Artemisia absinthium. Wormwood.
Nat. Ord — Asteraceae. Sex. Syst.— Syngenesia Superflua.
Tops and Leaves.
Description. — Artemisia Absinthium is a perennial suffruticose plant, with a woody root branched at the crown, and having numerous fibers below. The whole herb is covered with close, silky hoariness ; the stems are numerous, bushy, growing from one to two feet in hight, round furrowed, and panicled at their summit. The lower portion of the stem lives several years, and annually sends up herbaceous shoots, which perish in the winter. The radical leaves are doubly or triply pinnatifid, with lanceolate, obtuse, dentate divisions ; the cauline ones, doubly or simply pinnatifid, with lanceolate, somewhat acute divisions ; floral leaves lanceolate; all are canescent. The flowers are of a brownish-yellow color, hemispherical, pedicelled, nodding, and in erect racemes ; florets of the disk numerous ; those of the ray few. External scales of involucre, linear or lanceolate, silky ; the inner broad, rounded and scarious. Styles very deeply cloven. Receptacle convex, clothed with fine upright hairs.
History. — A native of Europe, but cultivated in this country. It flowers in July and August. The whole plant has a strong, fragrant odor, and an intensely bitter, aromatic taste. Alcohol, or water, takes up its active principles. It contains a volatile, bitter, acrid oil, absinthic acid, several salts, etc.
Absinthine, the bitter principle of A. Absinthium, may be obtained as follows : Exhaust the dry herb, with alcohol of 0.863, and distil the clear liquid to the consistence of a syrup, transfer the residue into a glass-stoppered bottle, and shake it well with ether. After some time this separates with a yellowish-brown color ; and this treatment with ether is to be repeated until it no longer has a very bitter taste. The ethereal liquid is to be distilled in a water bath ; the residue will consist of a viscid mixture of a blackish-brown acid resin, and absinthine. Treat it with water to which a few drops of ammonia have been added, and the black smeary resin will be principally taken up, and the greater portion of the absinthine be left behind. In proportion as it becomes purer it acquires a pulverulent form. On adding a further quantity of ammonia, the absinthine is also dissolved ; but on triturating with concentrated ammonia, far less passes into solution, because the compound of ammonia with absinthine is very sparingly soluble in ammonia. To remove the ammonia, digest it with dilute hydrochloric acid, then wash it with water, dissolve it in alcohol, and add solution of acetate of lead to it as long as any turbidity results, then filter, and pass sulphureted hydrogen into the liquid to decompose the excess of the lead salt. The alcoholic solution is to be filtered from the sulphide of lead, mixed with a small quantity of water, and allowed to evaporate slowly in a warm place when the absinthine separates in yellow resinous drops. These are soft, and when mixed with water, become coated with an opake membrane, and in the course of some weeks all the drops become converted into hard masses, which are jagged and rough externally, and internally are radiate and indistinctly crystalline.
Absinthine thus obtained is yellow, or brownish-yellow ; its powder is yellowish, of a faint, disagreeable, bitter odor of wormwood, an intensely bitter taste, and dissolves readily in alcohol, concentrated acetic acid, solutions of ammonia, and caustic potassa, sulphuric and hydrochloric acids. It is less soluble in ether, hardly at all in water, but melts in boiling water. It has not been much used in medicine, but probably possesses the medicinal principles of the plant, and may be found tonic, hepatic and anthelmintic.
Properties and Uses. — Anthelmintic, tonic, and narcotic. Used in intermittent fever, jaundice, and worms. It is also used to promote the appetite in atonic dyspepsia, amenorrhea, chronic leucorrhea, obstinate diarrhea, etc. Combined with a fixed alkaline salt, it proves powerfully diuretic. Externally it is very useful in fomentations for bruises and local inflammations, and has also been advised as an external application in chronic affections of the abdominal viscera, either in the form of tincture, infusion, or poultice. In large doses, wormwood produces gastric irritation, and excitement of the circulation. Dose of the powder, ten to twenty grains ; infusion, one to two ounces.
The Artemisia Abrotanum (southernwood) A. Santonica, and A. Vulgaris, (mugwort) possess similar properties. The A. Vulgaris, has been reputed beneficial in epilepsy, hysteria, and amenorrhea. Santonin, or Santonicin, is a peculiar white crystallizable principle, derived from the A. Santonica, and some other species ; it is soluble in ether and alcohol, and is very efficacious as a vermifuge, given in doses of three or four grains, twice a day. The high price of santonin, and the difficulty experienced in obtaining it pure, has induced M. Gaffard to endeavor to obtain from the wormseed a product which may possess the advantages of the former, and at the same time be free from the objections to the use of the latter. This product he calls Brown or Impure Santonin; it is obtained as follows : Take of Aleppo wormseed three ounces ; carbonate of potassa one ounce ; slaked lime, sifted, half an ounce ; water from three to three and a half pints. Place the mixture on the fire, stirring occasionally with a wooden spatula ; let it boil for half an hour ; on removing it from the fire, pass it with expression through a linen cloth ; let it settle, decant and add hydrochloric or nitric acid until it reddens litmus without being sensibly acid to the tongue. Allow it to rest, pass it through a filter previously moistened, or through a piece of close canvas, and allow the product which remains on the filter to dry in the open air, until it acquires the consistence of firm butter. This product, which is a mixture of santonin, resin, and essential oil, will answer for the various pharmaceutic forms in which the practitioner may wish to exhibit it. M. G. gives it in the form of lozenges, composed as follows : Place in a marble mortar, brown santonin three drachms ; add by degrees, and with constant trituration, powdered sugar thirteen ounces, mixed with powdered gum one ounce and a half, and oil of lemon twenty-five drops, so as to make a homogeneous powder. Form with a sufficient quantity of water a mass of the desired consistence, and divide into lozenges, each of which shall weigh, when dried, fifteen grains ; each lozenge will then contain somewhat more than one-third of a grain of brown santonin. For infants under six months, the dose is one lozenge night and morning ; from six months to a year, two lozenges ; from one to two years, three lozenges ; from two to four years, four, night and morning ; for those older, an extra lozenge for each year, to be given night and morning, and continued until the desired effects are produced, in every instance.
M. Lecocq obtains santonin by taking one part of semen-contra of Aleppo reduced to coarse powder, and boiling it for a quarter of an hour with ten parts of water, after which a sufficient quantity of slaked lime is added to render the liquor slightly alkaline ; it is again boiled for ten minutes, then strained through a cloth, and the residue pressed. If it is not considered sufficiently exhausted, which may be ascertained by its leaving in the mouth the hot and pungent taste of semen-contra, it is boiled again with five quarts of water and a little slaked lime; it is then strained, and the residue submitted to pressure. The united liquors are evaporated until they do not weigh more than the semen-contra employed ; they are then placed into a stone-ware pot, allowed to cool, and then treated with an excess of hydrochloric acid. A fatty and resinous matter instantly separates, in thick flakes, which float, and santonin is precipitated as an impalpable powder ; it is strained through a fine cloth ; the santonin passes with the liquor, and the resinous matters remain on the cloth. Th's substance, which contains only very little santonin is rejected. After a day's repose, the impure santonin is deposited at the bottom of the vessel. It is washed with distilled water, and purified by combining it anew with lime. For that purpose, it. is put into a porcelain capsule, with about two quarts of distilled water, and boiled. A certain quantity (50 to 60 grammes) of pulverized quicklime is then added to it, and the combination is effected in a short time. The liquor is filtered and decolorized with animal charcoal, and then treated with hydrochloric acid, which immediately precipitates the santonin ; collect this on a paper filter, and wash it with distilled water until the washing water does not redden litmus paper, and dry in a stove secured from the light. Thus obtained, santonin occurs in pearly-white bracteae, of great brilliancy, and promptly becomes colored by light ; it is therefore essential to keep it in a black glass flask and well corked.
It is important for the success of the above operation not to add an excess of lime in combining the impure santonin with this base, for the bibasic salt of santonin is very sparingly soluble in water ; it is better to leave a slight excess of santonin ; which will remain on the filter and which may be treated anew with lime.
Off. Prep. — Absinthine ; Infusum Absynthii.