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Wormwood

( Originally Published 1933 )



Absinth

Compositae

Perennial

The wormwood is a handsome, furry, gray-leaved plant, almost shrub-like, growing to three feet in height. It is native to Europe whence it was brought to America and has escaped into the wild. The plants die down to the ground every winter but come up again in the spring and are hardy. As summer advances they become somewhat straggly and spready. It is a good plan, therefore, to cut them back to keep them within bounds.

Root. The root is deep below the ground, spreading and fibrous.

Stem. The main stems are strong, firm, ridged, and of a gray-green, tinted with a little brownish purple.

Leaf. The leaves are a soft, thin, silky texture, and irregularly cut and divided, grayer on the under surface.

Flower. The flowers are very small, about one-eighth of an inch across, numerous, and inconspicuous. As Parkin-son says, "The stems are much branched at the top whereon grow small Buttons with pale yellow flowers on them."

Seed. The seeds are gray and very small.

HISTORY AND LEGEND

Wormwood was always known for its bitter taste, and next to rue it is said to be the bitterest of all the herbs. Ibn Baithar quotes Dioscorides as prescribing a wine made of the herb for sickness, when there is no fever, and advises drinking it the summer before one's illness to keep well! If cows browse upon it the bitterness is said to enter into their milk as it does into the milk of mothers who drink it. In the Middle Ages in France the midwives rubbed the babies with the juice so that they would never be cold or hot as long as they lived. This had to be done before the thirteenth day or it would not be of any value.

At one time there was much agitation about restricting the sale of the liqueur absinth in France, made from the juice of the plant, for it was said to make the drinkers irritable, nervous, and to destroy the digestive organs.

USES

Medicine. It was the principal ingredient in "Portland Powder" given for gout.

Food. The dried leaves infused enter into the manufacture of the liqueur absinth. Brewers add the fruit to their hops to make the beer healthful; it acts as a rectifier in spirits.

CULTURE

Wormwood is very easy to grow. It seems to like a sunny situation and thrives in my clay soil.

Wormwood was grown in the United States commercially before prohibition was enacted.

When a strong gray accent is desirable in the garden, wormwood is a satisfactory subject. The branches cut and brought into the house are attractive with summer annuals, or with white phlox, gladioli, and pink or yellow lilies.

The seeds germinate readily. Plants can be bought in American nurseries.



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