Welsh,Chwerwlys (A.maritima), Cherwlys ar for, Sythflodenog (A. absinthium), C. llwyd. - Irish, Bofullan. - Gaelic, Liath lus. - French, Absynthe, Armoise, Herbe St. Jean, Garde-robe. - German, Wermuth. - Italian, Assenzio. - Spanish, Axenjo. - Illyric, Pellin, Akscenoz. - Arabic, Bytheran (A. Judaica), Sheeh (A. inculta), Shaybeh, "grey hairs" or "old man" (A. arborescens), Andther (A. monosperma).
Syngenesia. Polygamia superflua.
Composite. Corymbiferce. (Sub-tribe) Tubiflorce. Artemisia.
In the days of King Edward III., when men met in strife to clear their honour through "trial by-battle," they pledged their knightly word that they had "nothing to do with witchcraft, nor magic, nor carried any herb or other kind of charm." And so universal, even at a far later date, was the belief in the efficacy of some "herb of power" as a charm, that it is amusing to find the simple and credulous old Gerarde turning philosopher, and sneering at Pliny for saying "that the wayfaring man that hath the herbe (wormwood) tied about him feeleth no wearisomenesse at all, and that he who hath it about him can be hurt by no poysonsome medicines, nor by any wild beast, neither yet by the sun himself," when he himself complacently avows that he thrust sticks into the ground, with other sticks "fastened also crossewais over them," "about the place where cyclamen" grew in his garden, in order to prevent "the danger and inconvenience" to those who came "neere unto it," or had to "stride over it;" giving, at the same time, numberless other proofs of concurrence in the easy belief of his age.
This is, moreover, by no means the only occasion on which he expresses his virtuous indignation against "old wives fables, fit only for writers who fill up their pages with lies and frivolous toies!" So much for consistency!
Gerarde, however, highly esteems the herb for more legitimate uses, strongly recommending it for weak stomachs and eyes, loss of appetite, fainting fits, worms, and jaundice. For these complaints, he tells us, it is to be taken internally, ten or twelve spoonsful of the tea, three times a day, as "withstanding putrefactions;" while it is much commended as a poultice or fomentation, as well as for driving away gnats - for which purpose it is much used by Asiatics, being burned in torches. He says it is also of use for "helping them that are strangled with eating of mushroomes or toadstools," for the "biting of a shrew, or of a sea-dragon," and as an antidote to the "poison of Ixia;"* while the "sea cypress" (A. maritima) "cureth such as are splenetic;" and "cattle-going near the sea, and eating it, get fat and lusty." In the East the artemisia is used as a charm against witchcraft; and after certain ceremonies have been duly performed in gathering it, such as plucking it on the fifth day of the fifth moon, it is hung up in doorways for the purpose.
* He supposes this to be the juice of the thistle chamaeleon. (?)
The wormwoods are successfully employed by the peasantry in cases of pulmonary weakness, and even of consumption; and any old woman on the Scottish coast can tell how it happened that the herb was first tried for these complaints. The universally-believed story is, that, in the good old days, a young and lovely girl lay dying of consumption, when her lover, wandering out disconsolately on the silent shore, was attracted by the sound of a gently murmured song, to which, for some time, he paid no attention: until, on turning round the point of a rock, he observed a mermaid sporting in the ebbing waves. Arousing himself from his all-absorbing grief, he soon discovered the burden of her song to be the following words:
"For why should maidens die,
When the nettle grows in March, And mug-wort in July?" and naturally obeying the oracular advice, he hastened home to administer an infusion of mug-wort to her in whom his every hope was centred. This done, she fell into a quiet and natural sleep, and, by a continued use of the prescribed remedy, she was ultimately restored to health; from which time, as may be supposed, the injunctions of the benevolent mermaid were implicitly followed in similar cases. As, in common with all the corymbiferce, the wormwoods have a bitter and essential oil, which is a valuable aromatic, and stimulant, tonic; yielding a simple and useful remedy for a great variety of common complaints, without leaving any injurious after effects. The flowers of the Artemisia Judaica are often placed about the beds in an Eastern house to drive away bugs, or are burnt to keep off mus-quitos; and Burton recommends pillows of wormwood in order to procure sleep. Dr. Home, too, gives an instance of a woman who was cured of hysteric fits of many years standing, after assafoetida and other more powerful drugs had entirely failed.
The tribe is, however, quite rejected by the London College, though happily retaining its place in rustic medicine.
Among the superstitious it still retains its credit; and an old belief continues to be connected with the circumstance of the dead roots of wormwood being black, and somewhat hard, and remaining for a long period undecayed beneath the living plant. They are then called "wormwood coal;" and if placed under a lover's pillow they are believed to produce a dream of the person he loves.
Pellets made of its down are used, as well as cotton, for the Moxa of Eastern Asia, which, being lighted and placed on any part requiring external, or counter, irritation, is suffered slowly to smoulder down until the pellet is consumed.
In Wales and Ireland the wormwoods are, as of old, largely employed, instead of hops, for flavouring beer; and the "purl" for which Dublin and other Irish cities are so celebrated, is also prepared from it; though the fellows of All Souls' College, Oxford, pride themselves in the belief that this drink is unknown except at that particular abode of learning. They even give to their silver cups the peculiar title of "ox-eyes," and speak distinctively of their favourite beverage as "an ox-eye of wormwood." This drink, with a slice of lemon, and herb of grace, "taken fasting," is put forth as a preventive of plague in a broadsheet of the seventeenth century, which is most profanely entitled, "Lord have mercy upon us." The Germans also prepare a similar beverage, called Wermuth-bier; and the French liqueur, eau d'absynthe, is well known throughout Europe.
We possess four, or perhaps five, wormwoods: one of which, the lavender-leaved (A. ccerulescens), is recorded as occurring on the coast near Boston, and also in the Isle of Wight; though, as Sir W. Hooker observes, it is no longer found in either place; another, the common wormwood (A. absinthium), which, from its plentiful growth and the spots it selects for its habitat, is that most usually employed in medicine, abounds in dry waste places about houses and villages; and marks out so definitely the dwellings of man, that in the Pyrenees and other places the spots where shepherds' huts formerly stood are indicated by the occurrence of the plant, though no other trace of them remains. The common mug-wort (A. vulgaris), also frequents similar places, but may be distinguished by its ranker growth, as it usually attains a height of from three to four feet, or about double that of the A. absinthium, as well as by its naked receptacle, that of the A. absinthium being distinctly hairy.
The sea-wormwood (A. maritima vel Gallica) (Willde) or "garden cypress" is the holy-wormwood, or semen sanctum of old herbalists (of which Gerarde observes that it is "sold evriewhere by the apothecaries"), and flourishes abundantly on our sandy shores or salt marshes, where a so-called variety with drooping racemes, may frequently be observed growing on the same root as the original plant.*
The southernwood, "boy's love," "old man,"or "old man's beard" - the "grey hairs," or shaybeh, of the Arabs (A.arborescens, or campestris) - occurs,though sparingly, on the dry sandy heaths of Norfolk and Suffolk, especially in the neighbourhood of Thet-ford and Bury. I cannot, however, believe it to be a really indigenous plant; though it may be heresy even to hint that either the agency of man, or of the waves, first brought it to our shores. It may, most probably, be ascribed to the former. This pleasant old-fashioned plant is known to everybody, gladdening, as it does, the cottage garden, and forming a prominent feature in the village nosegay. This is the plant of which the "Stockholm MS." says;-
"More of whych, Goddys grace, Think I to seyn on oyer place; [in another place] At ye hed will I be gyne,
For sicknesse fallyth ofty yer ine [oft-times therein] Zif man or woman, more or lesse In his hed haue gret sicknesse,
* See "Hooker's British Flora".
Or gruiance [grievance] or ony werking,
Awoyne he take wt. owte lettyng, [without delay]
Zt is callyd sowthernwode also,
And hony eteys et spurge, [_Euphorbia] stamp yer to,
And late hy yis drink, fastind drynky,
[And let him this drink, fasting drink it],
And his hed werk away schall synkyn [sink].