Latin Name: Artemisia absinthium
Common Names: absinthium, absinthe wormwood, wormwood, common wormwood, or grand wormwood.
Note: Wormwood should not be used by small children or pregnant women.
Wormwood is a herbaceous perennial plant, with a hard, woody rhizome. The stems are straight, growing to 0.8-1.2 m (rarely 1.5 m) tall, grooved, branched, and silvery-green. The leaves are spirally arranged, greenish-grey above and white below, covered with silky silvery-white trichomes, and bearing minute oil-producing glands; the basal leaves are up to 25 cm long, bipinnate to tripinnate with long petioles, with the cauline leaves (those on the stem) smaller, 5-10 cm long, less divided, and with short petioles; the uppermost leaves can be both simple and sessile (without a petiole).
Its flowers are pale yellow, tubular, and clustered in spherical bent-down heads (capitula), which are in turn clustered in leafy and branched panicles. Flowering is from early summer to early autumn; pollination is anemophilous. The fruit is a small achene; seed dispersal is by gravity.
It grows naturally on uncultivated, arid ground, on rocky slopes, and at the edge of footpaths and fields.
Wormwood is the common name for Artemisia absinthium, the plant whose aromatic oil is used to make absinthe. Although absinthe contains extracts from a whole variety of different plants, wormwood oil is the key ingredient of the famed green drink, and perhaps the reason why absinthe is quite unlike any other liquor ever produced.
Wormwood is a wild plant of the daisy family. Native to Europe, it can now be found in many other parts of the world, especially North America. Wormwood is a perennial plant that flowers year after year. It grows between 30 to 90 cm (12 to 36 in) tall and has small, yellowish flower heads.
The Egyptians used the plant as an antiseptic, a stimulant and tonic, and as a remedy for fevers and menstrual pains. In ancient Greece, apsinthos (the Greek name for wormwood) was prescribed for such ailments as rheumatism, anemia and menstrual pains, and sometimes as a means of aiding child birth. The philosopher Hippocrates even recommended wormwood as a cure for jaundice.
In the Middle Ages, the plant was used to exterminate tapeworm infestations while leaving the human host uninjured, even rejuvenated, by the experience.
Since the time of the Romans, wormwood has also been known to aid digestion, and as an effective treatment for upset stomach. In the eighteenth century, a certain Dr. John Hill, describing a German feast of that day, noted:
"The wormwood wine, so famous with the Germans, is made with Roman Wormwood, put into the juice and work'd with it; it is a strong and an excellent wine, not unpleasant, yet of such efficacy to give an appetite that the Germans drink a glass with every other mouthful, and that way eat for hours together, without sickness or indigestion."
In France people used to scour the countryside looking for Wormwood to dig up the root and make Absinthe, until its manufacture was banned in 1915. Excessive drinking of this alcoholic liquor was deadly, causing hallucinations and permanent brain damage.
To this day, Bedouin Africans sell wormwood in a Cairo market as a remedy for ill health. The Bedouin also burn wormwood leaves as incense around their newborn children to give the child a life of good health.
But the otherwise ordinarily-looking wormwood plant holds a secret: its aromatic leaves and flowers are naturally rich in the terpene thujone, an aromatic, bitter substance believed to induce an inexplicable clarity of thought, increased sense of perception, enhanced creativity, inspiration and the ability to "see beyond" -- as all the famous absinthe drinkers amongst nineteenth century poets, writers, painters and other artists discovered.
But wormwood's unique properties fascinated humanity long before the plant was first used to make absinthe in 1792. Because of its powerful effects on both mind and body, wormwood has been valued as a versatile medicinal plant since at least 1600 B.C.
In spite of its lethal association with Absinthe, Wormwood is a valuable medicinal herb for stimulating the appetite and aiding digestion. Tea made from the leaves and flowers is a tonic, diuretic and laxative and powdered flowers are taken to expel worms. This aromatic plant was hung indoors in rid houses of fleas and insects and put amongst clothes to keep away moths.
It has been used throughout history as a vermifuge. (See Glossary). It is also valued especially for its tonic effect on the liver, gallbladder and digestive system.
It increases stomach acid naturally, improving digestion and the absorption of nutrients. It also eases wind and bloating and, if taken regularly, can help the body return to full vitality after a prolonged illness.
Wormwood has been shown to help increase bile production in the body and more than one theory suggests that it is this increased bile production as well as the herb itself which helps eliminate some worms.
The Common Wormwood held a high reputation in medicine among various ancient civilisations. According to the Ancients, Wormwood counteracted the effects of poisoning by hemlock, toadstools and the biting of the seadragon.
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