WORMWOOD, according to most commentators to be identified with the scriptural לַעֲנָה (la'anah). It indicates evil (Deut. 29:17; Amos 5:7; et al.) as does the drinking of the liquid extracted from it (Lam. 3:15; et al.). In Arabic it is called shi'ah and in Syriac shiha. Consequently the opinion has been expressed that the si'aḥ in the phrase עֲלֵי שִׂיחַ in Job 30:4 means "the leaves of the wormwood." The Peshitta identifies aḥad hasiḥim ("one of the shrubs") of the desert under which Hagar cast Ishmael with wormwood (Gen. 21:15).

Several species of wormwood grow wild in Israel in the sandy and desert regions. The most common is la'anat hamidbar ("desert wormwood"), the Artemisia herba-alba whose juice has a very bitter taste. It is possible that wormwood juice was extracted from it, as, despite its bitterness, it was regarded by the ancients as having therapeutic qualities. The Romans used to give it (absinthium) to the victors of the chariot races to drink since "health is an honorable prize" (Pliny, Historia Naturalis 27:45–46). In Greek, wormwood is called apsinthion (as the Septuagint translates la'anah). The Talmud (Av. Zar. 30a) mentions "bitter apsintin wine," i.e., wine to which apsinthion (wormwood) was added, not unlike modern vermouth, which is wine to which the species Artemisia absinthium has been added ("wormwood" is probably a corruption of the word vermouth).


Loew, Flora, 1 (1928), 386; H.N. and A.L. Moldenke, Plants of the Bible (1950), index; J. Feliks, Olam ha-Ẓome'aḥ ha-Mikra'i (19682), 180, 200.

[Jehuda Feliks]

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.