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Wormwood: Artemisia absinthium


The Poison Garden, Blarney Castle, Ireland

Artemisia absinthium [ Plantae: Angiosperms: Eudicots: Asterids: Asterales: Asteraceae: Artemisia: Artemisia absinthium ]

Common Names:
Wormwood, absinthium, absinthe wormwood, common wormwood, Green Ginger or grand wormwood

Temperate Eurasia and Northern Africa; naturalized in much of North America.

Wormwood is a herbaceous perennial plant with a hard woody rhizome, straight stems that grow upwards of .8-1.2 meters tall, are grooved, branched, and silvery green spirally arranged leaves in color on the top leaf with white below covered in silky silvery-white trichomes bearing minute oil-producing glands. The bipinnate to tripinnate basal leaves with long petioles can achieve up to 25 cm length, and its cauline leaves located on the stem are smaller with 5-10 cm length which are less divided and hosting short petioles and simple sessile uppermost leaves. Wormwood produced spherical bent-down headed tubular pale yellow flowers that cluster and appear leafy and branched panicles from early summer and autumn. The plant creates a small achene fruit that disperses seeds by gravity.

There are over 400 species of artemisia.

Wormwood best grows on uncultivated arid ground in rocky slopes, along footpaths, and in fields. It is easiest cultivated in dry soil, but initially should be planted under bright exposure in fertile mid-weight soils rich in nitrogen. It is propogated by growth cuttings in March or October, or via seeds planted in starter beddings. It is often harvested in the spring when it is young for cooking and alcohol additives.

Common Uses:
Often used as an additive in insect sprays for plants. Good for companion planting because of this as its roots secrete inhibiting effects on the growth of other plants, especially weeds, and can repel insect larvae. It is used to repel fleas and moths in houses.

Culinary Uses:
It is the major ingredient in Absinthe alcohol as well as a flavoring for other spirits and wines, including bitters, vermouth, and pelinkovac. In the Middle Ages it was used to spice Mead. It is also a traditional color and flavor agent for green songpyeon (steamed dumpling) eaten during the Korean Thanksgiving festival. In Morrocco it is added to mint tea.

Medicinal Uses:
Wormwood contains thujone, tannic and resinous substances, malic acid, and succinic acid. Medicinally it is used as a stomachic, antispasmodic, cholagogue, tonic, antiseptic, carminative, febrifuge, and anthelmintic. It is known for combatting indigestion, gastric pain, or as an antiseptic. It has been an ingredient in teas to help pregnant women during labor pains. It is also used as a cardiac stimulant to improve blood circulation. Its pure oil is very poisonous. Used to attack intenstinal worms.

Magical Uses:

Folklore and History:
Wormwood comes from the Greek “Apsinthion” which may mean “unenjoyable” referring to its bitter nature. The name “Wormwood” comes from Middle English “Wormwode” and nicknamed as such for its beneficial combat for intestinal worms. The Latin “Artemisia” is named after the Greek wife and sister of the Persian King Mausolous. She was an infamous botanist and medical researcher for her time.


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