It contains many well known species, such as Roman wormwood, Sagebrush, Tarragon, Mugwort, and Southernwood. The aromatic leaves of many of these species are medicinal, some are used for flavoring, and some are important range species. All types of wormwood have an extremely bitter taste.
Occasionally some of the species are called sages, causing confusion with the Salvia sages in the family Lamiaceae.
Artemisia abrotanum, Artemesia pontica and the artemisias that are lumped together as "Dusty Miller", and Common wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) containing thujone, were used to flavor the liqueur Absinthe. Although used in Absinthe, purified wormwood is a neurotoxin. See: A near-fatal incident involving wormwood oil.
A few wormwoods are garden plants, the fine-textured ones used for clipped bordering. All artemisias are hardiest in free-draining sandy soil, unfertilized, and in full sun.
Artemisia species are used as food plants by the larvae of a number of Lepidoptera species. See List of Lepidoptera which feed on Artemisia.
Absinth wormwood or green ginger (Artemisia absinthium) 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. It is also used medicinally as a tonic, stomachic, febrifuge and anthelmintic. It is native to Europe and Siberia and is now widespread in the United States.
Artemisia arborescens L. (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.
The bitterness of all plant parts also led to its use by wet-nurses for weaning infants from the breast, as in this speech 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,
"As bitter as wormwood" is also a common expression.
Shakespeare also references wormwood in Hamlet.
Associations in human
Wormwood (Apsinthos in the Greek text) is the "name of the star" in the Book of Revelation (8:11) (kai to onoma tou asteros legetai ho Apsinthos) that John the Evangelist envisions as cast by the angel and falling into the waters, making them undrinkably bitter. Outside the Book of Revelation, there are up to eight further references in the Bible showing that wormwood was a common herb of the area and its awful taste was known, as a drinkable preparation applied for specific reasons.
Some authors thought that Chernobyl translated as "wormwood" in the above sense of "Apsinthos", which is "Absinth wormwood". However, the correct translation is mugwort, sometimes referred to as "common 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.
Other useful herb information: Quercetin | Eucalyptus | Fo-Ti | Coltsfoot | Catnip | Pygeum | Bearberry
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