Compositae: Asteraceae (Aster Family); Antemideae Tribe
Forms and Subspecies
The wild form occasionally differs from the cultivated form. There also are several chemotypes (see “Constituents”).
Absinthium majus Geoffr.
Absinthium officinale Lam.
Absinthium vulgare Lam.
Absint-alsem (Dutch), absinth, absinthe, absinthium vulgare, absinthkraut, agenco, ajenjo, ajenjo común, ambrosia (ancient Greek), apsinthos, artenheil, assenzio vero (Italian), bitterer beifuß, botrys, common wormwood, eberreis, echter wermut, gengibre verde (Spanish, “green ginger”), grande absinthe, green muse, grüne fee (German, “green fairy”), heilbitter, hierba santa (Spanish, “sacred herb”), la fée verte, magenkraut, ölde, rîhân (Arabic), sage of the glaciers, schweizertee, wermôd (Saxon), wermut, wermutkraut, wermutpflanze, wor-mod (Old English), wormod, worm-wood, wurmkraut
Wormwood and its qualities were already well known in ancient times. This and other species of Artemisia were sacred to the Greek goddess Artemis—hence their name (Vernant 1988). However, it is uncertain whether the early sources used the Greek name absinthion as a catch-all term for a number of Artemisia spp. or even other plants (asters) (Schneider 1974, 1:136ff.*).
In medieval times, the powers of wormwood were praised in Latin hexameter in the Hortulus of Walahfried Strabo (ninth century) (Stoffler 1978). Hildegard von Bingen euphorically praised it as “the most important master against all exhaustions” (Physica 1.109).
In the sixteenth century, Spanish Jesuits brought the Old World plant, which was known as hierba santa, “sacred herb,” to the entire world, particularly Central and South America (Hoffmann et al. 1992, 37*).
In central Europe, the essential oil (also known as absinthe oil) was distilled from the plant and mixed with alcohol. This drink, known as absinthe, became a fashionable drug, especially in nineteenth-century artistic circles. Chronic use, however, had terrible side effects (brain damage; so-called absinthism) (Schmidt 1915). It is still unclear whether absinthism was due to the thujone or to other ingredients (e.g., heavy metal salts) (Proksch and Wissinger-Gräfenhahn 1992, 363). Because wormwood was an inebriating drug, and because it was also used as an illegal abortifacient (by quack physicians), it was soon banned as a result of “increasing misuse” (Vogt 1981) in France in 1922 (Arnold 1988, 3043) and in Germany in 1923. At about the same time, the “green fairy” (as the psychedelic drink was called) was also made illegal in Switzerland under threat of severe fines and imprisonment (Rätsch 1996). Today, absinthe cannot be (officially) obtained anywhere.
Since the early 1990s, many Swiss “scene” bars have been selling beverages known as die grüne fee (“the green fairy”). These drinks do not contain any genuine and illegal absinthe but consist of other commercial alcoholic beverages. The true green fairy is available only through private channels. No one has been able to explain to me why absinthe became known as the green fairy. One woman conjectured that it might have something to do with the effects, for absinthe is said to carry people away as if they had been enchanted by a fairy. Others suggested that it refers to the often greenish color of the absinthe. One Swiss man informed me that absinthe is the “most psychedelic alcohol there is.”
Wormwood is found throughout Europe, North Africa, Asia, and North and South America. Large numbers of the plant grow wild in Valais (Switzerland).
Wormwood is quite easy to grow from its very small seeds. The best method is to sow the seeds in a bed sheltered from the rain and press them a little into the ground. The seeds should be watered with care so that they are not constantly shifted around and their germination disturbed (Grubber 1991, 67*). Wormwood prefers dry soils; it also thrives well on rocky subsoil. Most of the areas in which wormwood is grown for pharmaceutical use are in eastern Europe (Proksch and Wissinger-Gräfenhahn 1992, 360).
The perennial, upright, somewhat branched shrubby herb grows to a height of 50 to 100 cm. The finely pinnate, whitish gray leaves are covered on both sides with fine hairs and have a feltlike, silky surface. When crushed, they immediately exude the characteristic aromatic-bitter scent of the essential oil. The spherical, clustery yellow flowers are attached paniculate to the ends of the branches. The flowering lasts from July to September. The stalks wilt in the fall. The root-stock produces new shoots in the spring.
Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) can differ in appearance from one location to another. (Woodcut from Tabernaemontanus, Neu Vollkommen Kräuter-Buch, 1731)
“The drinking of absinthe resembles the smoking of cannabis together with the drinking of wine. The secret of the drink lies in the proper proportion of alcohol to thujonene. This leads to a synergistic effect. Absinthe is cannabis in a bottle. I drink it in the traditional manner, with sugar and ice water. But be careful! Strange things happen after the third draft.”
RT/ABSINTH (ENTHEOGENE 5, 1995, 49)
Artemisia absinthium is easily confused with other members of the genus, including mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) (see Artemisia spp.). Worm-wood is almost indistinguishable from Artemisia mexicana.
—Aboveground herbage (absinthii herba, herba absinthii, absinthii cacumina florentia, summitates absinthii, wermutkraut)
The percentages of constituents in the plant are highest when it is harvested during the flowering season. The dried herbage should be stored away from light.
Preparation and Dosage
The fresh or dried herbage (it is best to use leaves only from the ends of the twigs) are added to boiling water and allowed to steep for five minutes. One g of dried leaves in 1 cup of hot water represents a single medicinal dosage (Roth et al. 1994, 146*).
Wormwood herbage can also be smoked alone or as an ingredient in smoking mixtures; it is also used as an incense, e.g., in smudge bundles (cf. Artemisia spp.).
In ancient times, the plant was already being used to produce medicinal wines:
A wine, the so-called wormwood wine, is also made from it, especially in Propontis and in Thrace, where it . . . is used when fever is lacking. They also drink it in the summer before, for they believe that is wholesome to the health. . . . But the juice of absinthe appears to exert the same effects, except that we do not consider it good to drink, for it is contrary to the stomach and causes headaches. (Dioscorides 3.23)
In ancient China, wormwood was used as an additive to rice wine (cf. sake).
In 1797, M. Pernod, a Frenchman who was living in Switzerland at the time, developed the emerald green drink known as absinthe by distilling a preparation of an herb mash of worm-wood, anise (Pimpinella anisum L. [syn. Anisum vulgare Gaertn.]), fennel, lemon balm (Melissa officinalis L.), hyssop, and other herbs (Arnold 1988, 3043). Absinthe definitely has a much more pleasant taste when only the distilled oil of Artemisia absinthum is used. Herbal extracts can impart an unpleasantly bitter taste to the liquor.
Absinthe was also produced by macerating the following herbs in a high-proof alcohol (brandy or similar spirits, with up to 85% ethanol content) (Albert-Puleo 1978, 69):
To prepare absinthe, coriander (Coriandrum sativum L.), sweet marjoram (Majorana hortensis Moench [syn. Origanum majorana Boiss.]), nutmeg (Myristica fragrans), marjoram (Origanum vulgare L., Origanum spp.), chamomile (Chamomilla recutita (L.) Rauschert [syn. Matricaria chamomilla L.]), parsley (Petroselinum crispum), juniper (Juniperus communis L.; cf. Juniperus recurva), and spinach (Spinacia oleracea L.) have also been used (Pendell 1995, 103*).
Dale Pendell, one of the last of the Beat poets, developed a recipe of his own that induces profound psychoactive effects:
30 g Wormwood leaves (Artemisia absinthium)
8.5 g Hyssop herbage (Hyssopus officinalis)
1.8 g Calamus root (Acorus calamus)
6.0 g Lemon balm leaves (Melissa officinalis) 30 g Anise seed (Pimpinella anisum)
25 g Fennel seed (Foeniculum vulgare)
10 g Star anise fruits (Illicium verum)
3.2 g Coriander seeds (Coriandrum sativum)
Found seldom in the wild, wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) is an ancient European medicinal and inebriating plant. (Photographed in Valais, Switzerland)
Lightly crush the herbs and place them in a vessel that can be sealed. Add 800 ml of 85 to 95% alcohol. Allow the vessel to stand closed for a week, shaking it slightly from time to time. Then add 600 ml of water and allow the entire contents to macerate for an additional day. Pour off the liquid and squeeze the remaining fluid out of the herbs and into the extract. The herbs can then be added to vodka or another type of spirits and squeezed once more (Pendell 1995, 112*).
Contemporary (Swiss) absinthe recipes are kept secret. The wormwood is distilled together with other herbs. The color may be clear, greenish, or yellowish. The taste is strongly reminiscent of anisette or Pernod. Absinthe is diluted with water prior to consumption (approximately 1:1). The resulting mixture is milky-cloudy.
An absinthelike drink named yolixpa (Nahuatl, “in the view of the heart”) is distilled in Puebla (Mexico) and drunk ritually (Knab 1995, 219*). It is produced from aguardiente (sugarcane spirits; cf. alcohol) to which such herbs as Artemisia mexicana have been added. Absinthelike love drinks made of alcoholic spirits and the appropriate herbs were once produced in Switzerland as well (Lussi 1997).
German wormwood wine45 contains only trace amounts of the essential oil (Fühner 1943, 239*).
In ancient times, the name artemisia (which was derived from that of the goddess Artemis, the sister of Apollo and the god of healing) was primarily used to refer to wormwood, mugwort, and related species (cf. Artemisia spp.).46Unfortunately, very few ancient texts have come down to us that are able to cast light upon the connection between these plants and the virgin goddess. The Greek word artemisia means “intactness,” a clear reference to the chasteness of the goddess, who, as the mistress of wild animals, functions as a mixture of Amazon, witch, and shamaness. In ancient Greece, Artemis was revered as the patron goddess of virgins. In the ancient Orient, she was regarded as the ruler of the Amazons. During the Italian Renaissance, she became Diana, the witch goddess. In spring, during the time of the full moon, ecstatic and orgiastic Artemis festivals were held to honor the goddess. As part of these festivities, the goddess was symbolically consumed in the form of wormwood and mugwort. In Laconia, boisterous Artemis festivals were held that featured obscene activities, wild dances, travesties, and masks. The men would wear women’s masks and the women would strap on phalluses (Giani 1994, 89*). It appears that these festivals were actually mystery rites and fertility rituals.
Absinthe was a legendary drug among artists and Bohemians at the end of the nineteenth century (Conrad 1988). It was popularized primarily through the absinthe pictures of the Parisian painters Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864–1901) and Édouard Manet (1832–1883). The manic-depressive painter Vincent van Gogh (1853–1890) appears to have been addicted to absinthe. His paintings, especially those in which brilliant yellow tones predominate (the renowned “Van Gogh yellow”), are good representations of the perceptual changes caused by thujone (Arnold 1988). Pablo Picasso also helped immortalize absinthe (Adams 1980). Paul Gauguin even took an ample supply of absinthe with him when he traveled to Tahiti. Alfred Jarry referred to absinthe as “holy water” (Pendell 1995, 110*).
Absinthe was also a source of literary inspiration for such writers as Arthur Rimbaud, Ernest Dowson, Charles Cros, H. P. Lovecraft, Charles Baudelaire, Oscar Wilde, Jack London, Ernest Hemingway, Gustave Kahn, Victor Hugo, Alfred de Musset, and Paul Verlaine (Conrad 1988; Pendell 1995: 103ff.*). These authors have left us with a number of poems praising absinthe.
In ancient Egypt, wormwood was commonly used as a remedy, an aromatic substance, and an additive to wine (cf. Vitis vinifera) and beer and to dispel worms and to treat pains in the anal region. Today, wormwood is still used in Yemen to alleviate the pains associated with parturition (Fleurentin and Pelt 1982, 102f.*).
In European folk medicine, wormwood is one of the most important gynecological agents for abortion and to induce menstruation and labor. In tea form, it is consumed primarily for stomach pains, lack of appetite, feelings of fullness, gallbladder problems, vomiting, and diarrhea (Pahlow 1993, 339*).
In homeopathy, absinthium is used in accordance with the medical descriptions to treat such ailments as epilepsy and nervous and hysterical spasms (Pahlow 1993, 340*).
Wormwood contains large quantities of bitter substances (absinthine) and an essential oil that is rich in thujone. The four primary components of the essential oil are (+)-thujone (= α-thujone), cis-epoxyocimene, trans-sabinylacetate, and chrysanthenylacetate. Wormwood develops a variety of chemotypes; for this reason, the composition of the essential oil can vary considerably. Any one of the four primary components can dominate, depending upon the location where the herb originated. For example, (+)-thujone dominates in altitudes of up to 1,000 meters (Proksch and Wissinger-Gräfenhahn 1992, 360). Thujone has a molecular symmetry not unlike that of THC (Castillo et al. 1975).
“Use it to help yourself,
and boil the bitter green of the woody wormwood;
then pour the juice from spacious bowls
And wash the highest part of the head with it.
When you have washed the fine hairs with this brew,
then remember to lay thereon,
bundles of leaves tied together,
and wrap a snug bandage around the hair after the bath.
Before too many hours have passed in the course of time,
you will be amazed by this agent
and by all of its other powers.”
“[T]he use of psychedelic Artemisia preparations combined synergistically with the lunar effect would have facilitated the ecstatic and orgiastic rites of Artemisia.”
“MYTHOBOTANY, PHARMACOLOGY, AND CHEMISTRY OF THUJONE-CONTAINING PLANTS AND DERIVATIVES”
In addition to the essential oil, the herbage also contains sesquiterpene lactones, glycosides of camphor oil, tanning agents, and quercetin (cf. Acacia spp., Psidium guajava, Vaccinium uliginosum, kinnikinnick) (Proksch and Wissinger-Gräfenhahn 1992, 361).
The extremely bitter wormwood tea has been demonstrated to soothe the stomach (Hoffmann et al. 1992, 37*). The pharmacological effects of thujone, which is chemically related to camphor (see Cinnamomum camphora) and pinene, are very similar to those of THC (Castillo et al. 1975). The literature contains frequent reports of hallucinations as well as of spasms and epileptic-like seizures following consumption of absinthe (Arnold 1988, 3043; Schmidt 1915; Walker 1906).
Because of the presence of thujone, a potent psychoactive substance, absinthe liquor is much stronger than other types of alcoholic beverages and produces different effects (cf. alcohol):
The absinthe did indeed have inebriating effects upon me, but these were quite different than with “normal” schnapps. The stimulant effects of absinthe were quite strong, it woke me up and also kept me awake for a long time. I was partially bathed in aphrodisiac sensations, and I partially flowed in that direction. As the effects increased, I had the sensation that I was floating away. It was like the kiss of the green fairy. —Unfortunately, the next day the head was in as much pain as the inebriation had been delightful during the previous evening. I had never before experienced such a brutal hangover. (Rätsch 1996, 286)
A line of cocaine is said to be a very effective treatment for the torments of an absinthe headache.
In comparison to absinthe, the effects of the herbage when smoked are quite mild, producing only a slight euphoria.
Commercial Forms and Regulations
In central Europe, wormwood herbage is officinal (DAB10, Helv. VII, ÖAB90, BHP83); the minimum amount of essential oil must be 0.2% (Proksch and Wissinger-Gräfenhahn 1992, 362). The herbage is sold without restriction; only absinthe is illegal. However, we find the same thing occurring here as with other instances of legal proscriptions, for the illegal substance continues to be distilled in underground circles. Today, absinthe is banned around the world, but it is still being illegally produced in some of the German-speaking regions of Switzerland according to old, traditional recipes. Absinthe connoisseurs pay precious little attention to the fact that the substance is severely restricted. In Switzerland, absinthe was made illegal primarily because it was being used (or abused) to terminate pregnancies. Today, anyone caught distilling absinthe illegally faces a fine of 100,000 Swiss francs (Rätsch 1996).
See also the entries for Artemisia mexicana, Artemisia spp., essential oil, and THC.
Adams, B. 1980. Picasso’s absinth glasses: Six drinks to the end of the era. Artforum 18 (8): 30–33.
Albert-Puleo, Michael. 1978. Mythobotany, pharmacology, and chemistry of thujone-containing plants and derivatives. Economic Botany 32:65–74.
Arnold, Wilfred Niels. 1988. Vincent van Gogh and the thujone connection. Journal of the American Medical Association 260 (20): 3042–44.
———. 1989. Absinthe. Scientific American. June:113–17.
Castillo, J. D., M. Anderson, and G. M. Rubboton. 1975. Marijuana, absinthe and the central nervous system. Nature 253:365–66.
Conrad, Barnaby, III. 1988. Absinthe: History in a bottle. San Francisco: Chronicle Books.
Lussi, Kurt. 1998. Der Liebestrank der Aphrodite: Eine Rezeptsammlung aus der Innerschweiz. Yearbook for Ethnomedicine and the Study of Consciousness 1996 (5): 79–97. Berlin: VWB.
Proksch, Peter, and Ulrike Wissinger-Gräfenhahn. 1992. Artemisia. In Hagers Handbuch der pharmazeutischen Praxis, 5th ed., 4:357–77. Berlin: Springer.
Rätsch, Christian. 1996. “Die Grüne Fee”: Absinth in der Schweiz. Yearbook for Ethnomedicine and the Study of Consciousness 1995 (4): 285–87. Berlin: VWB.
Schmidt, H. 1915. L’Absinthe, l’aliénation mentale et la criminalité. Annales d’Hygiène Publique et Médecine Légale 23 (4th series): 121–33.
Vernant, Jean-Pierre. 1988. Tod in den Augen—Figuren des Anderen im griechischen Altertum: Artemis und Gorgo. Frankfurt/M.: Fischer.
Vogt, Donald D. 1981. Absinthium: a nineteenth-century drug of abuse. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 4 (3): 337–42.
Vogt, Donald D., and Michael Montagne. 1982. Absinthe: Behind the emerald mask. The International Journal of Addictions 17 (6): 1015–29.
Walker, E. E. 1906. The effects of absinthe. Medical Record 70:568–72.
Zafar, M. M., M. E. Hamdard, and A. Hameed. 1990. Screen of Artemisia absinthium for antimalarial effects on Plasmodium berghei in mice: a preliminary report. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 30:223–26.
Artemisia mexicana Willdenow et Spreng.
Compositae: Asteraceae (Aster Family); Antemideae Tribe; Abrotanum Section
Forms and Subspecies
Today, Artemisia mexicana is usually regarded as a subspecies of the North American western mugwort (Argueta et al. 1994, 628*; Lee and Geissman 1970; Ohno et al. 1980, 104; Pulido Salas and Serralta Peraza 1993, 16*): Artemisia ludoviciana Nutt. ssp. mexicana (Willd.) Keck (cf. Artemisia spp.). The plant also has one variety: Artemisia mexicana var. angustifolia (Mata et al. 1984).
Artemisia ludoviciana ssp. mexicana (Willd.) Keck
Artemisia vulgaris ssp. mexicana (Hall.) Clem.
Agenjo del país, ajenjo, ajenjo del país, altamisa, altamiza, altaniza, ambfe (Otomí), artemisia, azumate de puebla, cola de zorillo, (“little tail of the fox”), ensencio de mata verde (“incense of the green bush”), epazote de castilla, estafiate,47 estaphiate, estomiate, green wormwood, guietee, guitee (Zapotec), haway, hierba de San Juan (Spanish, “Saint John’s herb”), hierba maestra (Spanish, “master herb”), hierba maistra, incienso verde (Spanish, “green incense”), istafiate, istafiatl, ixtauhyatl (Aztec), iztauhiatl, iztauhyatl (Nahuatl), kamaistra (Popoluca), kaway si’isim, Mexican wormwood, mexikanischer beifuß, mexmitzi (Otomí), osomiate, quije-tes (Zapotec), ros’sabl’i (Rarámuri), si’isim (Maya), te ts’ojol (Huastec), tlalpoyomatli (Aztec), tsakam ten huitz (Huastec), tsi’tsim (Yucatec), xun, zizim
The Aztecs and other Indians of Mesoamerica were already using Mexican wormwood for ritual and medicinal purposes in pre-Columbian times. Today, the prime significance of the plant is in folk medicine. In Mexico, the herbage is often smoked as a marijuana substitute (cf. Cannabis indica).
The first European to describe Mexican worm-wood and compare it to its European counterpart was the Franciscan priest and book burner Diego de Landa (1524–1579).
The plant occurs in both the dry and warm regions of Mexico (the Valley of Mexico, San Luis Potosí, Veracruz, Chihuahua) and the Yucatán Peninsula (Martínez 1994, 134*). It is also said to occur in Arizona and New Mexico (Ohno et al. 1980, 104).
See Artemisia absinthium.
Mexican wormwood, which can grow as tall as 1 meter in height, is so similar to the European species that even experts can have difficulty distinguishing the two. Some botanists and ethnobotanists believe that it is a variety or subspecies of Artemisia absinthium.
—Herbage without the roots
Preparation and Dosage
The fresh herbage can be added to aguardiente, mescal, tequila (cf. Agave spp.), or any other distilled spirits (cf. alcohol) for optimal extraction (Martínez 1994, 134*). Mexican wormwood is one of the herbs used to manufacture the absinthelike herbal liquors of Central Mexico known as yolixpa.
The dried herbage can be smoked. One to 3 g produces mild psychoactive effects. Three to 4 g of the dried herbage, taken internally, has strong anthelmintic effects (Martínez 1994, 135*). Higher dosages can induce abortions.
The Aztecs were already using Artemisia mexicana as a ritual incense in pre-Columbian times:
Tlalpoyomatli, its leaves are smoky, gray, soft; it has many flowers. Incense is made from this plant: it produces an agreeable scent; it produces a perfume. This incense spreads, it is distributed over the entire country. (Sahagun, Florentine Codex 11:6*)
Mexican wormwood (Artemisia mexicana) is almost indistinguishable from European wormwood. The Mexican plant, however, is more potently psychoactive. (Photographed in Veracruz, Mexico)
“[In the Yucatán], There is wormwood, much leafier and more aromatic than what we have here, and with longer and narrower leaves; the Indians grow it for the scent and for pleasure, and I have noticed that the plants grow better when the Indian women put ashes at the foot.”
FRAY DIEGO DE LANDA
AN ACCOUNT OF THE THINGS OF YUCATÁN, XLIX
The aromatic plant was sacred to Uixtociuatl, the Aztec goddess of salt and salt makers. The Aztec name for Mexican wormwood, itztauhyatl, is sometimes translated as “water of the goddess of salt” (Argueta et al. 1994, 628*). During her festival, which occurred in the seventh month (Tecuilhuitontli), the goddess was portrayed by a pries-tess who carried a staff that was used in a dance:
While dancing, she swings her shield around in a circle, makes movements with it. And she carries a rush staff, decorated with papers and sprinkled with caoutchouc, and furnished on three sides with shells. And where the staff bears the chalice-shaped enlargements, there too is wormwood herbage. Crossed feathers are on it, it bears crossed feathers. When dancing, she supports herself on this, places it firmly into the ground and circles around it, making movements towards the four directions. And ten days long they sang and danced for her in the manner of women; everyone was occupied with this, the salt people, the salt makers, the old women and the women in middle age and the maidens and the girls who had just grown to be maidens. While the sun is still there, still shines, they begin to dance. They are arranged in rows, they arrange themselves in rows. Using a rope, which they call “flower rope,” they take hold of one another, forming a long row. They wear a wormwood flower on their heads. And they sing, they scream loudly, sing with a very high voice, their song is just as the centzontle sings somewhere in the forest, like a clear little bell are their voices. (Sahagun, Florentine Codex 2:26*)
Mexican wormwood is one of the plants sacred to Tláloc, the rain god, who was also associated with Argemone mexicana and Tagetes lucida (see Tagetes spp.).
Documents from the colonial period make no mention of any use of this plant as a psychoactive plant. However, Jacinto de la Serna did refer to Mexican wormwood in the same breath as peyote (Lophophora williamsii) and ololiuqui (Turbina corymbosa) (Garza 1990; Ott 1993, 393*). In modern Mexico, the leaves are smoked as a marijuana substitute. It is possible that ritual forms for using the plant have developed in conjunction with this use.
The plant was sometimes depicted in connection with the Aztec goddess Uixtociuatl (= Huixtocihuatl) and her festival.
The herbage is used as an antispasmodic in Mexican folk medicine (Cerna 1932, 303*). An extract obtained with a mixture of alcohol and water is medicinally drunk for stomach ailments and digestive problems (Martínez 1994, 134*). The plant is listed in the Mexican pharmacopoeia as an anthelmintic and a stomachic (Dibble 1966, 66*; Lara Ochoa and Marquez Alonso 1996, 55*). In modern folk medicine (which was influenced by the Aztecs), the roots and herbage are used to treat epilepsy and rheumatism and to induce menstruation and abortion, and are also drunk as a tonic (Reza D. 1994). Teas made from the plant are drunk to treat lack of appetite. Alcoholic extracts with albahaca (see Ocimum micranthum) are said to heal diseases caused by “bad winds” (Argeuta et al. 1994, 628f.*). The Yucatec Maya use the herbage as a fumigant for treating headaches (Pulido Salas and Serralta Peraza 1993, 16*). Decoctions are drunk for coughs, asthma, and diarrhea (Roys 1976, 310*). Both the Yucatec Maya and other Indians also use the plant for birth control (to induce menstruation and abortion).
In addition to the essential oil, which is composed in part of the terpenes borneol, alcafor, limonene, α-phellandrene, and β-phellandrene, the primary active component is santonin. An alkaloid of unknown structure is also said to be present (Martínez 1994, 134*). The herbage contains azulene, butenolide, coumarins, flavones, polyacetylenes, lactones, and sesquiterpenes (armefolin, 8-α-acetoxyarmexifolin, artemexifolin) (Argueta et al. 1994, 628*; Dibble 1966, 66*; Lara Ochoa and Marquez Alonso 1996, 55*). Although it is likely present, thujone has not yet been detected.
A sample from Arizona was found to contain the eudesmanolides (sesquiterpene lactones) douglanin, ludovicin-A, ludovicin-B, and ludovicin-C. Mexican plants contain the sesquiterpene lactones arglanin, douglanin, armexin, estafiatin, chrysartemin-A,48 and artemolin (Lee and Geissman 1970; Ohno et al. 1980, 104; Romo et al. 1970).
Smoking the dried herbage initially produces a mild, pleasant stimulation that can—depending upon dosage and sensitivity—increase to a euphoric state, very much like the effects of marijuana.
Taken internally, the herbage and the oil it yields have anthelmintic and abortative effects. Overall, the plant is said to be less toxic than Artemisia absinthium and therefore more easily tolerated (Martínez 1994, 134*).
Commercial Forms and Regulations
In Mexico, the dried herbage is available in markets and herbal shops.
See also the entries for Artemisia absinthium, Artemisia spp., and essential oil.
Lee, K. H., and T. A. Geissman. 1970. Sesquiterpene lactones of Artemisia constituents of A. ludoviciana ssp. mexicana. Phytochemistry 9:403–8.
Mata, Rachel, Guillermo Delgado, and Alfonso Romo de Vivar. 1984. Sesquiterpene lactones of Artemisia mexicana var. angustifolia. Phytochemistry 23 (8): 1665–68.
Ohno, Nobuo, Jonathan Gershenzon, Catherine Roane, and Tom J. Mabry. 1980. 11,13-dehydro-desacetylmatricarin and other sesquiterpene lactones from Artemisia ludoviciana var. ludoviciana and the identity of artecanin and chrysartemin B. Phytochemistry 19:103–6.
Reza D., Miguel. 1994. Herbolaria azteca. México, D.F.: Instituto Mexiquense de Cultura.
Romo, J., A. Romo de Vivar, R. Treviño, P. Joseph-Nathan, and E. Díaz. 1970. Constituents of Artemisia and Chrysanthemum species: the structures of chrysartemins A and B. Phytochemistry 9:1615–21.
Compositae: Asteraceae (Aster Family); Antemideae Tribe
To date, a number of species of this genus have been described that display interesting pharmacological properties that can be characterized as stimulating, tonic, and antispasmodic (Morán et al. 1989a). In all of the places where species of Artemisia are found—and they are found almost worldwide—they are used for ethnomedicinal purposes. For example, Artemisia herba alba L. is used in Arabic folk medicine to treat diabetes. Its abilities to lower blood sugar levels have been experimentally verified (Twaij and Al-Badr 1988). The Nepalese Sherpas use the juice of freshly pressed leaves of Artemisia dubiaWall. ex Besser (titepati, kemba girbu) as an antiseptic and a decoction for fevers (Bhattarai 1989, 47*). The malarial agent artemisinin (= quinghaosu) was discovered in the Asian Artemisia annua L. (El-Feraly et al. 1986).
Many Artemisia species are used ritually as incense, in the peyote cult (see Lophophora williamsii), and as medicines. Even mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris), which was introduced from Europe, is used as “sage” (tägyi). Some species that have gynecological effects are sacred to the Greek goddess Artemis (Brøndegaard 1972).
Artemisia frigida contains camphor (the plant is even regarded as a source of camphor; cf. Cinnamomum camphora). Some species of Artemisia contain the psychoactive substance thujone (see essential oils). Methoxylated flavonoids are common in the genus (Rodríguez et al. 1972). Many species of Artemisia have muscle-relaxing and antiasthmatic effects (Morán et al. 1989c) and are thus suitable for use in smoking blends. They include:
Artemisia scoparia Waldst. et Kit.
Artemisia sieversiana (Ehrh.) Willd.
Artemisia argyi Leveille et Vaniot
Artemisia caerulescens ssp. gallica (Willd.) K. Pers.
The West European Artemisia caerulescens ssp. gallica is rich in an essential oil with a high thujone content (Morán et al. 1989b).
Artemisia copa Phil.—copa-copa, copa tola This species is found in northern Chile. The inhabitants of the Toconse oasis (Atacama Desert) claim that this plant has the power to induce dreams (Aldunate et al. 1981, 205*). It apparently even has hallucinogenic properties (Aldunate et al. 1983*).
Artemisia ludoviciana Nutt.—prairie sagebrush, western mugwort, white sage, präiriebeifuß This variable species is divided into the following varieties and subspecies (Ohno et al. 1980, 104):
Artemisia ludoviciana Nutt. [syn. Artemisia gnaphalodes, Artemisia purshiana Bess.]
Artemisia ludoviciana var. ludoviciana Nutt.
Artemisia ludoviciana ssp. albula (Woot.) Keck.
Artemisia ludoviciana ssp. mexicana (Willd.) Keck. [syn. Artemisia mexicana Willd.]
The subspecies differ with regard to the composition of the sesquiterpene lactones that are present (Ohno et al. 1980).
Ethnobotanical research now suggests that Paleo-Indians brought the use of mugwort as incense with them into the New World from Asia some 30,000 years ago (Storl 1995).
Pontic wormwood (Artemisia pontica L.) contains thujone. In former times, it was used together with wormwood to manufacture absinthe. (Woodcut from Fuchs, Läebliche abbildung und contrafaytung aller kreüter, 1545)
There is almost no ritual among the Plains Indians that does not include smudging with Artemisia ludoviciana. The ascending aromatic smoke is a prayer. It links together Maká, the Mother Earth, with Wakan Tanka, the Great Spirit, who is active in all creatures. The Plains Indians use western mugwort primarily for spiritual purification, to dispel disease spirits and negative powers, to treat possession, and to protect the home. The herbage is also used as an incense in peyote ceremonies, as pillows (support) for “Father Peyote” (cf. Lophophora williamsii), and as an altar covering. The herbage as well as the leaves are suitable for use as a tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum) substitute and are a component of ritual and medicinal smoking blends and kinnikinnick.
The aboveground portion of the plant contains an essential oil with thujone as well as the lactone glycosides santonin and artemisin, which are responsible for the anthelmintic effects. The sesquiterpene lactone anthemidin has been found in Artemisia ludoviciana (Epstein et al. 1979). Four santanolides (ludovicin-A, -B, -C, and luboldin) as well as camphor have also been detected (Domínguez and Cárdenas 1975). The essential oil has antibacterial properties (Overfield et al. 1980, 99). A variety of guaianolides have been discovered in Artemisia ludoviciana var. ludoviciana (Ohno et al. 1980). Occasionally, mild psychoactive effects (euphoria, sensations of being “high”) have been reported following deep inhalation.
The species Artemisia tridentata Nutt. is used in the Great Plains as an alternative to Artemisia ludoviciana. Artemisia tridentata also contains sesquiterpene lactones (Asplund et al. 1972). Sagebrush (Artemisia arbuscula arbuscula) is used as an incense as well. It contains an essential oil with cineole, camphor (cf. Cinnamomum camphora), camphene, p-cymene, and other compounds (Epstein and Gaudioso 1984). A number of Plains Indians also use Artemisia cana Pursh and the subspecies cana as a ritual incense. This plant is also rich is sesquiterpene lactones (Bhadane and Shafizadeh 1975; Lee et al. 1969).
The North American prairie sagebrush (Artemisia ludoviciana) is the most important ritual incense of the Plains Indians. It also contains an essential oil with stimulating effects.
Pati, a Himalayan species of mugwort (Artemisia spp.), is used as an incense to support meditation and as a psychoactive beer additive. (Photographed in Langtang, Nepal)
Queen, hear me,
Much beckoned daughter of Zeus,
Thundering, highly praised Titaness,
All-illuminating, torch bearing,
Goddess Diktynna, who smiles upon the childbed;
Helper in labor,
But who herself knows the childbed not.
She who unties the girdle, Friend of madness,
Dispeller of Troubles,
Huntress, Runner, Hurler of arrows,
Friend of the hunt, who storms through the night.”
Artemisia nilagirica (Clarke) Pamp.
The Lodha, a tribe from West Bengal (India), call this species ote-paladu. Tribe members inhale the smoke of the burning herbage as a sedative. This effect is also widely known in Southeast Asia. The Santal use an oil pressed from the leaves as a local anesthetic. The Oraon smoke the dried leaves to induce hallucinations (Pal and Jain 1989, 466).
Artemisia tilesii Ledeb.
The Yupik Eskimos live in southwest Alaska. Because of the paucity of flora in the tundra, they know of only a very few medicinal plants. The fresh or dried herbage of this small Artemisia is used to treat skin diseases, painful joints, and chest colds. A decoction is made from the herbage that is said to be strong enough once it has turned green. It is adminstered externally and internally. The ample essential oilconsists almost entirely of thujone and isothujone, whereby thujone predominates. Thujone has potent psychoactive powers, while the effects of isothujone are similar to those of codeine (Overfield et al. 1980).
Artemisia tournefortiana Reichenb.—burnak
This species is indigenous to the Himalayas. In Ladakh, it is used as a psychoactive additive to beer (Navchoo and Buth 1990, 319*).
See also the entries for Artemisia absinthium, Artemisia mexicana, and essential oils.
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