Half a Hundred Herbs Week 40 – Wormwood

roman wormwoodThere are many varieties of wormwood, some big and spawling, turning ragged and unwieldy, and attracting blackfly (which is ironic, considering its reputation as an insect repellant). This one, artemiisa ponticum,  however, is more delicate and dainty, and lacks the abrasive pungency of the more familiar varieties. I have had it in a pot since I got it last summer, because I was worried about it coming through the winter, and this spring I divided it into six offshoots, and all of them are growing strongly.

Wormwood was traditionally used as a purge for those who have over-indulged, and to get rid of parasitic worms. It tastes disgusting, bitter and murky, and frankly punitive. ‘Gall and wormwood’ figure in the Bible as metaphors for remorse, and I am not at all surprised. I don’t know what demented brain thought to put it into absinthe, or having done so, persuaded anyone to drink it. It is used in sachets, with southernwood and rosemary and lavender as a moth repellant.

I can’t help liking it, though, because of its subdued elegance and demure vitality.

In the garden woodruff, alchemilla and lily of the valley are in flower, and the peonies are ready to open. There are weeds I actively encourage here – welsh poppies and cuckoo-flowers which have finally arrived in the garden, quietly throwing out lovely sprays of lilac.

cuckooflower

Last week the first swallows and house martins appeared, and this week they are everywhere in this mild weather. And the swifts have come in squadrons, screaming over the fields by the river. All the trees are in full leaf except the ash and the smaller beech trees, and the orchard is in full bloom, pear trees just going over and apple blossoms starry pink and full of bees. And the first rowan tree is in flower.

The new and exciting thing this year is that there are orange tip butterflies. This was an occasional visitor this far north, but I’ve seen several this year already. Although this must be a sign of climate change, I find it hard not to enjoy such fiery sparks of summer.

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