Common names used for several species include wormwood, mugwort, sagebrush and sagewort, while a few species have unique names, notably Tarragon A. dracunculus and Southernwood A. abrotanum. Occasionally some of the species are called sages, causing confusion with the Salvia sages in the family Lamiaceae.
Artemisia species are used as food plants by the larvae of a number of Lepidoptera species. See List of Lepidoptera which feed on Artemisia.
Cultivation and uses
The aromatic leaves of many species of Artemisia are medicinal, and some are used for flavouring. Most species have an extremely bitter taste. A. dracunculus (Tarragon) is widely used as a herb, particularly important in French cuisine.
Artemisia absinthium (Absinth Wormwood) was used to repel fleas and moths, and in brewing (wormwood beer, wormwood wine). The aperitif vermouth (derived from the German word Wermut, "wormwood") is a wine flavored with aromatic herbs, but originally with wormwood. The highly potent spirit absinthe, also contains wormwood. Wormwood has been used medicinally as a tonic, stomachic, febrifuge and anthelmintic.
Artemisia arborescens (Tree Wormwood, or Sheeba in Arabic) is a very bitter herb indigenous to the Middle East that is used in tea, usually with mint. It may have some hallucinogenic properties.
A few species are grown as ornamental plants, the fine-textured ones used for clipped bordering. All grow best in free-draining sandy soil, unfertilized, and in full sun.
Associations in human culture
The bitterness of the plant led to its use by wet-nurses for weaning infants from the breast, as in this speech by Shakespeare from Romeo and Juliet Act I, Scene 3:
And she was wean'd, I never shall forget it,
Of all the days of the year, upon that day:
For I had then laid wormwood to my dug,
Shakespeare also refers to wormwood in Hamlet.
"As bitter as wormwood" is also a common expression.
Wormwood (Apsinthos in the Greek text)
The word Chernobyl properly refers to Artemisia vulgaris (Mugwort). Some authors claim the Chernobyl Disaster relates to the above sense of "Apsinthos", which is probably A. absinthum (Absinth Wormwood; see Chernobyl: Name origin).
Wormwood is a junior devil in The Screwtape Letters, a novel by C. S. Lewis on human temptation. Miss Wormwood is the name of Calvin's teacher in Calvin and Hobbes, a former daily comic strip by Bill Watterson. This character is named after the Screwtape Letters character.
In Russian culture, the fact that Artemisia species are commonly used in medicine, and their bitter taste is associated with medicinal effects, has caused wormwood to be seen as a symbol for a "bitter truth" that must be accepted by a deluded (often self-deluded) person. This symbol has acquired a particular poignancy in modern Russian poetry, which often deals with the loss of illusory beliefs in various ideologies.
Arteminisin (from chinese wormwood) is the active ingredient in the anti-malarial combination therapy 'Coartem', produced by Novartis and the WHO.
Other useful herb information: Bloodroot | Bitter Orange | Ma huang | Pau darco | Milk Thistle | Sage | Blessed Thistle
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