The flowering tops and leaves of the Artemisia Absinthium, Linné; (Absinthium vulgare, Lamarck).
ILLUSTRATION: Bentley and Trimen, Med. Plants, 156; Woodville, Med. Bot., 22; Willdenow, Sp. Plant. Ill., 1844.
Botanical Source and Description.—Wormwood is a perennial plant, sending up in the spring, from a stout rootstock, several bushy, herbaceous stems, somewhat woody at the base and from 1 to 4 feet in height. These die down as winter approaches, but the strong, woody base (above the root) remains several years, each year giving off new shoots. There are two kinds of leaves—radical and stem leaves; the former being from 6 to 8 inches long, the latter from 1 to 3 inches. The stem leaves are nearly orbicular in outline and deeply incised, giving rise to that form of leaf known botanically as bi- or tri-pinnatifid. The flowers are borne in a paniculate raceme, are tubular, hemispherical, pale-yellow or buff in color, numerous and nodding. The whole plant, except the woody portions, is covered with a whitish, silky pubescence, giving to it a beautiful silver-gray color. To the touch it is exceedingly soft and velvety. The odor is strongly aromatic, being intensified when the herb is bruised; and to the taste the plant is intensely bitter, with a persistently bitter aftertaste. Cultivation renders it milder to the taste and less disagreeable to the sense of smell. The U. S. P. thus describes this drug: "Leaves about 5 Cm. [1.97 in.] long, hoary, silky-pubescent, petiolate, roundish-triangular in outline; pinnately two- or three-cleft, with the segments lanceolate, the terminal one spatulate; bracts three-cleft or entire; heads numerous, about 3 Mm. [0.12 in.] long, subglobose, with numerous small, pale-yellow florets, all tubular and without pappus; odor aromatic; taste persistently bitter"—(U. S. P.).
History.—Wormwood is distributed throughout various parts of Europe (being plentiful in the Crimea), Siberia, and the highlands and mountainous districts of Barbary. It is found also in Newfoundland and the United States, being naturalized throughout the mountainous elevations of the New England States. It is cultivated in gardens both in this country and on the continent. In Germany it is employed as a substitute for hops in the making of Wermuth beer, and used by the French in preparing the liquor absinthé, an alcoholic cordial containing the oil of wormwood and other aromatics, as melissa, anise, marjoram and angelica, in the form either of oils or extracts. The plant should be gathered during its flowering period, which is from June to September, the best time probably being throughout July and August. The woody stalks should be rejected. The dried herb fully retains its virtues, which are imparted to both alcohol and water. Wormwood steeped in vinegar and water has long been popular among the laity as a local application for injuries.
Chemical Composition.—Braconnot (1815) found in this plant two azotized substances, one intensely bitter, the other insipid; a volatile oil, an intensely bitter resin, a green resin (probably chlorophyll), albumen, woody fibre, starch, potassium absinthate and nitrate, and absinthic acid, which, however, subsequently proved to be succinic acid. The plant also contains acetic and malic acids. The odor of wormwood is due mainly to a dark-green (sometimes yellowish or brown) oil , of an acrid taste, and possessing in a high degree the odor of the plant. It is known in commerce as Oleum Absinthii, or oil of wormwood. This oil consists principally of absinthol (C10H16O), which yields cymene, water, and a resinous body when heated with chloride of zinc or phosphorus pentasulphide (Wright).—A larger quantity of oil is obtained from the dried than the green plant, the amount being also diminished by circumstances of growth, yielding a lesser quantity when the plant is cultivated or when grown in warm regions (Zeller). By proper means it may be obtained colorless, and should be protected from the light and the atmosphere, which impart to it a darker hue and render it somewhat syrupy and viscid. The peculiar bitterness of wormwood is due to absinthin (C15H20O4, Senger, 1892), a substance isolated in an impure form by Caventou in 1828. Mein (1834) obtained it in white prismatic crystals.
Absinthin.—PREPARATION: Precipitate a decoction of Artemisia Absinthium with tannic acid in slight excess. Wash the precipitate in cold water and then digest with excess of litharge. Dry the mixture and exhaust the powder with boiling alcohol, filter, treat with animal charcoal, filter again and evaporate. The residue assumes a crystalline form in time. If not pure it can be obtained nearly white by dissolving in alcohol, treating with animal charcoal, filtering and evaporating again.
Action, Medical Uses, and Dosage.—Physiologically both oil of wormwood and extract of absinth act upon man as nerve depressants. Less than drachm doses produced in rabbits and dogs tremors, spasmodic muscular action of a clonic character, intoxication, and loss of sensibility. Larger doses (from 1 to 2 drachms) produced violent epileptoid seizures, in some instances resulting fatally. Small doses administered to man act as a gentle stimulant, larger doses produce headache, while still larger doses induce cerebral disturbances and clonic hysteroidal convulsions (Lancereaux). Victims of absinthism are subject to disturbed rest, with disagreeable dreams, awakening in the morning with sickness and vomiting. A chronic intoxication ensues that is more fearful in its effects than that resulting from the abuse of alcoholics. A conspicuous feature is the tendency to epileptoid attacks. Both physical and mental power is seriously impaired and the sexual system weakened to such an extent that virile power is lost in the male while a premature menopause is a common result in the female. It is also said to produce a peculiar hyperaesthesia, most marked in the integument of the hypogastrium.
Absinthium possesses decided medicinal qualities, acting with considerable force upon the cerebrum and the sympathetic, nervous system. It has been employed with success for the expulsion of the intestinal parasites—ascaris vermicularis and lumbricoides. Previous to the introduction of cinchona it was largely employed in malarial intermittents, and was at one time a popular remedy for jaundice. In small doses it is a stimulant tonic, improves the appetite, and is useful in atonic states of the gastro-intestinal tract, as a tonic dyspepsia, especially when due to alcoholic excesses, in flatulent colic, and in obstinate diarrhoea. Large doses are apt to irritate the stomach and increase the action of the heart and arteries. It has been employed with good results in amenorrhoea and leucorrhoea when due to debility. Ɣ It is principally used, however, as a warm fomentation for sprains, bruises and local inflammations. For this purpose it may be steeped in water, or better in vinegar and water, and applied as hot as can be borne. It has also been advised as an external application in chronic affections of the abdominal viscera, either in the form of tincture, infusion, or poultice. Its tonic properties are marked. Combined with a fixed alkaline salt, it is said to prove powerfully diuretic. The oil is narcotic. Of the infusion (℥i to Oj), 1 to 2 fluid ounces; of the oil, from 1 to 5 drops; the powder, 10 to 20 grains.
Related Species.—A. tridentata, Nutt.; Sage brush. Hab. U. S., from Rocky Mountains westward. The wild sage is deserving of notice. In the western states it is reputed by physicians to be a good emmenagogue, and is in common use the people as a remedy for putrid angina, arthritic rheumatism, and diphtheria. The oil, mixed with olive oil to form a liniment, is largely employed by them in erysipelas, contusions, sprains, and swellings (Ed. E. M. J., 1877, p. 237). According to Dr. Roberts (E. M. J., 1877, p. 415) the oil is a valued remedy in flatulent colic, and the leaves used as a fomentation for abscesses promote the rapid formation of pus and impart such a healthy tone to the parts that the disease is quickly brought to a termination with the least possible destruction of tissue. An infusion is used by the Indians for colds, headache, and to expel intestinal parasites (Palmer). A. trifida, Nuttall, and A. arbuscula are dwarf species having like properties.
A. filifolia, Torrey.—Called Southern wood in its habitat, U. S. west of Rocky Mountains. Used by the Indians for tumefactions and bruises. Contains an essential oil valuable for liniments (Palmer).
A. Ludoviciana, Nuttall; Western mugwort.—N. W. U. S., from Great Lakes to Pacific Ocean and southward. The fruit of this and the next species used by the Indians as an article of food. This species in infusion is supposed to promote the growth of the hair, and is employed the Pah Utes to facilitate labor, and as a remedy for epistaxis (Maisch, Amer. Jour. Pharm., Vol. LII, p. 69).
A. Dracunculoides, Pursh.—Illinois to Pacific coast northward to British dominions, and southward to Arizona and Arkansas. Fruit used as food by the Indians. The bruised plants act as a topical irritant, and an infusion of them produces diaphoresis.
A. Maritima var. Stechmanniana, Besser; Wormseed.—Europe and Asia. In saline soils, along seacoasts and in salty marshes. Source of Santonin (Pharmacographia).
A. Abrotanum, Linné; Southern wood, Old man.—Hab. southern Europe and western Asia. Cultivated in gardens in North America. An aromatic bitter, with the odor of lemons, and is said to contain abrotine, a crystallizable alkaloid (Craveri).
A. vulgaris, Linné; Mugwort.—Europe, northern Asia and northern Africa. Naturalized and cultivated in the United States. The root, which contains volatile oil, tannin, and an acrid resin, is used for medicinal purposes in Europe. Emmenagogue and German remedy for hysteria and epilepsy.
A. Chinensis , A. Indica. Source of Chinese Moxa.
A. Abyssinica, Olivier; Tshuking, Zerechtit.—Abyssinia. The bitterish, aromatic flowers contain a bitter principle, tannin, and essential oil (Dragendorff).