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The botanical name is artemisia absintium, it is a rhizomatous perennial plant, widespread in nature throughout Europe and used since ancient times for its tonic and purifying properties. From the rhizomatous roots thin erect stems develop, well branched, which with time tend to become woody in the part closest to the ground, the plants grow for about 50-70 cm each year, and with the arrival of cold they dry up, in late autumn. The foliage is gray-green, with a delicate, finely engraved appearance. In summer at the apex of the stems small yellow flowers bloom, gathered in inflorescences.
The foliage is covered by a thin hair, which makes it the particular color; the hairs are so thin and delicate that they are not felt when touched. Artemisia leaves are very aromatic, and if eaten they have a strong bitter taste.

Absinthe as an aromatic and medicinal herb

Family and gender
Fam. Compositae, gen. Artemisia, absinthium species
Type of plant Perennial herbaceous, semi-woody, lively
Exposure Full sun, half shade
Rustic It tolerates the cold well
Ground Well drained, dry, rich in calcium
colors Gray glaucous leaves, yellow inflorescences
Irrigation Very limited
Flowering summer
Propagation Division of the rhizome, cutting, sowing
Composting Annual or semi-annual

The thin artemisia leaves contain many active ingredients, an oil is extracted that contains active substances called lactones, whose name refers to the name of the plant, in fact we find absintina, anabsintina and anabsina.
This plant has been used since ancient times as an anti-inflammatory, digestive, antiseptic, tonic, digestive; in addition to these properties that make it useful in herbal medicine, in ancient times absinthe was also used as an insecticide, in the form of an infusion, and also as a repellent against rodents.
Inordinate consumption of large quantities of wormwood can cause unpleasant side effects, as is the case for most plants that contain active ingredients; it is therefore not advisable to prepare worm-based herbal teas to be consumed daily for long periods of time.

Legends and reality

The Artemisia absintium is used to prepare a liqueur, generally called absinthe, aromatic, bitter, with a typical green color; this liqueur is associated with the particular experiences lived by many European writers and artists towards the end of the nineteenth century. The liqueur based on Artemisia absintium is typically consumed by sugaring it, given its strongly bitter taste.
At that time absinthe was associated with states of hallucination of which the usual consumers of the liquor were prey, which was commonly called the green fairy, and consumed in large quantities in order to have creative trance, pleasant hallucinations, to get away from the world.
This practice was so popular in some European cities that Artemisia absintium was considered as a drug, and in many places even banned, as it was believed that the plant was highly toxic, given that many habitual consumers as well as from hallucinations were caught also from seizures.
The fact that the absinthe-based liquor is still present on the shelves of the supermarket behind the house reassures us that the plant can be toxic; in fact, studies after the period in which its use was forbidden, found that the side effects due to the consumption of absinthe were not caused by the content of artemisia in the liqueur, but by the content of other herbs and substances that were added to the absinthe for adulterarlo.
It has been discovered that in wormwood, in addition to artemisia, toxic herbs and other substances were also added, the consumption of which is strongly discouraged; so today we can easily enjoy a small glass of absinthe, with the addition of a sugar cube if we don't like the bitter taste.

Cultivating absinthe

In Italy artemisia is also present as a spontaneous plant, in dry and sunny areas; it is cultivated as an annual or as a perennial, collecting its leaves before flowering; the artemisia liqueur can also be prepared at home, as happens with the genepim, another species of plant always belonging to the Artemisia genus.
It is cultivated in a very sunny place, with decidedly very well drained, medium rich soil.
It can be sown directly as a dwelling, or the young seedlings are placed in the ground, which are quite easy to find in the nursery in the spring.
Young plants need fairly moist soil for the first weeks of life, but if we plant them in spring, humidity should not be a problem; we water only in case of drought.
During the summer we water only when the soil has been dry for a few days, avoiding water stagnation. When cold weather arrives, the plants dry up throughout the aerial part, while the rhizomatous roots survive the winter quite well, to re-sprout the following spring.

Description and origins of absinthe

The origin of the name is not certain. Some say it refers to Artemis, goddess of hunting. For others it is of Greek derivation and would mean "healthy" with reference to its medicinal virtues. The name of the species is instead linked to its very bitter taste, deriving from the Greek apsinthion.
It is a perennial plant of very variable height: it can go from 30 cm to more than a meter. The base is woody while the stems are herbaceous. In general, it behaves like a lively plant, remaining active during the vegetative period and drying up on the arrival of winter. The roots are rhizomatous and expand horizontally. The stems are of an interesting color for the garden: a beautiful gray-green and slightly fluffy. It has different and alternate leaves. Those in the lower part are large and tripennate, while going towards the apex they are always simpler. They are lighter and hairy on the back. They give off a strong scent, especially if rubbed with your fingers. Flowering occurs between August and September: form of apical inflorescences in which up to 90 single pendulous yellow heads can be counted, mainly pollinated by the wind with the production of achenes which in turn are transported and then disseminated.


The plant was already known in ancient times by the Egyptian, Greek, Etruscan and Roman civilizations. For this reason it has been hypothesized that it has an Asian or at least Middle Eastern origin. Currently it is widespread all over the world and successfully cultivated in all mountain or temperate areas, from Asia, Africa, North and South America. In Europe it is very common in cultivation or as spontaneous in almost all mountain areas or close to the hills. As a naturalized plant it looks for a dry, but rich, possibly calcic soil. It grows in the vicinity of built-up areas. However, it has a very wide range that goes from the plain to the mountains, generally up to 1200 meters above sea level.


In order to grow well, it needs particularly sunny exposure. It must therefore be inserted in full sun or at most half-shade.


It wants a rich soil, very well drained and possibly calcareous. The ideal pH is the neutral one, but it tolerates well both sub-acid and sub-alkaline soils. Compact and very clay soils that could cause water stagnation and therefore root rot should be avoided.


It does not require frequent interventions. It is particularly fond of dry, dry and very well drained soils. We will intervene only in the case of prolonged drought, especially if we live in the plains and in the central-southern part of the peninsula.


It is a beautiful plant due to its habit and in particular its silvery almost glaucous green color. It finds its place in the rock gardens, in the aromatic corners and also as a chromatic touch in the borders. Furthermore, being able to remove some phytophagous plants with its strong aroma, it may be useful to introduce it near the vegetable gardens.

Absinthe rusticity

It is in this respect a very frost-resistant plant. It can be safely grown from the floor to 1500 s.l.m. since it easily tolerates temperatures as low as -20 ° C.


The best times to put it in our garden are spring and autumn. As with all herbaceous or semi-woody plants, it is better to prefer spring if we live in an area with rather harsh winters. Otherwise, in milder areas, the autumn plant will give the plant the chance to root well and to grow and flourish even more since the first vintage.

Absinthe multiplication

The simplest method for obtaining new plants is the division of the rhizome. The most suitable period is autumn, but it can also be done in spring. The important thing is to always divide into sections that have at least one root and one eye, with disinfected tools and then dusting the cut with sulfur.
You can also get new seedlings by sowing in spring, away from the cold, in boxes or alveoli. The substratum must be light and well drained and always kept moist.
A very good method is also the cutting that can be done in spring with herbaceous segments and in summer instead with semi-woody ones.

Pruning and cultivation treatments

These are rather autonomous plants. They need only a good dry cleaning before the arrival of winter.

Absinthe variety

Although the genus actually counts nearly three hundred different species, at horticultural level three cultivars can generally be found:
• Artemisia absinthium the espcece type
• Artemisia absinthium 'Canescens' with brownish flowers
• Artemisia absinthium 'Lambrook Silver' with beautiful silvery foliage

Absinthe diseases

It is a rather healthy vegetable and is rarely attacked by phytophagous insects (also thanks to its fragrance) or by diseases of cryptogamic origin. In particularly hot summers traces of rust may appear especially on the basal leaves. Occasionally the problem becomes debilitating, but if you want you can proceed first of all by eliminating the affected parts and secondly by vaporizing a specific fungicide. It is also important to avoid wetting the base of the plants and in particular the leaves.

Aromatic and medicinal plant

Absinthe has been known since ancient times for its pharmaceutical qualities. It was used effectively to alleviate many diseases. In particular it was believed that it had digestive and tonic qualities, that it gave energy to the heart and defended the digestive tract from parasites and inflammatory states. In the countryside leaves were also commonly used to remove insects and snails from crops (by means of infusions) and to discourage the establishment of rodent colonies in barns or cellars. It is also known to everyone that it was used for the preparation of a distillate, widespread in the industrial suburbs of the metropolis, from the middle to the end of the nineteenth century. The frequent use of these products caused serious problems of habituation in large sections of the population to the point that it was then obliged to prohibit its production and sale. At the time the tujone was called into question as a major culprit, abundantly present in the plant and very harmful in large doses. Through modern technologies (and the analysis of bottles of the time) it was however established with good certainty that the damages were mainly caused by the high alcohol content. However, it must be stressed that both the tujone and other active ingredients present in the plant (absintina, artabsina, anabsina) are considered very toxic and therefore care must be taken when handling the plant and using it.

Absinthe: The distillate of absinthe and its history

The properties of this plant were already well known in antiquity to the point that it is even mentioned in Egyptian papyrus. Latin authors speak of it as an excellent product to combat the insects that afflicted the crops.
It was therefore always used, but its period of glory began at the end of the 1700s thanks to a French doctor, Pierre Clothes. He usually used aromatic and medicinal herbs to make remedies for his patients. Later he tried to distil a liqueur into which he combined absinthe with other essences (anise, lemon balm, hyssop). He then prescribed it to his patients by defining it as an elixir called "fйe verte" (ie green fairy).
Following his example, many distilleries appeared throughout France and neighboring countries. He became even more famous thanks to the habitual use made by artists in the areas of Montmartre and Pigalle, in Paris.
The use of this distillate followed precise rules and there was even a ritual that gave the possibility to fully enjoy it.
First of all it was necessary to use a special glass where a notch was clearly evident which emphasized the right amount of distillate to be poured. A perforated spoon should be placed horizontally on which a sugar cube was placed, then sprinkled slowly with ice water. This melted the cube and went to mix with absinthe (which turned from green to milky white). The water-wormwood ratio was about 3: 1.
At the end of the century, however, news spread that the liqueur was harmful and, even at low doses, a cause of violent episodes. He was so opposed by many intellectuals, including Emile Zola and Edgar Degas. In part there was reason, but it must be emphasized that there was also an interest on the part of wine producers in stemming their commercialization. In France, as in many other European countries, a law was enacted in 1915 prohibiting the production and sale of this wormwood liqueur.
The users searched for substitutes and found them in products like the pastis, similar in taste to the presence of star anise (although in the true absinthe only green anise was present). Also this was forbidden, but then readmitted in 1951 (and still remains one of the most popular drinks in the South of France). Its fruition is very similar to that of absinthe.
Currently also the latter has been partially rehabilitated, but the strict controls on the quantity of tujone present remain.