thunder, and vermin (mice, rats, flies). By knocking three times with a bunch of wormwood, one is able to disenchant everything. Wormwood is one of the nine herbs used for the kruidwis, a bundle of healing herbs. Walkers would place wormwood in their shoes, so they don’t grow tired. This has probably to do with the Dutch name for wormwood, which is ‘bijvoet’ (lit. by foot). But the name bijvoet actually comes from Old Highgerman bibóz, which means ‘bijstoot’, because it was used in desserts.
A Modern Herbal, by Mrs. M. Grieve
K. ter Laan. Folklore en Volkswijsheden in Nederland en Vlaanderen. Utrecht: Het Spectrum. 2005 (Third print).