Sunday, 5 October 2014

Making Artemisia Capsules

Artemisia absinthium (Wormwood) is a herbaceous perennial herb native to Europe and naturalised in Ireland. It is infamous as the central ingredient in the drink absinthe, once a popular beverage in ancient Greece however it has a long history in herbal medicine. Dioscorides called it Apsynthion and recommended it for digestive issues, jaundice and for dispelling parasites.

The best time to harvest wormwood is just as it is coming into flower and before it is in full flower. I also prefer to pick it in when the moon is full as this concentrates the volatile oils in the aerial parts. I use a pair of secateurs to remove the top 3 inches or so and place them into a trug.

You can see the the flowers are just about to open in the following picture, giving an idea of the preferred state for harvest. This can be anywhere between July and September depending on the weather.

I let the herbs sit for a while as generally most insect life will then move on. The plants are then subject to quality control before being hung up in bunches to dry. Maud Grieve (1931) suggests the herbs are tied loosely in bunches of uniform size and length, about six stalks to a bunch, and spread out in shape of a fan, so that the air can get to all parts. The bunches are left in the open, on a fine, sunny, warm day, but in half-shade, otherwise the leaves can become tindery; the drying must not be done in full sunlight, or the aromatic properties will be partly lost. Aromatic herbs should be dried at a temperature of about 70 degrees. If no sun is available, the bunches may be hung over strings in a covered shed, or disused greenhouse, or in a sunny warm attic, provided there is ample ventilation, so that the moist heated air may escape. 

I prefer to dry the herbs at a lesser temperature and over a period of time as I find this superior for preserving the volatile oils When dried the herb is roughly cut and then stored in hermetically sealed glass jars which have been labelled and dated appropriately.

For making capsules the herb is then powdered in small amounts using a coffee grinder.

A capusle machine is then used to press the capsules, with approximately 0.5g per capsule.

The finished capsules are bottled and labelled with date of manufacture and are ready to use. Wormwood's benefits to the digestive tract are well known and have been in use for over two thousand years. More recently research has begun to qualify the knowledge of the ancients.

Omer, Krebs, Omer and Noor (2007) in a double blind controlled study found that wormwood had a steroid protecting effect and improved the mood of patients with Crohn's disease. Krebs and Omer were also involved in another clinical trial (2010) which demonstrated wormwood's ability to suppress Tumour Necrosis Alpha (TNF-α) and other inflammatory pathways, such as interleukins. Again wormwood was also found to lift patient's moods. A systematic review (Ng, et al, 2013) found wormwood superior to placebo in remission of Crohn's disease.

Wink (2012) did a literature review and found plants such as wormwood produce a high diversity of secondary metabolites with interesting biological activities, such as cytotoxic, anti-parasitic and anti-microbial properties. These drugs often interfere with central targets in parasites, such as DNA (intercalation, alkylation), membrane integrity, microtubules and neuronal signal transduction. Plant extracts and isolated secondary metabolites which can inhibit protozoan parasites, such as Plasmodium, Trypanosoma, Leishmania, Trichomonas and intestinal worm.

Wormwood is extremely bitter, perhaps second only to Gentian but it has remained a favoutrite of mine for many years.

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