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Artemisia absinthium L.


KingdomPlantaePlants, but not fungi, lichens, or algae
SubkingdomTracheobiontaVascular plants—plants with a “circulatory system” for delivering water and nutrients
DivisionMagnoliophytaFlowering plants, also known as angiosperms
ClassMagnoliopsidaDicotyledons—plants with two initial seed leaves
SubclassAsteridaeA large class that encompasses asters
OrderAsteralesFlowering plants with a central disk flower and surrounding petals, like daisies
FamilyAsteraceaeThe aster family, which also includes daisies and sunflowers; from the Greek ἀστήρ, “star,” for the star-shaped flowers
GenusArtemisiaFrom the Greek goddess Artemis, who gave it her own name because it helped cure her (there are other possible reasons for the derivation of this name too)
SpeciesabsinthiumStearn’s Dictionary of Plant Names says that this is the “Latin and pre-Linnaean name for wormwood, the botanical name for which is Artemisia absinthium. It is used to flavor absinthe. In biblical days it was a symbol of calamity and sorrow”

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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.

Artemisia absinthium (wormwood)

Yellow-gray wormwood flowers. By H. Zell.

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.

Online References:

Artemisia absinthium on floridata.com

Artemisia absinthium at the Missouri Botanical Garden

Artemisia absinthium on Medicinal Plants

Artemisia absinthium on the USDA Forest Service's Fire Effects Information Database

Artemisia absinthium L. var. insipida Stechmann


Artemisia absinthium description by Thomas H. Kent, last updated 25 May 2020.

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Artemisia absinthium (wormwood)

Copyright © 2007 David Monniaux · 6/3/2007

Range: Zones 4-9:

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