Forage some wormwood (Artemisia) while you forage your acorns for OAKtober. Indeed, you can forage leaves of the wormwood plants at virtually any time of year.
This plant was once commonly used to treat the “worms” that infested humans and their domesticated animals – meaning tape worms and hook worms. Artemisia species are found around the world and in almost all cases were used to try to eliminate parasites. Sadly, getting the dosage just right could be a tad tricky, and occasionally the dosage eliminated the patient as well as the worms. Now days Artemisia is best used to make a herbal liqueur.
Liqueurs started as herbs mixed into alcohol to create a medicinal beverage. Popular in 17th century Europe, these evolved over time to pre-dinner and post-dinner drinks, said to stimulate the taste buds and digestive juices. They are meant to be sipped and enjoyed – to invite appreciation, not inebriation.
In the spirit of this tradition, (pardon the pun) I started making liqueurs and cordials out of the plants and herbs in my landscape, and/or the fruits of my garden and the Sonoran Desert. I have successfully (and quite tastily) used many different southwest grown plants, ranging through the alphabet from Artemisia, through desert goji, juniper, lemon, prickly pear, pomegranate, rose petals, all the way to Ziziphus jujuba.
Ingredients for Liqueurs and Cordials
It’s easy. Just three ingredients. Alcohol. Flavoring. Time.
You will need is flavorless alcohol (vodka or Everclear), flavoring agents, and patience. You get flavor from herbs, spices, edible flowers, fruit. Sugar is optional. If I add sugar I consider them cordials, and more for after dinner consumption – like a dessert wine. Liqueurs tend to be “dry” and for before dinner consumption.
I use the cheapest vodka there is because aging it with flavoring agents smooths out the flavor and makes the vodka’s humble origins quite unnoticeable. You could also use the pure grain alcohol, sold as Everclear. Select something that is at least 40 percent alcohol by volume (ABV). You want enough alcohol in the mix to kill any bacteria or fungi that might want to inhabit your beverages. Dilution can occur after decanting and before consumption.
All liqueurs are best aged for a minimum of 6 months. The absolute tastiest I have made is some dandelion cordial that is going on 8 years old now, and every year it just gets smoother and mellower. I imagine that at some point this time advantage will be lost but I only made a few jars so the experiment is slowly being consumed.
Always label what you create! Include the date! Permanent markers write on glass and are easily erased with some rubbing alcohol. You can make fancier labels for gift giving when/if the time comes.
Wormwood for Absinthe
Absinthe liqueur has all manner of myths and facts surrounding it – and I do encourage that you create and consume with caution. Personally, if I have more than a single shot of any “hard” alcohol I feel miserable the next day. Thus I imbibe very little of any alcoholic beverage. We do urge you to be careful with your alcohol, and have a safety page on alcohol.
Traditional absinthe is created with a blend of common European wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) anise, and fennel. Other herbs are added, like horehound or hyssop, lemon balm, mint, coriander, or juniper. Or all of the above.
Some time ago, I created a Southwest absinthe using our native species of Artemisia, the Arizona wormwood, Artemisia ludoviciana. To this I added herbs that grew in my garden at the time – fennel leaf, lemon verbena leaf, and mint. From the cupboard I added anise seed, coriander (seed), cardamom, nutmeg, and some star anise. After six months I sampled the results. A tad bitter for my taste, Well, absinthe was traditionally sipped with sugar cubes. So I added a half cup of sugar to the pint and put it back to age some more. After 3 more months of aging, it was quite fine, so I stained out the herbs. That was indeed a tasty liqueur! It is all gone, or I’d share pictures.
Recipe for Southwestern Absinthe
1 pint drinking alcohol
1 cup dried * wormwood leaf
Combine these herbs and spices in a mortar and grind very lightly – just enough to scar the seeds and open the pods.
2 tablespoons anise seeds 1 tablespoon ground star anise 1 tablespoon fennel seeds (or 1 /4 cup dried fennel leaves) 1 tablespoon dried lemon peel 1 teaspoon coriander 4 cardamom pods 2 star anise pods or 1 tablespoon ground star anise
Place the dried ingredients in a jar, add the alcohol.
Now put it away in a cool dark ** place and forget about it for six months (time).
Around about World Absinthe Day (March 5) take it out and sample it. Might be a fine way to celebrate.
* Why dried? Limits the chance of bacterial or fungal pathogens developing. Yes, you are using alcohol, but those microscopic lifeforms are tricky devils. Traditional absinthe is made by steeping these herbs then distilling the results. We are skipping this distillation which would otherwise kill all manner of microbes.
** Why dark? Artemisia is in the sunflower family. NEVER muck with the sunflower family and light photons. This is one plant family that easily creates photo-active compounds known to harm mammals when consumed.
Other Herbs for Liqueurs and Cordials –
The last few copies of this out-of-print award winning Southwestern book are now for sale. Father Kino’s Herbs: Growing and Using Them Today
The review says:
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A steal at only $20! This link is to our sales site. The profits from the sale go to the local Horticulture Therapy non-profit Tierra del Sol Institute. We hope you will help support this great Southwest non-profit!
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From the review:
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Beekeeper? We offer volume discounts – because if you sell honey in local markets you might want to offer some of these books as well.
Cover image to this post: Artemisia ludoviciana courtesy W. Anderson.
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The authors of this website have researched the edibility of the materials we discuss, however, humans vary in their ability to tolerate different foods, drinks, and herbs. Individuals consuming flowers, plants, animals or derivatives mentioned in this blog do so entirely at their own risk. The authors on this site cannot be held responsible for any adverse reaction. In case of doubt please consult your medical practitioner.