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A Floridata Plant Profile #683 Artemisia absinthium
Common Names: absinthe, absinth, common wormwood, mugwort
Family: Asteraceae/Compositae (aster/daisy Family)
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Perennial  Drought Tolerant Has Medicinal Uses Has Unusual or Interesting Foliage Fragrant

The garden appeal of absinthe lies in its silvery aromatic foliage not its drab yellow flowers.
Absinthe is a semi-woody, clump forming, perennial sub-shrub with silvery gray, strongly aromatic foliage. Absinthe is well branched and gets about 3 ft (0.9 m) tall and 2 ft (0.6 m) across. The leaves are divided into oblong fingerlike segments and both stems and leaves are clad in silky, silvery hairs. The rather uninteresting dull yellow flower heads are about an 1/8 in (0.3 cm) across and droop in leafy clusters.

'Lambrook Silver' has especially silvery foliage. Artemisia X 'Powis Castle' is a hybrid created by crossing absinthe with A. arborescens.

Absinthe is native to the Mediterranean region of Europe and Asia where it grows in dry, rocky waste places. It has escaped cultivation and become naturalized in other temperate areas, including the NE US and Canada.

Absinthe needs very well drained soil but makes few other demands.
Light: Absinthe does well in full sun to partial shade.
Moisture: Absinthe is quite drought tolerant. During rainy, humid summers it may deteriorate and rot out in the center. Absinthe is not well adapted to humid climates such as found in Florida and the Gulf Coast. It can be expected to be short lived in such areas.
Hardiness: USDA Zones 4 - 9.
Propagation: Propagate absinthe from semi-hardwood cuttings taken in late summer or autumn. It also can be propagated by dividing the roots in autumn.

Use absinthe in rock gardens, herb gardens, and in flower beds and borders. The silvery gray foliage makes an excellent backdrop for bright-colored or delicate flowers. In a border, use absinthe as a separator for more colorful plants. In the bright sun, masses of absinthe are especially attractive in their own right. Prune in spring to encourage branching and suppress legginess.

There are some 300 species of Artemisia, most of which grow in arid scrub or desert regions in Europe, Asia and North America. California sagebrush (A. californica) is a common sight in the California desert and in Baja; and tarragon (A. dracunuculus is an important herb in French cuisine.

"Absinthium" means "without sweetness", and this is a truly bitter plant. The bitterness apparently stimulates stomach acid and bile production, and absinthe has been prescribed for stomach aches and those with underactive digestive systems. Absinthe was once prescribed to kill intestinal parasitic worms, and other species of artemisia still are used in Asia to treat intestinal worms. The pungent foliage of absinthe is an effective insect repellent when rubbed on the skin or placed in pantries and drawers.

Artemisia absinthium is the plant from which the psychedelic drink, absinthe, was made. Much in favor by 19th and early 20th century European artists, absinthe contains thujone, which is the compound of the wormwood extract that is thought to deliver the drinks unique "buzz". Once thought to cause permanent mental illness, in recent years it was determined that many of the ill-effects attributed to absinthe were either unfounded propaganda (from competing wine producers) or the result of contaminants, like copper sulfate and other heavy metal compounds. Genuine absinthe is once again available in the United States, but until recently most "absinthes" were imitations (check the labels closely if you are shopping for the real thing). The liqueur, Chartreuse, although very similar, contains none of the wormwood extract. Absinthe was also used to flavor vermouth and beer.

It has been said that absinthe makes the heart grow fonder.

The pungent, acrid fragrance and the extremely bitter taste of the foliage serve to remind that absinthe is poisonous! Do NOT ingest any part of this very toxic plant. (The absinthe beverage is carefully prepared by professionals from selective extracts of the plant. )

Steve Christman 5/17/00; updated 10/18/03, 5/27/09

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