Artemisia absinthium

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Artemisia absinthium
Artemisia absinthium P1210748.jpg
Artemisia absinthium growing wild in the Caucasus
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Asterids
Order: Asterales
Family: Asteraceae
Genus: Artemisia
Species: A. absinthium
Binomial name
Artemisia absinthium
  • Absinthium bipedale Gilib., not validly published
  • Absinthium majus Geoffr.[2]
  • Absinthium majus Garsault, not validly published
  • Absinthium officinale Lam.[2]
  • Absinthium officinale Brot.
  • Absinthium vulgare (L.) Lam.
  • Artemisia absinthia St.-Lag.
  • Artemisia arborescens var. cupaniana Chiov.
  • Artemisia arborescens f. rehan (Chiov.) Chiov.
  • Artemisia baldaccii Degen
  • Artemisia doonense Royle
  • Artemisia inodora Mill.
  • Artemisia kulbadica Boiss. & Buhse
  • Artemisia pendula Salisb.
  • Artemisia rehan Chiov.
  • Artemisia rhaetica Brügger

Artemisia absinthium (absinthe, absinthium, absinthe wormwood, wormwood[4]) is a species of Artemisia, native to temperate regions of Eurasia[5] and Northern Africa and widely naturalized in Canada and the northern United States.[6] 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.[6]

It grows naturally on uncultivated, arid ground, on rocky slopes, and at the edge of footpaths and fields.


Artemisia absinthium contains thujone, a GABAA receptor antagonist that can cause epileptic-like convulsions and kidney failure when ingested in large amounts.[7]


Artemisia absinthium. Inflorescences

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.[8]

This plant,[9] and its cultivars 'Lambrook Mist'[9] and 'Lambrook Silver'[10] have gained the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit.


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, and in Morocco it is used with tea, called sheeba.[11] In 18th century England, wormwood was sometimes used instead of hops in beer.[12]


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".

Cultural history[edit]

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.[13]

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."[14]

Artemisia absinthium is traditionally used medicinally in Europe, and is believed to stimulate the appetite and relieve indigestion.[15]

The Bible, in the Revelation, also states of Wormwood being a star that plummets to Earth and carries with it bitterness that poisons a third of all of the earth's waters on The Day of the Lord.[16]


  1. ^ 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. Retrieved 2008-09-08. 
  2. ^ a b c Christian Rätsch (25 April 2005). The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants: Ethnopharmacology and Its Applications. Inner Traditions/Bear. p. 69. ISBN 978-0-89281-978-2. Retrieved 27 April 2013. 
  3. ^ "The Plant List: A Working List of all Plant Species". 
  4. ^ USDA GRIN Taxonomy, retrieved 12 May 2016 
  5. ^ Altervista Flora Italiana, Assenzio vero, Artemisia absinthium L.
  6. ^ a b Flora of North America Vol. 19, 20 and 21 Page 519 Common wormwood, armoise absinthe, Artemisia absinthium Linnaeus, Sp. Pl. 2: 848. 1753.
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ Shafi et al., 2012
  9. ^ a b "Artemisia absinthium 'Lambrook Mist' AGM". Retrieved 31 August 2012. 
  10. ^ "Artemisia absinthium 'Lambrook Silver' AGM". Retrieved 31 August 2012. 
  11. ^ Grieves, M. (1931). "Wormwood, Common". Archived from the original on 28 May 2010. Retrieved 2010-07-12. 
  12. ^ Hartley, Dorothy (1985) [1954]. Food in England. Futura Publications. p. 456. ISBN 0-7088-2696-2. 
  13. ^ Richard Mabey (2010). Weeds. The Story of Outlaw Plants. Profile Books Ltd. pp. 102–103. ISBN 978-1-84668-081-6. 
  14. ^
  15. ^ Committee on Herbal Medicinal Products (2009). "Community Herbal Monograph on Artemisia absinthium L., Herba" (PDF). European Medicines Agency. Retrieved 2 June 2013. 
  16. ^ "Revelation 8:10-11". Bible Gateway. 

External links[edit]