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Artemisia absinthium (absinthium, absinthe wormwood, wormwood, common wormwood, green ginger or grand wormwood) is a species of Artemisia, native to temperate regions of Eurasia and Northern Africa. It is grown as an ornamental plant and is used as an ingredient in the spirit absinthe as well as some other alcoholic drinks.
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Artemisia absinthium 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 11 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.
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. Artemisia absinthium also self-seeds generously. It is naturalised in some areas away from its native range, including much of North America and Kashmir Valley of India.
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.
Artemisia comes from Ancient Greek ἀρτεμισία, from Ἄρτεμις (Artemis). In Hellenistic culture, Artemis was a goddess of the hunt, and protector of the forest and children. absinthum comes from the Ancient Greek ἀψίνθιον.
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".
Nicholas Culpeper insisted that wormwood was the key to understanding his 1651 book The English Physitian. Richard Mabey describes Culpeper's entry on this bitter-tasting plant as "stream-of-consciousness" and "unlike anything else in the herbal", reading "like the ramblings of a drunk", and Culpeper biographer Benjamin Woolley suggests the piece may be an allegory about bitterness, as Culpeper had spent his life fighting the Establishment, and had been imprisoned and seriously wounded in battle as a result.
William Shakespear referred to Wormwood in his famous play Romeo and Juliet: Act 1, Scene 3. Juliet's childhood nurse said, "For I had then laid wormwood to my dug" meaning that the nurse had weaned her own daughter off of suckling by using the bitter taste of Wormwood.
Artemisia absinthium is traditionally used medicinally in Europe, and is believed to stimulate the appetite and relieve indigestion.
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