Kalø, Sea wormwood
Along the coast of Kalø Vig and behind the castle ruin, among the stones at the beach, grows wormwood with its delicate silvery leaves. It is soft to touch, like silk - and it has a special, but fresh scent. I always bring a bundle with me home to place among the linen and other clothes - and for a wormwood snaps, which is as lightgreen as spring and is one of the most refined snaps you can get. There are many sorts of wormwood, this picture from Kalø is the Sea wormwood.
Wormwood was once a means against moths. The larvaes were almost extinct, if wormwood twigs were placed among woolen clothes. The Romans called the herb Diana or Dian.
According to a legend this plant was the favorite of Artemis, who chose it in sorrow at her husband's death. Absinthium means "to abstain from", referring to Artemis, who was the goddess of chastity.
Kalø, behind the castle ruin
More than 3000 years ago wormwood was used in medicine in Egypt and Greece, where it was known for its healing qualities. Charlemagne prescribed in 810 his gardeners to cultivate the plant by his castles. Since the Middle Ages wormwood was used as a spice in beer, it was assumed that it might prevent intoxication - and drinking a decoct of the plant in the morning might remove the desire for sensual pleasures. The plant was also recommended against seasickness - and to bathe the body in a decoct supposedly prevented the much feared plauge. Intestinal worms were common these days, and wormwood was useful here too - lice and fleas were common and could be chased away from the body by smoke from the plant.
Wormwood is a wellknown herb for snaps. It is true that wormwood put off certain insects and is used in an extract with water to water the kitchen herbs to prevent insects from harrassing the herb garden. The wormwood twigs keep fleas away from the dog and cat basket. The dried twigs put among linen help to keep the moths away.
Kalø, Sea wormwood
Vermouth and Absinth
The bitter-substances absinthin and thujon characterize the taste of the plant and are used today as a taste-addition in vermouth and absinth. Both substances are poisonous in big doses - it is therefore forbidden to sell absinth in its original strenght of 68%. The name vermouth comes from the Latin word vermis, meaning worm. In the old days it was a common thing to drink a wormwood tea to drive away intestinal worms. Some substances in wormwood remind about several volatile substances in the medicinal herb chamomile (Chamomilla recutita syn. Matricaria recutita.) Those two plants were therefore used against the same disabilities of the body.
According to a legend wormwood came up in the traces from the snake, when it left the Garden of Eden. In the first beginning the plant was called Parthenis absinthium, but Artemis, the Greek goddess of chastity, was so fond of the plant that she named it after herself. Bouquets of wormwood were placed on doors and walls in the house to keep evil away.
In the garden
Wormwood is a so-called halfbush with grey, silvershining leaves. The small flowers are light yellow. A plant can be about 10 years old and reach a height of 1,5 meter. It is native to several places in Europe. Wormwood can be cultivated in all kinds of soil, and it likes a sunny place. Since the plant restricts the growth of the surrounding plants, it should have a place by itself, either in a special bed or in a pot on the terrace. In the kitchen -garden: wormwood twigs under full-grown cabbage plants can keep away unwanted insects.
The substance absinthin can in large doses give nerve-damage, which shows itself by giving cramps and dizzyness.
Artemisia pontica, Roman wormwood
Artemisia maritima, Sea wormwood.
Source: Anemette Olesen, Danske Klosterurter, 2001
photo Kalø July 2008: grethe bachmann