Basil & Wormwood


A 16th Century Russian medic at the court of Tsar Basil III prescribes the use of wormwood. (see details below) Wormwood comes in many forms, and it is unclear if the writer means grande wormwood, as used in real absinthe, or another variety.

What is interesting is to see the writer mention wormwood use in conception (could be a translation error). Is this an early reference to absinthe’s noted aphrodisiac effect? I don’t know, but it got me thinking. Tsar Basil certainly had problems producing an heir – he divorced his first wife as she was barren. His second wife later managed to produce a little darling called Ivan The Terrible! Ivan went on to beat his daugher in law causing a miscarriage, and then killed his own son.

Many people think that knowledge of herbs were much deeper in ancient times, that we have lost many secrets, is that right?

It is partly right. For instance modern physicians advice to take wormwood liqueur to improve appetite and stir up digestion. Nickolay Lubchanin advises to take wormwood juice with honey and sugar to those suffering from fever. To improve blood composition one must boil wormwood in wine and take it on an empty stomach in the morning.

Another prescription is for ill eyes and eyelids: one must mix up wormwood juice with honey and smear one’s eyelids for “the eyes to become light”. If one drinks this compound, according to Nickolay Lubchanin, it helps conception. Wormwood juice was considered more useful than herb extract. Here is the analogue of modern popular “liver cleaning”: drink wormwood juice ten days running 3 zolotniks (1 zolotnik is equal to about 4,23 gram) mixed with sugar. It will give one a good skin colour.

Dr. Tatyana Isachenko talking to Pravda about a manuscript by Nickolay Lubchanin (1534)

7 responses to “Basil & Wormwood

  1. What a dapper fellow.! Hey, would you mind posting the little section that contains the word “conception” that you referred to above. Did you translate it or was it already translated?

  2. “If one drinks this compound, according to Nickolay Lubchanin, it helps conception”

    It was already translated for Pravda – just a bit of idle fun for a hot Saturday afternoon. Are you the person who wrote that excellent (witty and technical) piece on fire ritual?

    “Chimicall Oyle of Wormwoode” Recipes by Berington…did you ever hear of this?

  3. There also might be something in Macer, De viribus herbarum : regards wormwood and fertility

    Although it might be Artemisia vulgaris which, according to Fernie who translated these texts for a handy Victorian era medical book, had “a special medicinal use in certain female derangements”

    He also said “The true Wormwood (_Artemisia absinthium_) is used for preparing absinthe, a seductive liqueur, which, when taken to excess, induces epileptic attacks. Any habitual use of alcohol flavoured with this herb singularly impairs the mental and physical powers”

  4. Yes, I did write the piece on the fire ritual, though as Ari assiduously pointed, my ethanol data was erroneous. I retracted my errors on my blog

    “So soon after my first post and I have occasion to retract a foolish statement. Concerning the erroneous info I put on my Absinthe Ritual page pertaining to the properties of ethanol, I direct interested parties to the following link:

    The point I intended to make, and did make despite my bad science, was that I don’t believe flaming sugar cubes ruin the absinthe.”

    I haven’t heard of “Chimicall Oyle of Wormwoode” Recipes by Berington. Sounds interesting. Can you point me to a source?

    In the book A Modern Herbal, by Mrs. M Grieve, 1931, she says of Artemisia vulgaris, Mugwort, “Its chief employment is as an emmenagogue, often in combination with Pennyroyal and Southernwood.” The “certain female derangements” may have simply been inconvenient pregnancies!

    Keep up the good work, absintheur. I’ve recently subscribed to your feed and find your posts interesting.

  5. Sorry. I don’t have a source for Berrington I am waiting for someone to get back to me with information – I was hoping you might have heard of him.

    Ari, doesn’t post here anymore I am afraid 😛 There was some talk I heard about guerillas, but I don’t know what it meant.

    “Likewise, would any other iconoclasts of the bellisima epoca Absinthe Era such as Verlaine, Rimbaud, Zola, Modigliani, or Picasso, really get bent over it? I just can’t bring myself to believe that they would act like panty-waisted crybabies and stomp their feet over flaming sugar cubes.”

    panty-waisted crybabies! LOL We’ve had our fair share of those over the months! David swoops down occasionaly from his eyrie and tells us off – so that’s always something to look forward to 😉 Like a visit from a censorious aunt on a Sunday afternoon.

    Feel free to contact me anytime using the box above.

  6. I did a cursory search and found this site where Berington keeps popping up but I couldn’t get a fix on what, if any, his book is. There are, however, some very interesting old recipes on the site.

  7. Daffy’s Elixir 🙂 Wonderful!

    “For example a recipe of 1700 for “True Daffy” lists the following common ingredients, many of which were purgatives: ANISEED, FENNEL SEED, PARSLEY SEED, SPANISH LIQUORICE, SENNA, RHUBARB, ELECAMPANE, JALAP, SAFFRON, MANNA, RAISIN, COCHINEAL, BRANDY. A chemical analysis carried out in the 1940s of a bottle of daffy’s that had been excavated, confirmed that this was a laxative that would have been made largely from alcohol, with SENNA as a chief ingredient (Richardmond & Webster, 36). One of the most common forms of alcohol used was GIN; hence the slang name daffy’s for gin. Additional information OED earliest date: 1680 Found made from ANISEED, COCHINEAL, RHUBARB”

    Damn! No AA!

    “Daffy’s ‘elixir salutis’ was one of many syrups used to keep children quiet”

    Get me a crate for the summer holidays!

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