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What is wormwood? In Ancient times, wormwood was believed to have powerful healing properties. It was believed to rid intestinal worms, an antidote to counteract poisons, an insect repellent and was used in antiseptic formulas. The modern dictionary describes it as a Mediterranean perennial herb or shrubby plant (Artemisia absinthium) of the family Asteraceae (Aster family). We know it as the bitter herb that contains thujone used to make absinthe. The compound thujone, found in wormwood, was believed to give Absinthe its toxicity and responsible in for its psychedelic effect. We now know that is false. Modern studies of historical recipes and distillation techniques show that thujone levels in properly distilled absinthe are low and are safe. Even though real absinthe will not make you hallucinate or cut off an ear, its lucid effects are undeniable.

There are two species of wormwood that contain thujone that are used in making absinthe. They are Artemisia Absinthium and Artemesia Pontica.

Artemisia absinthium is often referred to as 'grande wormwood', which means large wormwood. It is also referred to as 'common wormwood', or simply 'wormwood'.

Artemisia pontica is often referred to as 'petite wormwood', which means small wormwood. It is also referrred to as 'roman wormwood'.

Grande wormwood (artemisia absinthium) is one of the three essential herbs required to make authentic absinthe. The other two essential herbs are green anise and fennel. These three essential herbs are often referred to as the 'Holy Trinity' of absinthe. I prefer calling them the 'Unholy Trinity' of absinthe--just to keep things in perspective!

Artemesia pontica is sometimes used in the secondary maceration (coloring step) to contribute to absinthe's green color. It is used to color absinthe due to its mild bitterness and aromatic properties. Hyssop and lemon balm are also used to color absinthe.

Wormwood Flowering

Wormwood Flowering

British Wild Flower Photograher - John Somerville

1913 Wormwood Sketch
Artemisia Absinthium

Britton, N.L., and A. Brown. 1913

An early drawing used for species identification by the USDA.


Wormwood growing in the wild.

Grande wormwood "artemisia absinthium" in the wild.

artemisia pontica
Artemisia Pontica

Britton, N.L., and A. Brown. 1913

An early drawing used for species identification by the USDA.


artemisia pontica

Petite wormwood "artemisia pontica".

Wormwood was mentioned in the King James Bible (Cambridge)

"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."

Wormwood was mentioned by Roman Officer and Naturalist, Pliny the Elder in the The Natural History, BOOK II. An Account of the World and the Elements, CIRCA 69 AD.

"The lake Sinnaus39, in Asia, is impregnated with wormwood, which grows about it. "