This section is from the book "An Experimental History Of The Materia Medica", by William Lewis.
Wormwood: a perennial plant; with hoary, divided leaves; firm woody stalks, which die in the winter; and small yellow naked discous flowers, hanging downwards, like little buttons, along the sides of the stalks and branches.
1. Absinthium vulgare Pharm. Lond. & Edinb. Absinthium pontic urn seu romanum offici-narum feu dioscoridis C. B. Artemisia absinthium Linn. Common Wormwood; with large leaves, divided into several deeply indented segments, of a whitish green colour above, and whiter underneath, broader than those of any other species of wormwood. It grows wild about dunghills, and on dry waste grounds; and flowers in June or July.
The leaves of wormwood have a strong offensive smell, and an intensely bitter nauseous taste: the flowers seem to be equally bitter, but somewhat less nauseous * (a): the roots are warm and aromatic, without any thing of the bitterness or offensiveness which prevail in the other parts of the plant. The leaves lose a part of their ill smell, on being dried and kept for some time.
Wormwood leaves give out nearly the whole of their smell and taste both to aqueous and to spirituous menstrua. The watery infusions, prepared without heat, are the lead ungrateful.
* (a) The Edinburgh college, in their last edition, direct a tincture of the dried flowering tops of wormwood, in the proportion of six ounces to a quart of rectified spirit, under the title of Tinctura Absinthii.
The colour of the infusions made in cold water is a pale brown, in warm water a sooty brown, in proof spirit yellowish. Rectified spirit gains from the fresh leaves a beautiful green, from the dry a reddish or brown tincture.
Rectified spirit elevates little from this plant in distillation: water brings over nearly the whole of its smell and flavour. Along with the aqueous fluid, there arises an essential oil, which smells strongly and tastes nauseoufly of the wormwood, though not bitter. The oil drawn from the fresh herb is commonly of a dark green; from the dry, of a deep yellowish brown colour. The quantity of oil varies greatly, according to the foil and season, in which the wormwood is produced: in some years, ten pounds have afforded upwards of two ounces; in others, twenty pounds have yielded little more than one ounce. Geoffroy observes, that it is in rainy seasons, and moist foils, that it yields the most oil; that in dry years the oil is accompanied with a resinous matter, and proves of a fine green colour; and that in wet ones it is less resinous, and not green (a).
A decoction of wormwood, in water, long boiled, and infpiffated to the consistence of an extract, loses the distinguishing smell and ill flavour of the plant, but retains its bitterness almost entire. An extract made with rectified spirit contains, along with the bitter, nearly the whole of the nauseous part; water carrying off, in the evaporation, all the oil, in which the offensive flavour resides, while pure spirit elevates very little of it. The watery extract gives out its simple bitterness, not only to water again, but to rectified spirit.
(a) Geoffroy, Mem. de l'acad. royale des science. de Paris, pour l'ann. 1721.
Oleum abfin-thii Ph. Lond.
Extractum absinthii Ph. Ed.
Wormwood is a moderately warm stoma-chic and corroborant: for these intentions, it was formerly in common use, but has now given place to bitters of a less ungrateful kind. The above experiments, however, point out a method of obtaining from this plant a bitter suffi-ciently elegant, of little or no particular flavour, and this either in a solid form, or in that of a watery or spirituous solution.
The essential oil is sometimes given, in doses of a drop or two, properly diluted by solution in spirit of wine, as a mild antispasmodic. Its more frequent use is as a vermifuge, for which purpose, it is both applied to the belly, and taken in pills made up with crumb of bread: the spirituous extract, however, promises to be, in this intention, preferable to the pure oil; as it contains, along with the oil, all the bitter matter of the wormwood.
This plant very powerfully refifts putrefaction, and hence is made a principal ingredient in antiseptic somentations.
Boerhaave commends, in tertian agues, a medicated liquor, prepared by grinding about seven grains of the oil of wormwood with a dram of sugar, and two drams of the alkaline salt extracted from the ashes of wormwood; and afterwards dissolving the compound in six ounces of the distilled water of the plant. Two hours before the fit is expected, the patient is to bathe his feet and legs in warm water, and then drink half an ounce of the liquor every quarter of an hour till the two hours are expired: by this means, he says, cases of this kind are generally cured with ease and safety, provided there is no schirrhosity or suppura-tion (a). The medicine is, doubtless, a very serviceable aperient, where obstructions of the viscera prohibit the immediate use of bark, and in such obstructions as the imprudent use of astringents has given rife to. Its virtues might be improved by an addition of the bitter watery extract; though the compound, thus laboriously prepared, would not be at all supe-riour to a simple infusion of the plant, in pure water, impregnated with a due proportion of fixt alkaline salt.
The roots of wormwood, though not hitherto, that I know of, introduced into medicine, promise to be applicable to some useful pur-poses; being moderately warm and aromatic, of a flavour sufficiently grateful, and remarkably durable in the mouth. Their virtue re-sides chiefly in the cortical part, the interiour woody matter being nearly insipid. Rectified spirit extracts their flavour, more perfectly than watery liquors. The spirituous tincture is of a reddish brown colour: infpiffated, it yields an extract more grateful than the root in sub-stance.
2. Absinthium Maritimum Pharm. Lond. Artemifia maritima Linn. Sea-wormwood, falsely called in our markets Roman wormwood; with finely divided leaves, hoary all over. It grows plentifully about our salt marshes, and in several parts on the lea coast.
This species is in taste and smell considerably less unpleasant than the common wormwood; and hence is preferred by the college as an. ingredient in some of the distilled waters. Even the essential oil, which contains the whole of its flavour concentrated, is somewhat less ungrateful; and the watery extract, somewhat less bitter, than those of the common wormwood. Its virtues are the same, differing only in degree; it is less effectual as an antiseptic and anthelmintic, on account of its being weaker; and more eligible as a stomachic, on account of its being less offensive. A conserve of the tops, made by beating them with thrice their weight of fine sugar, is kept in the shops.
(a) Boerhaave, Elementa Chemiae, processus 39.
3. Absinthium minus Pharm. Parif. Absinthium ponticum tenuifolium incanum C. B. Artemifia pontica Linn. Roman wormwood; with more numerous, more finely divided, darker coloured leaves, hoary only underneath. This is a foreign species, but as hardy, and as easily raised, as the others: the roots quickly spread, and fend up abundance of new plants. Sea wormwood has been often fold for it in the markets, though the difference betwixt the two, above pointed out, is very obvious on fight.
Roman wormwood is considerably less ungrateful than either of the two foregoing: its smell is weaker, and not unpleasant; and its bitterness is mixed with a kind of aromatic flavour, so as scarce to be disagreeable. It appears to be the moil eligible of the three as a stomachic and corroborant; in which intention, a conserve of the tops has been greatly recommended, and is undoubtedly an elegant and useful preparation.
4. Absinthium Alpinum Pharm. Paris. Absinthium alpinum candidum humile C. B. Artemisia glacialis Linn. Mountain wormwood:
Conserva absinth. ma-ritimi Ph. Lond.
wood: procumbent, fine leaved, and covered with a glossy silk-like down (a).
5. Absinthium Valesiacum: Absinthium seriphium montanum candidum C. B. Herba alba Dod. Mountain wormwood of Valais: erect, fine leaved, and covered with a cotton-like down: the leaves are curled about the edges, so as to appear, with their down, pulpy and of an oblong rounded figure (a).
Haller informs us, that the first of these plants is frequent in stony grounds on the Alps, and the second by the sides of sandy roads in the territory of Valais in Switzerland; that the former is bitterish, aromatic, of great estimation among the inhabitants of the Alps, the com-mon remedy against the intermitting fevers which often rage there, and for exciting the menstrual discharges, to which the sudden colds of those countries give frequent checks: that the latter has an acrid aromatic smell and taste, without bitterness, and promises, from its sen-sible qualities, to be a plant of great virtues. They have not yet been introduced into practice in this country.