Artemisia absinthium L.
Artemisia absinthium L. var. insipida Stechmann
Wormwood is native to Eurasia and northern Africa, but is now naturalized and common in North America. Depending upon your point of view, it is a common weed, a “medicinal” herb, or a source of artistic inspiration.
Identification: Wormwood is a woody shrub, usually less than 3' (91 cm) high, and about 24" (60 cm) wide. Stems are grooved and silver-green in color. It has sweet-smelling silver-gray fuzzy leaves that are arranged spirally around the stems. Both the silvery color and the odor come from minute oil-producing fuzzy glands called trichomes. Flowers are inconspicuous, yellow, and they appear rarely.
Edibility: Wormwood has a bad rap. The fluorescent green anise-flavored spirit absinthe is made from wormwood. An alkaloid from the wormwood, thujone, was reputed to be a madness-inducing, addictive drug, blamed (among many other things) for artist Vincent Van Gogh’s descent into madness. None of this is true, and this drink, banned in 1915, is once again available in the United States. In any case, the wormwood plant is not considered edible. (By the way, wormwood is by no means the only component in absinthe. The original formula also contains anise, fennel, lemon balm, hyssop, angelica, star anise, dittany, juniper, nutmeg and veronica.)
Medical: Preparations made from the leaves and flowers of wormwood are used by some for various stomach problems, but this use has not been verified with formal studies. Dried leaves are smoked because the thujone (also in absinthe in small quantities) is said to be psychoactive, favored by artists—Vincent Van Gogh and Picasso are two who are said to have used it. Thujone is chemically related to tetrahydrocannabinol, the active ingredient in marijuana. Large doses are toxic.
Artemisia absinthium on FLORIDATA
Artemisia absinthium at the Missouri Botanical Garden
Artemisia absinthium on Medicinal Plants
Artemisia absinthium on the Boston University School of Medicine Boston Healing Landscape Project
Artemisia absinthium on the USDA Forest Service's Fire Effects Information Database
Artemisia absinthium description by Thomas H. Kent, last updated 16 Aug 2013.
Range: Zones 4-9: