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Artemisia herba-alba. Wormwood. Near Wadi Musa, Jordan. Asteraceae

Wormwood is also somewhat enigmatic and we should not be surprised that we cannot with certainty name the plant indicated by the Hebrew la'anah in seven verses. However, since it is linked with gall (see above) in two instances we might assume that a different plant is meant. Again, it should be a bitter plant as required in the verses, be made into a decoction, and be drunk without poisoning (ie, Jeremiah 9:15, 23:15).

Wormwood is mentioned in only one verse in the New Testament, in Revelation 8:11 where a star is called Wormwood. The Greek word is apsinthos and implies a bitter or poisonous plant. This verse clearly states that some who drank of the wormwood died, suggesting that it is toxic. Of course, we must take into account the highly symbolic imagery of Revelation before trying to assign a botanical name to the wormwood.

Again we ask, what native plant in the Middle East will conform to the characteristics of wormwood in the Bible? Most studies on Bible plants implicate a woody shrub in the sunflower family known in English as wormwood, Artemisia herba-alba. Wormwood has been known as a medicine since ancient times. A decoction of the leaves is used to cure intestinal worms, hence the common name.

A flavoring for alcoholic drinks is made from wormwood and is known in English as absinthe, directly derived from the Greek word used in the New Testament. It is also known as "bitters" for obvious reasons. It has an intensely bitter taste which probably adds to its desirability as a medicine with the philosophy that anything that tastes that bad must be good for you!

Wormwood is the dominant plant in vast areas of desert in the Middle East. The silvery green leaves of this compact shrub give it a distinctive appearance when the rest of the vegetation is dry. Unlike many members of the native flora, wormwood flowers in the middle of the summer. In addition to its medicinal value, it is a valuable fodder plant and in some areas wormwood is severely over grazed.