Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Artemisia absinthium - Wormwood

Artemisia absinthium - Wormwood - The word "wormwood" comes from Middle English "worm-wode" or "wermode".  The form "wormwood" is influenced by the traditional use as a cure for intestinal worms.

Wormwood is a herbaceous perennial plant with a hard, woody rhizome (a horizontal stem that is usually found underground, often sending out roots and shoots, also referred to as creeping rootstalks or rootstocks).  The stems are straight, growing to 3 feet tall, grooved, branched, and silvery-green. The leaves are spirally arranged, greenish-grey above and white below, covered with silky silvery-white fine outgrowths like hair, and bearing minute oil-producing glands; the leaves are up to 3 inches long. Its flowers are pale yellow, tubular, and clustered in spherical bent-down heads (capitula).  Flowering is from early summer to early autumn, pollination is distributed by wind. The fruit is a small simple dry seeds are dispersed by wind, water, animals, hay, in soil and on equipment.  It grows naturally on uncultivated, arid ground, on rocky slopes, and at the edge of footpaths and fields.

The plant can easily be cultivated in dry soil. It should be planted under bright exposure in fertile, mid-weight soil. It prefers soil rich in nitrogen. The plant's characteristic odor can make it useful for making a plant spray against pests. It is used in companion planting to suppress weeds, because its roots secrete substances that inhibit the growth of surrounding plants.

The plant's characteristic odor can make it useful for making a plant spray against pests. It is used in companion planting to suppress weeds, because its roots secrete substances that inhibit the growth of surrounding plants. It can repel insect larvae when planted on the edge of the cultivated area.  It has also been used to repel fleas and moths indoors when strewn around a clean-swept room, and according to history, Wormwood counteracted the effects of poisoning by hemlock and toadstools.

Wormwood is one of the bitterest herbs known, but it is very wholesome and in 18th century England, it was in great demand by brewers for use instead of hops. It is an ingredient in the spirit absinthe, and also used for flavouring in some other spirits and wines, including bitters and vermouth

In the Middle Ages it was used to spice mead.  Although Wormwood is generally regarded as safe when used appropriately and for short durations, pure wormwood oil is very poisonous, so once again I state, don't be stupid.

The leaves and flowering tops are gathered when the plant is in full bloom, and dried naturally or with artificial heat. Its active substances include silica, two bitter substances (absinthin and anabsinthine), thujone, tannic and resinous substances, malic acid, and succinic acid.

The leaves resist putrefaction, and on that account are a principal ingredient in antiseptic formulas.  Small doses of wormwood tea taken before meals can stimulate digestion and prevent heartburn and gas, even boost energy.  Used medicinally as a stomach medicine, it is used as a tonic, antiseptic, antispasmodic, prevents or expells gas in the gastrointestinal tract, promotes the discharge of bile, reduces fever, and expels parasitic worms. It has also been used to remedy indigestion and gastric pain. Wormwood tea is used as a remedy for labor pain. Folklore suggests that consumption of the herb helps induce lucid dreaming.

A wine can also be made by macerating the herb.  Wormwood is perhaps most famous for being a key ingredient in a delightful alcoholic beverage called Absinthe.  Hense the name Artemisia absinthium.  It was believed that drinking absinth would cause hallucinations and a feeling of euphoria. 

The myth of absinthe's mind-altering properties is based on the idea that a chemical in wormwood called thujone causes hallucinations and other mental instability, and even addiction.  It is now known that thujone taken in large doses doesn't do much other than cause muscle spasms, but it cannot actually make you hallucinate, instead it's effect is one of heightened alertness and calmness.

I can personally tell you that it won't affect you any differenty than drinking any other alcoholic drink.  But it is tastey, if you like anise, another major ingredient. With it's high alcohol content, this is a drink to be sipped slowly and savored.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Actually, the hallucinogenic effect was given by opium. The "boheme" people who were so famous for drinking the absinthe, were using a sugar cube through which they were putting opium in their absinthe glasses. Hence the hallucination.