|Artemisia absinthium growing wild in the Caucasus|
Artemisia absinthium (absinthe, absinthium, absinthe wormwood, grand wormwood, wormwood) is a species of Artemisia, native to temperate regions of Eurasia and Northern Africa and widely naturalized in Canada and the northern United States. It is grown as an ornamental plant and is used as an ingredient in the spirit absinthe as well as some other alcoholic beverages.
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. As medicine, it is used for dyspepsia, as a bitter to counteract poor appetite, for various infectious diseases, Crohn's disease, and IgA nephropathy.
Most chemotypes of Artemisia absinthium contains (−)-α- and/or (+)-β-thujone, though some do not. (−)-α-Thujone by itself is a GABAA receptor antagonist that can cause convulsions and death when administered in large amounts to animals. However, there is only one case of documented toxicity of wormwood involving a 31-year-old man who drank 10 ml of steam-distilled volatile oil of wormwood, wrongly believing it was absinthe liqueur. Medicinal extracts of wormwood have not been shown to cause seizure or other adverse effects at usual doses. No one has ever proven that thujones cause the toxicity of wormwood extracts of any kind, including absinthe, at excessive doses.
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. 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", and states that it reads "like the ramblings of a drunk". 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 Shakespeare 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 Juliet, then aged three, by using the bitter taste of Wormwood on her nipple.
John Locke, in his 1689 book titled An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, used wormwood as an example of bitterness, writing that "For a child knows as certainly before it can speak the difference between the ideas of sweet and bitter (i.e. that sweet is not bitter), as it knows afterwards (when it comes to speak) that wormwood and sugarplums are not the same thing."
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- Olsen RW (April 2000). "Absinthe and gamma-aminobutyric acid receptors" . Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 97 (9): 4417–8. doi:10.1073/pnas.97.9.4417. PMC 34311. PMID 10781032.
- Weisbord SD, Soule JB, Kimmel PL (1997). "Poison on line--acute renal failure caused by oil of wormwood purchased through the internet" . N. Engl. J. Med. 337 (12): 825-7. PMID 9297113 doi:10.1056/NEJM199709183371205.
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- Lachenmeier DW, Nathan-Maister D (2007). "Systematic misinformation about thujone in pre-ban absinthe" . Deutsche Lebensmittel-Rundschau 103 (6): 255–263.
- Richard Mabey (2010). Weeds. The Story of Outlaw Plants. Profile Books Ltd. pp. 102–103. ISBN 978-1-84668-081-6.
- "Revelation 8:10-11". Bible Gateway.
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