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It is a herbaceous, perennial plant with fibrous roots. The stems are straight, growing to 0.8–1.2 metres (2 ft 7 in–3 ft 10 in) (rarely 1.5 m, but, sometimes even larger) 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.
Cultivation and uses
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. It can be propagated by ripened cuttings taken in Spring or Autumn in temperate climates, or by seeds in nursery beds. It is naturalised in some areas away from its native range, including much of North America.
The plant's characteristic odour 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.
It is an ingredient in the spirit absinthe, and is used for flavouring in some other spirits and wines, including bitters, vermouth and pelinkovac. In the Middle Ages, it was used to spice mead. In 18th century England, wormwood was sometimes used instead of hops in beer.
Wormwood is the traditional colour and flavour agent for green songpyeon, a type of dduk / tteok (Korean rice cake), eaten during the Korean thanksgiving festival of Chuseok in the autumn. Wormwood is picked in the spring when it is still young. The juice from macerated fresh (or reconstituted dry) leaves provides the colouring and flavouring ingredient in the dough prepared to make green songpyeon. The other traditional colour for these small desserts is white, made with rice flour dough without wormwood extract.
The leaves and flowering tops are gathered when the plant is in full bloom, and dried naturally or with artificial heat. Its components include silica, two bitter substances (absinthin and anabsinthine), thujone, tannic and resinous substances, malic acid, and succinic acid. A 1931 book about medicinal herbs alleges the use of wormwood as a stomachic, antiseptic, antispasmodic, carminative, cholagogue, febrifuge and anthelmintic. Extracts of the plant have shown to exhibit strong antimicrobial activity, especially against Gram-positive pathogenic bacteria.
A wine can be made by macerating the herb. It is available in powder form and as a tincture. Pure wormwood oil is very poisonous, but with proper dosage poses little or no danger. The oil is a potential source of novel agents for the treatment of leishmaniasis.
Etymology and folklore
Absinthium comes from Ancient Greek ἀψίνθιον (apsinthion)/ἀσπίνθιον, underlain by a pre-Greek Pelasgian word, marked by the non-Indoeuropean consonant complex νθ. Alternatively, it might possibly mean "unenjoyable", and probably refer to the bitter nature of the derived beverage. Consider the following quotation from Lucretius in De Rerum Natura, I, 936-8:
- "And as physicians when they seek to give
- A draught of bitter wormwood to a child,
- First smearing along the edge that rims the cup
- The liquid sweets of honey, golden-hued,"
The word "wormwood" comes from Middle English wormwode or wermode. The form "wormwood" is attributable to its traditional use as a vermifuge. Webster's Third New International Dictionary attributes the etymology to Old English wermōd (compare with German Wermut and the derived drink vermouth), which the OED (s.v.) marks as "of obscure origin". An alternative explanation dubiously combines the Old English wer, meaning "man" (as in "werewolf"), with Old English mōd, meaning "mood".
- Linnaeus, Carolus (1753). Species plantarum:exhibentes plantas rite cognitas, ad genera relatas, cum differentiis specificis, nominibus trivialibus, synonymis selectis, locis natalibus, secundum systema sexuale digestas.... 2. Holmiae (Laurentii Salvii). p. 848. Archived from the original on 4 October 2008. http://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/page/358869. Retrieved 2008-09-08.
- "The Plant List: A Working List of all Plant Species". http://www.theplantlist.org/tpl/record/gcc-95372.
- "Artemisia absinthium 'Lambrook Mist' AGM". APPS.RHS.org.uk. http://apps.rhs.org.uk/plantselector/plant?plantid=5266. Retrieved 31 August, 2012.
- "Artemisia absinthium 'Lambrook Silver' AGM". APPS.RHS.org.uk. http://apps.rhs.org.uk/plantselector/plant?plantid=5337. Retrieved 31 August, 2012.
- Grieves, M. (1931). "Wormwood, Common". Botanical.com – A Modern Herbal. Archived from the original on 28 May, 2010. http://www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/w/wormwo37.html#worcom. Retrieved 2010-07-12.
- Hartley, Dorothy (1985) . Food in England. Futura Publications. p. 456. ISBN 0-7088-2696-2.
- Fiamegos YC, Kastritis PL, Exarchou V, Han H, Bonvin AMJJ, et al. (April 2011). "Antimicrobial and Efflux Pump Inhibitory Activity of Caffeoylquinic Acids from Artemisia absinthium against Gram-Positive Pathogenic Bacteria". PLoS ONE 6 (4): e18127. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0018127. http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0018127.
- Lust, John, N.D. (1979). The Herb Book. Bantam Books. ISBN 978-0-553-26770-9.
- Tariku Y, Hymete A, Hailu A, Rohloff J.,"In vitro Evaluation of Antileishmanial Activity and Toxicity of Essential Oils of Artemisia absinthium and Echinops kebericho." Chem Biodivers. 2011 Apr;8(4):614-623
- "absinthium". Wiktionary. Wikimedia Foundation. 2010. http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/absinthium. Retrieved 2010-07-12.