- Name also: Absinthe, Absinthium, Absinthe Wormwood, Common Wormwood, Grand Wormwood, Green Ginger, Madderwort
- Family: Daisy Family – Compositae, subfamily Asteroideae
(formerly Aster Family – Asteraceae)
- Growing form: Perennial herb.
- Height: 30–100 cm (12–40 in.). Many-branched. Stem woody at base, especially upper part downy. Herb-like fragrance.
- Flower: Single flower-like approx. 3–4 mm (0.12–0.16 in.) capitula surrounded by involucral bracts. Capitula flowers pale yellow, tubular, small. Stamens 5. Pistil of 2 fused carpels. Involucre hemispherical, involucral bracts in several rows, hairy. Capitula nodding, quite erect, in a lax racemose cluster.
- Leaves: Alternate, stalked, exstipulate. Blade triangular, both sides densely silver-haired, 2–3 times pinnately lobed, lobes with entire margins, with quite rounded tips.
- Fruit: Long, yellowish achene.
- Habitat: Yards, meadows, sandy areas, pastures, ruins, roadsides. Also a medicinal and culinary herb.
- Flowering time: July–September.
Wormwood is most likely native to the eastern Mediterranean area. The scientific name of its genus has come from the Ancient Greek deity Artemis, who legend has it imbued the species with its beneficial qualities and told people how it should be used. The plant was originally brought to Finland for monastery gardens, and later it was also planted on common herb grounds. Wormwood escapes easily to dry, rocky places, especially coasts and culturally-influenced land on the south coast.
Wormwood is an ancient medicinal and kitchen herb. An Egyptian scroll that is 3,600 years old contains detailed information regarding its use in expelling internal parasites. It was later used to treat almost any complaint imaginable. Apart from diseases, it was also thought to be able to expel bad spirits – to the extent that these were differentiated from disease. Wormwood was earlier thought to repel clothes moths and other pests such as bedbugs, hookworms and even rats. It was also used as a love potion and in other spells: young people would break the plant’s stems into their chosen one’s bed to get them for their own. Wormwood is also a valued ornamental on account of its showy silver-grey leaves. Those with wormwood allergies are however well advised to cut the plants back already in the budding stage because all genus Artemisia plants are allergenic.
Many people link wormwood in their minds to absinthe, the strong alcoholic drink which it flavours. In small doses the thujone it contains can stimulate the brain and many famous painters in the old days were fans of the drink. Absinthe’s reputation is not altogether positive, however: not everybody understands the meaning of the word ‘moderation’, and in excessively large doses thujone paralyses the central nervous system. The recipe for the drink was developed during the time of the French revolution, but the drink was banned in many countries (including Finland) at the beginning of the 20th century. It is currently legal to make absinthe in EU countries as long as the thujone content is under a certain level. Cultivated wormwood has a lower thujone content than wild plants.
At first glance tarragon looks a lot like wormwood. A closer look, however, makes easy to separate this culinary herb from wormwood. Tarragon’s upper leaves are entire; other Artemisia species have lobed leaves. (Tarragon’s lower leaves also are lobed.) In Finland tarragon is cultivated, only in rather small amounts and it can escape or move with earth, but it is not very common escape.