Wormwood – Artemisia absinthium, one of the bitterest plants known to us – is used in magical rituals and in some of the most powerful incantations, such as when warding off evil spirits, against chills, bruises, jaundice, headaches, toothaches, coughs, freckles, warts, and injuries. It protects against many beings considered demonic, against rusalkas, hags, witches, beauties and other mostly feminine creatures and impurities that people fear. Wormwood is used as a remedy for various physical ailments and in cosmetic treatments, as it refines the complexion. It is effective in exterminating fleas, bugs, and woodlice.

When people want to express their sadness and suffering, they often sing about their bitterness by comparing it to the most bitter of plants:

“I drink wormwood, I eat wormwood,
With wormwood, I go to bed at night.
In the morning when I wake up,
I wash myself with bitter wormwood.”
(Andrei Oișteanu, Narcotice în cultura română: istorie, religie și literatură, p.76)

When referring to “Wormwood,” we are talking about Artemisia absinthium, a perennial herbaceous plant that primarily grows in uncultivated areas. Its flowers are yellow and highly aromatic. However, there are several types of wormwood, as noted by Simion Florea Marian in his ethnobotanical studies: there’s “Mugwort” (Artemisia vulgaris), “Broom Wormwood” or “Flea Wormwood” (Artemisia scoparia), “Southernwood” (Artemisia abrotanum), and “Roman Wormwood” (Artemisia pontica). All of these plants are commonly referred to simply as “Wormwood,” similar to how other plants used in magical rituals, such as “Drăgaica” or “Mătrăguna,” are often given a single popular name, as mentioned in the respective monographs. In both field research conducted for the Antropoflora project and the books mentioned here, it has been observed that people frequently use a single popular name for different plants that they use in the same way during rituals. This borrowing or transfer occurs when a particular plant is not found in the natural flora of a specific area, and people adapt by replacing it with another similar plant in their view. For example, “Melilotus officinalis” (Melilot) instead of “Galium verum” (Lady’s Bedstraw).

“The Wormwood of Pentecost”

Wormwood against the Rusalkas
In some regions, the Rusalkas are seven pure and unmarried maidens transformed by God into fairies, while in others, they are said to be ugly old hags, three or seven in number, wrinkled and hunched. Rusalkas resemble nymphs, they fly through the air, sing, and dance near springs and at crossroads, but only during this time of year. These beings, considered demonic by some, can be vengeful under certain conditions. They are not inherently evil but become unforgiving when someone interferes with their play, disturbs them during their meal, or works on their special day. At such times, they can blind, mute, deafen, take away one’s sanity, or maim those who do not respect their days. (Antoaneta Olteanu, Calendarele poporului român) Therefore, it is recommended not to work during this period. When they become angry, they punish people by lifting them up and then dropping them, breaking their bones, causing limb pains, and those struck by the Rusalkas may never fully recover

During the period of Pentecost, people keep wormwood with them because the bitterness of wormwood displeases the Rusalkas and keeps them at a distance. Wormwood is placed in homes, at doors, windows, and near icons to protect the house from the Rusalkas. No work should be done, neither in the house nor around it, nor in the fields. People are not allowed to climb trees, but when it’s absolutely necessary, one must tie wormwood around their waist.

Those who are forced to work must also wear wormwood around their waist, and wormwood and garlic are often used together. Otherwise, anyone working on this day risks losing their life.

People often sleep with wormwood under their pillows, and the next day, they tie it around their waist. It is said that wormwood collected on the day of Pentecost can be dried and smoked when it is suspected that someone has been taken by the Rusalkas. In Suceava, girls put wormwood in wine. In Iași, there is a tradition that, before bedtime, wormwood is placed under the pillow, and children are given small bunches of wormwood to wear around their waist.

“I sleep on wormwood all night because I believe it protects me from evil, as the Rusalkas do not like the smell of wormwood and thus they flee.” (Simion Florea Marian, Botanica poporană română Vol.II)

The herbs collected during the Pentecost period are used for healing, and the picking of these herbs is one of the few activities allowed on this day. Even though they do not work, women go to the fields before sunrise to gather medicinal plants. They dress up, wash, and wear their best clothes. Women collect wormwood before dawn and fasten it around their waist to avoid getting sick throughout the year. They carry it in their bosoms, place it at doors, windows, haystacks, yokes, and with livestock. On this day, wormwood is also added to wine. In some villages, women gather, sit on the grass, and drink wine mixed with freshly picked wormwood to ensure they stay healthy. (Antoaneta Olteanu, Calendarele poporului român)

Wormwood against the Beauties – Vântoasele, Frumoasele and Frumușelele
On Pentecost, also other feminine beings – fairies, known in some areas of Bucovina as Vântoasele (Wind beings), Frumoasele or Frumușelele (Beauties), also make their presence known. They are very beautiful girls but have wicked hearts. The Vântoasele appear on Saturday evening, come to celebrate around here, and stay until Monday afternoon, then they move on to celebrate in other places. They are vengeful and punish those who do not honor them. The Vântoasele also take the youngest children with them, take away the milk from cows, and harm the cattle.

To prevent all these misfortunes, women in Bucovina prepare from Saturday evening before Pentecost by collecting as much wormwood and valerian as they can. With these plants, they can protect themselves, their children, men, and milking cows from these wicked beings. Women take wormwood branches, place wormwood in their bosoms, and tie the remaining stalks to their children’s shirts. This is done both before the arrival of the Vântoasele and before their departure. Milking cows are anointed with wormwood and valerian all over their bodies. In this way, the Vântoasele stay away from people and their animals, circling above.

Wormwood in the Căluș Ritual

Two weeks before Pentecost, a group of călușari is formed, and they will perform until the Sunday of the seventh week after Easter. When the oath is taken among them or the flag is tied, a branch of hazel is used, tied with a headscarf and three garlic cloves, but sometimes they also tie a strand of wormwood. Until the Căluș ritual is finished, the călușari do not go back to their homes, they eat together, sleep together, and wear garlic and wormwood around their waist. Wormwood is used directly by the călușari for their own protection, and they also offer it to others to protect them from evil, illnesses, and the malevolent powers of Rusalkas or Iele. “They (călușarii) constantly chew wormwood in their mouths.” (Andrei Oișteanu, Narcotice în cultura română: istorie, religie și literatură, p. 76).

It was believed that the Căluș dance had healing powers. The healing ritual performed by the călușari is extremely complex, and the scenario may vary from one region of the country to another, but regardless of this, wormwood is almost always present in their ritual-therapeutic practices.

Accompanied by musicians, the călușari go to the house of the sick person and lay them in the middle of the yard. When the patient hears the music, they begin to move their hands and feet as if they were dancing. The călușari perform their dance around the patient, and they leap over them. “The ecstatic behavior and trance of the călușari or the patients they heal are well-known.” (Andrei Oișteanu, Narcotice în cultura română: istorie, religie și literatură). They use a pot of water that is eventually broken during the ritual. The water touches both the călușari and the patient. The patient gets up healed, and the călușari who were splashed with water fall to the ground. To recover, those who fell are rubbed on the temples with wormwood and garlic from the flag. Sometimes, beside the pot of water, they place a bowl with water, garlic, wormwood, and salt. While the călușari stand in a line, the leader rubs the patient’s temples. After measuring a certain distance, the leader throws the bowl and breaks it. Then the pot of water is also broken (Antoaneta Olteanu, Calendarele poporului român).

People used to ask for wormwood or garlic from the Călușari and rubbed it on their foreheads to avoid being taken by the Căluș.

“I drink wormwood, I eat wormwood,
In the evening, I sleep on wormwood,
In the morning when I wake up,
I wash my eyes with wormwood.
I wash to cool down,
But it makes me even more bitter.” (Simion Florea Marian, Botanica poporană română Vol. II)

Rusaliile (Pentecost) also mark the day of fleas. Women now place small branches of wormwood among their bedding to drive away fleas, as fleas cannot stand the strong smell of the plant. People even sleep on bedding with wormwood to stay healthy throughout the year and to ensure that everything goes well.

During the summer, when fleas multiply, women in Tecuci often wash shirts with a mixture of lye in which wormwood has been boiled (also called “devil’s saliva”). They shake out everything in the house, sweep with brooms made of wormwood, place wormwood in beds and other parts of the house where fleas have multiplied. If it’s a Sunday or another holiday, while sprinkling wormwood in their homes, women drive away fleas by saying:

“Young lads!
Because today
It’s a holiday
Look, I brought you a flower
To cook for you,
To care for you,
To place on your bodies,
In your breasts,
To put wormwood on you.
So, start your journey
And go far away… “ (Simion Florea Marian, Botanica poporană română Vol. II)

In Muntenia, women prepare an ointment with wormwood against woodlice and bugs.

Wormwood for St. Marina’s day

Marina is the saint who captured the devil and beat him until he was covered in blood, leaving him nearly dead. Marina punishes harshly those who do not observe her day, and anyone struck on this day will not rise again. In some places, it’s the day when women can beat their husbands – if they do so on this day, it is said they will beat them for the entire year. Marina is observed for the health of women and girls, for the ease of childbirth, and is particularly followed by pregnant women. This celebration has its origins in ancient times, hinting at the presence of female deities that likely belonged to a matriarchal society. It is a moment of rebalancing between the feminine and masculine (physical) forces.” (Antoaneta Olteanu, Calendarele poporului român)

“Marina’s day is marked by giving away bundles of freshly picked wormwood, eggs, a chicken, sweet apples, and round loaves of bread. Wormwood collected by women and made into brooms on this day can be used in charms and is effective against various illnesses. Some women exchange bundles of wormwood and a chicken, claiming they have become sisters, and they can then send each other a bundle of wormwood broom. Wherever these wormwood brooms are used, fleas disappear.
From Marina’s gathered wormwood, a beneficial facial water is made.
In Bucovina, it is customary to sweep with wormwood brooms. Women create brooms from wormwood and consistently sweep their homes with them, believing that nothing harmful will come near their house, and all evils will be driven away.” (Antoaneta Olteanu, Calendarele poporului român)

“Wormwood Against the ‘Hale’

Romanian women in Banat say that wormwood also protects against ‘hale,’ evil beings that steal the sheep’s milk and make them sick. On April 21, after the milking ewes have been selected and sent to the sheepfold, women begin to prepare sheep fat, which they quickly send to the shepherds. It must reach them before sunset because that’s when the ‘Hale,’ the enchantresses who steal the sheep’s milk, are unleashed. They take the fat from around the heart of a black pig slaughtered on St. Ignat’s Day, before the cock crows. The unsalted fat is seasoned, rolled with the edges inside, tied with crosses, and smoked. This fat is mixed with frankincense and dried and ground herbs collected before Todorusale (the day between Easter and Pentecost). The plants used include wormwood, henbane, lovage, horehound, mugwort, elder, and willow. Women prepare this fat on a clean board, wrap it in a piece of cloth, and send it to the shepherds. This fat repels the ‘hale’ and all evils from the herd and increases the sheep’s milk yield.” (Simeon Florea Marian, Botanica poporană română Vol.II)

Wormwood wine (Vin-pelin)

Wormwood can make you “good” or “mad,” depending on how you consume it:
“Long live the wine,
Wine and wormwood,
As good as it can be,
It can drive you mad.” (Andrei Oișteanu, Narcotice în cultura română: istorie, religie și literature, p. 77, Quoted from Vasile Alecsandri)
In Moldova, on May 1st, people from Armindeni used to drink wormwood wine to strengthen their livers.
Wormwood added to brandy or wine is consumed in the morning before a meal, it stimulates the appetite, and is good for the stomach. (Simeon Florea Marian, Botanica poporană română Vol.II)
Wormwood wine was obtained by adding wormwood to wine vessels, often called “wormwood wine” or “wormwood brandy,” and it was just as bitter as spirits or other liquors in which wormwood was used. Some tavern keepers used to macerate certain plants with “psychoactive” effects, such as wormwood, in alcoholic beverages. (Andrei Oișteanu, Narcotice în cultura română: istorie, religie și literature)

Wormwood for “The Perished” (for syphilis)

In Bucovina, syphilis, locally known as “The Perished” due to the characteristic nose sores, is believed to be a disease where the swellings on the nose don’t heal and lead to permanent disfigurement. To counter this, female folk healers use wormwood. The ritual for “The Perished” is always performed on a dry day, specifically on Mondays, Wednesdays, or Fridays, using a twig of wormwood, also known as “white wormwood,” “good wormwood,”). The incantation is repeated nine times consecutively, continuing until sunrise. During each incantation, the woman touches “The Perished” with the wormwood twig.
In another practice in Bucovina, a woman chants while using a small branch of “good wormwood” placed in a jug with fresh cow’s cream, saying:
(…)”The wolf replied to me and said from his mouth:
‘I’m going to N.
To take “The Perished” with me.’
‘You have no business at N.
Because if I catch you,
I will cut you with a knife,
I will rub you with wormwood,
And N. will remain
Pure and illuminated,
As God created him,
As the Mother of God gave him,
Like the sun in the sky,
Forever, amen!'”
(Simion Florea Marian, Botanica poporană română Vol.II)

Indeed, after chanting three times consecutively and making the sign of the cross with the wormwood twig several times in the jug, they apply the enchanted cream on “The Perished.” By repeating this ritual for several days in a row, it is believed that “The Perished” can be healed.

Wormwood for Eye Disorders

The healer takes the patient, unwashed, on a sunny day, specifically on Mondays, Wednesdays, or Fridays, to a clear stream at sunrise. She takes a strand of wormwood and passes it over the water in the direction of the flow, saying:
“As the wood is washed,
And all the stones,
And the water remains pure,
Clear and beautiful,
So may the eye of N. Remain
Pure and illuminated.”
(Simion Florea Marian, Botanica poporană română Vol. II)
She interrupts her chant and touches the eye of the patient with the wormwood strand, then continues with the incantation. After finishing the chant, she takes another strand of wormwood and repeats the incantation, and then a third strand of wormwood for one final incantation. At the end, she spits in the patient’s eye.
Wormwood for Bruises
The healer takes untouched water and enchants it with a wormwood twig, saying:
“You, wormwood,
As the knife pierces you,
So may you pierce the head of N.
To stop his pains,
To stop his tears, […]” (Simion Florea Marian, Botanica poporană română Vol.II)
Then, she applies the thus-enchanted water to the afflicted person.

Wormwood for Chills

The juice from wormwood leaves and flowers is consumed to combat chills, worms, and it is also consumed by women who have reached menopause. To treat chills, nine finely chopped wormwood stalks are added to a strong alcoholic beverage.
Some people also believe that taking a shot of strong liquor infused with wormwood or boiling wormwood in black coffee and drinking it can quickly relieve chills.
For immediate relief from chills, some suggest consuming a teaspoon of wormwood juice in the morning on an empty stomach. The green leaves and flowers of wormwood are mashed and strained through a cloth. In addition, the juice from boiled wormwood used for jaundice and headaches is also consumed on an empty stomach in the morning. (Simion Florea Marian, Botanica poporană română Vol II)


  1. Simion Florea Marian, Botanica poporană română Vol I-III, Ediție critică, introducere, repere biobibliografice, indice Botanica, indice capitole publicate antum/postum, text stabilit, indice informatori și bibliografie de Aura Brădățan, Editura Academiei Române, Suceava, 2010
  2. Simion Florea Marian, Sărbătorile la români. Studiu etnografic, vol. I-III, ediție îngrijită și introfucere de Iordan Datcu, Editura Fundației Culturale Române, București 1994
  3. Andrei Oișteanu, Narcotice în cultura română: istorie, religie și literatură, ed. a 4-a rev., adăug. și il., Iași, Polirom, 2019
  4. Antoaneta Olteanu, Calendarele poporului român, Paideia, București, 2009

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