The Plant, its Use and Principal Constituents
Artemisia absinthium L., wormwood, is a very aromatic herbaceous plant, common in the Mediterranean area, in Europe, Asia and North Africa (Bruneton 1995). The crude drug, Herba Absinthii, consisting of the dried leaves and blooming tops of the plant, is imported from the Soviet Union, Bulgaria, the former Yugoslavia, Hungary and Poland (Wichtl 1989). It has a characteristic, penetrant aromatic odour. Its taste is aromatic and intensely bitter.
The principal medicinal use of wormwood is as a bitter tonic, diaphoretic, anthelmintic, antibacterial, antipyretic, emmenagogue and even schizonticide, but without clinical data to support this (Tyler 1993, 1994, Bruneton 1995). The plant is furthermore used to stimulate the appetite and to flavour some alcoholic beverages, including vermouth. The plant is also applied in perfume industry.
The plant's essential oil and bitter principles underlie its medicinal and commercial significance. Essential oil contents between 0.2 and 1.5% in the crude drug have been reported in the literature (Wichtl 1989). The time of harvesting is very important for the quality of the drug (Steinegger and Hansel 1992). The maximal essential oil content is found just before blooming. More than 90 compounds have been identified in the oil (Nin et al., 1995). The essential oil mainly consists of the monoterpene ketones a- and /3-thujone (= (-)-thujone and (+)-thujone, respectively) and the corresponding alcohol thujol (Fig. 1). These so-called "thujones" may comprise as much as 35% of the total oil (Bruneton 1995). Furthermore, inms-sabinyl acetate, cz's-epoxycymene and chrysanthenyl acetate can be abundant, depending of the origin of the plant material.
The oil is often blue-coloured due to the presence of the sesquiterpene chamazu-lene, which arises during the distillation through decomposition of sesquiterpenes, such as artabsin and absinthin. Oil without this artifact is dark green (Steinegger and Hansel 1972).
A. absinthium contains 0.15-0.4% of bitter substances which belong to the class of sesquiterpene lactones. They include mainly absinthin (a dimer guaianolide o
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