Wormwood: Deadly but Useful

BOTANICAL CLASSIFICATION
  • Family : Asteraceae
  • Genus : Artemisiaartemisia_absinthium_plant__i2004e0148_disp.jpg
  • Species : Absinthiumroup: Dicot
  • Duration: Perennial


The whole Breakdown :
  • Kingdom Plantae– Plants
  • Subkingdom Tracheobionta – Vascular plants
  • Superdivision Spermatophyta – Seed plants
  • Division Magnoliophyta – Flowering plants
  • Class Magnoliopsida – Dicotyledons
  • Subclass Ast eridae
  • Order Aste rales
  • Family Asteraceae – Aster family
  • Genus Artemisi a L. – sagebrush
  • Species Artemisia absinthium L. – absinthium

COMMON NAMES
Absinthe; Absinthium; Green Ginger; Madderwort; Green Fairy


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Wormwood Buds


Relatives:
  1. Artemisia abrotanum L. – southernwood
  2. Artemisia absinthium L. – absinthium
  3. Artemisia alaskana Rydb. – Alaska wormwood
  4. Artemisia aleutica Hultén – Aleutian wormwood
  5. Artemisia annua L. – sweet sagewort
  6. Artemisia arbuscula Nutt. – little sagebrush
  7. Artemisia australis Less. – Oahu wormwood
  8. Artemisia biennis Willd. – biennial wormwood
  9. Artemisiastelleriana Besser – oldwoman
  10. Ageratina Spach – snakeroot
  11. Ambrosia L. – ragweed
  12. Ampelaster G.L. Nesom – climbing aster

DESCRIPTION
Absinthe is a bright green liquor that is flavored using an herbal extract. The drink was popular in the 19th century especially in France within the bohemian crowd. The drink is green in color due to the chlorophyll. Due to the drinks very potent nature, it was traditionally diluted with cold water. The water is added through a perforated spoon containing sugar. When the water was added to the drink, it goes from the emerald green color to a cloudy white color. This occurs because the water causes the essential oils from the herbal extract to precipitate out of the alcohol and form a colloidal suspension. Chronic use of absinthe leads to absinthism. The symptoms for this addiction include epileptic attacks, delirium, and hallucinations. Due to this and other social considerations, absinthe was banned in many countries during the early part of the 20th century. Absinthe recipes often distinguish between Grand wormwood.jpgWormwood and Petit Wormwood, which are typically added at different stages in the distillation process. Grand Wormwood refers to the species Artemisia absinthium, and Petit Wormwood refers to A. pontica (Roman Wormwood). Wormwood contains the compound absinthin, which is responsible for the bitter flavor of the liquor, but the main toxicant in the essential oil is the compound thujone. It is known to be psychoactive and is the main active ingredient in absinthe other than the alcohol. However, most of Wormwoods psychoactive properties have been greatly exaggerated and have be noted to be more closely related to the alcohol content then the thujone. Thujone belongs to the family of monoterpene ketones and has been used in herbal medicine and was said to cure digestive problems, worms, menstrual problems, corns, warts, acne, fever, cough, rheumatism, and scurvy among other ailments.


Wormwood Regulation:
While the use of wormwood can be dated as far back as 1550 B.C it became the rage in France starting about 1850. Its use took hold in the intellectual and artistic communities and many famous people, Hemingway, Baudelaire, Picasso, and Degas, drank absinthe. It was thought then that it simulated creativity and acted as an aphrodisiac. Perhaps the most famous drinker of absinthe was Vincent Van Gogh for it appears that his depression, psychotic behavior and suicide were related to his chronic use of th
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Picasso's The Absinthe Drinker 1901
e drink. Wormwood has even been thought to have attributed to him slicing his ear off. Van Gogh suffered from acute intermittent porphyria. The symptoms of this genetic disorder include attacks of abdominal pain, anxiety, hysteria, delirium, phobias, psychosis, organic disorders, agitation, depression, and altered consciousness from tiredness to coma. It has been theorized that the drinking of absinthe may have triggered these attacks.



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Wormwood Flowering


Thujone:
Thujone is thought to have antidiabetic properties. It may be one of the main properties in several medicinal herbs(1). Extracts of Thujone have been used to control gastrointestinal worms. Records of this usage date back to Ancient Egypt(2). The oil has insecticidal properties as well. Alpha-Thujone is one of the most toxic elements used against corn root-worm larvae. Because of public mistrust, though, the oil is not used widely. The use of Wormwood and its active Thujone properties were even used as a fever preventative by the French while fighting in Algeria(3).


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Climbing Wormwood



Absinthe was banned in the United States in 1912 as part of the Food Inspection Decision 147. Thujone was banned as a food additive by the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act of 1972. In 1975, the Federal Food and Drug Administration designated thujone as an unsafe herb. But many thujone containing food additives, such as sage and rosemary, have been given Generally Recognized as Safe status by the FDA.
In Europe, a limit on the amount of thujone contained in food has been set by the European Community Codex Committee on Food Additives. The acceptable level is 0.5 ppm (mg/kg) in foods and beverages, 10 ppm in alcoholic drinks above 25% alcohol, 5 ppm in alcoholic drinks less than 25% alcohol, and 35 ppm in bitters.
Although absinthe has been banned in the United States, it is still legal in Spain and some other countries in Europe. The drink also has a "cult" status on the web where absinthe can be ordered and recipes for homemade absinthe can be found.


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Wormwood has even made an appearance in Biblical references:
In the old testament, the Hebrew word "la'anah" is used several times to describe the epitome of bitterness. It is often translated (as in the King James Bible) as "wormwood". "La'anah" may originally have referred to a grouping of Artemisia species (including A. judaica), or it may have referred to a variety of bitter plants and substances. One Greek new testament verse uses the word "apsinthos" which is more clearly linked to wormwood. Below are the King James translations of a few Bible verses referring to wormwood.
"For the lips of a strange woman drop as an honeycomb, and her mouth is smoother than oil: But her end is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword." Proverbs, 5:3-4

"He hath filled me with bitterness, he hath made me drunken with wormwood." Lamentations, 3:15

"Therefore thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Behold, I will feed them, this people, with wormwood, and give them water of gall to drink." Jeremiah, 9:15

"Lest there should be among you man, or woman, or family, or tribe, whose heart turneth away this day from the LORD our God, to go [and] serve the gods of these nations; lest there should be among you a root that beareth gall and wormwood;" Deutoronomy, 29:18


"And the third angel sounded, and there fell a great star from heaven, burning as it were a lamp, and it fell upon the third part of the rivers, and upon the fountains of waters; And the name of the star is called Wormwood: and the third part of the waters became wormwood; and many men died of the waters, because they were made bitter." Revelation 8:10-11


References:
Web:
http://www.fda.gov/
http://plants.usda.gov/java/
http://www.erowid.org/plants/wormwood/wormwood.shtml
http://wormwoodsociety.org/ (An interesting link)

Books:
Wormwood Forest: A Natural History of Chernobyl by Mary Mycio

Article:

1. Thujone, a component of medicinal herbs, rescues palmitate-induced insulin resistance in skeletal muscle. Alkhateeb H, Bonen A. Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 2010 Sep;299(3):R804-12. Epub 2010 Jun 23.

2. α-Thujone (the active component of absinthe): γ-Aminobutyric acid type A receptor modulation and metabolic detoxification. Karin M. Höld Nilantha S. Sirisoma Tomoko Ikeda Toshio Narahashi John E. Casida March 21, 2000

3. Absinthe, Absinthism and Thujone- New Insight into the Spirit's Impact on Public Health. Lachenmeier, Nathan-Maister, Breaux, Luaute, Emmert. The Open Addiction Journal, 2010.


4. Thujone Exhibits Low Affinity for Cannabinoid Receptors But Fails to Evoke Cannabimimetic Responses, by J.P. Mescher and A.C. Howlett

Pharmacology Biochemisty and Behavior Vol 62 (No. 3) 1999, 473-480