The victor of the chariot races of the festival of Latinae was given a decoction of wormwood to drink, Pliny records, since he was a person worth keeping alive. Hildegard named it the ‘principal remedy for all ailments’. Yet this is no sweet-smelling rose, but a herb of pungency and bitterness, yet with a quality of warmth. ‘It is very warm and has much strength’ says Hildegard. Fuchs suggests the name ‘apsinthion’ derives from the Greek meaning ‘undrinkable’. With the exception of rue, wormwood is the bitterest herb known ‘but it is very wholesome’, is Grieve’s appraisal. Cook described it bitter and strong to the highest degree, and Pelikan notes that from ‘the harshness of its scent’ we can appreciate right away that it is a herb with ‘forces composing a unique pattern of actions’.

From The Western Herbal Tradition, by Graeme Tobyn, Alison Denham and Margaret Whitelegg