This FEELed Note is a reflection by Research Associate Olga Koroleva, who curated our Littoral Listening session #9 on Planthuman, on 13 January 2023. As always, we met online for 1.5 hrs to read our selected texts (on wormwood) together and out loud, and then offer our reflections to one another so that they might root, branch and flower in the strange intimate soil that is the ZOOM ROOM.
On the eve of the promise of a glowing green comet, i, the mind-body that is the human ecotone (0), not quite tethered, not quite rooted, grasp onto the былинки (1) of cross-oceanic gifts of song, of stories of unrestrained desire for another, unreciprocated, of heat, and the scent the colour of which we struggle to name. Mars still lingers in Taurus; is it the canis minor, canis major, or the unicorn that radiates blue-green tonight?
It is absurd, in a way, attempting to write about a plant. With, or for, maybe, but not about. The plant writes themselves: Wormwood is many. And yet I must try in order to find in between the blades of grass that which is not quite readily perceptible. Or is it the human that is not quite readily receptacle? Knowing, here, is not a given, but a gift. I attempt to write about Wormwood for those who know that there is nothing common about knowledge, while tentatively trying to locate the plant within the Western pharmacological tradition of binary relations it had outgrown long before writing began, the tradition where only men are permitted – anything. ‘In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities’ (2), and so I place myself with the beginner.
Wormwood is a medicinal plant, yet most of my planthuman interlocutors’ recondition of it has been shaped by the early twentieth century fashion for distilling the knowledge it holds into intoxicating-green absinth (Artemísia absínthium), only a temporary and not efficient enough poison (though Artemisia cina is said to be highly toxic). And so Wormwood escapes an easy fit into the definition of a pharmakon, its rumoured lucid dreaming-inducing properties are yet to present themselves to me.
I continue to weave silky green thread into playfully placed baubles and a semblance of the plant begins to appear on the un-taut fabric – I resist restraining it. Take a couple [inflorescences, unopened] every day, were my granddad’s instructions I recall, in his voice – that faraway place that is always already here (4). Polyn’ is rooted with polye – the field, the grassland at the foot of the mountain range Irendyk – ‘we are free’ (5), where she grows (Artemisia austriaca).
Writing her with words sits uncomfortably, still. Writing herself, she is prolific, and a healer. Given the proportions are right, she is studied as a remedy for cancer (6), and, still, a scapegoat: her bitterness misread, her name given to a star held responsible for the poisoning of a third of all rivers and a third of all lakes in the Christian origin story. She shares linguistic superstitions with the 1986 nuclear power plant disaster sharing her name with the place – Chernobyl (Artemisia vulgaris) which translates from Ukrainian as ‘black stems’ echoing the colour of Wormwood’s dark green to purple stalks.
Wormwood absínthium, vulgaris, and austriaca (this from my own experience, I have not met other varieties) have antimicrobial and antibacterial properties. It can be used as hand cleanser while you’re out in the field by rubbing fresh leaves between your palms. To make tea or dry medicine, collect the top ten to fifteen cm of the plant at the height of summer and just before the inflorescences open. One day can make a difference, so don’t miss it. Rinse and hang to dry in a well aerated space away from sunlight. Both flowers and leaves can be used to make tea, and flowers can also be taken as dry medicine. The stalks are a little too tough for tea so can be used to make medicinal baths.
Olga F. Koroleva, 28 February 2023
.0. An ecotone is an area where two habitats cross, such as a tidal area, creating a more diverse one than either of the two; in reference to body I mean to underline my own ethnically-mixed roots. See also Astrida Neimanis, “Becoming a body of water,” Undutiful Daughters. New Directions in Feminist Thought and Practice (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2000), p.93 / Olga F. Koroleva, weaving / on ‘giving the sea salt rock’ (CSPA Quarterly, 2023, publication pending)
1. dried out grass stems
2. Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind (New York and Tokyo: Weatherhill, 1970), p.21
3. referencing the discussion of non-linearity of time in Astrida Neimanis, “The Weather Underwater: Blackness, White Feminism, and the Breathless Sea,” Australian Feminist Studies, VOL. 34, NO. 102, 490–508 (Routledge, 2019) and Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind (New York and Tokyo: Weatherhill, 1970)
4. as above
5. one possible translation of the name from Bashkir language (Turkic group)
6. Wormwood is studied a the medical institute of Ulan-Bator, Mongolia / from the film The Medicine Buddha (2019, dir. Benjamin Johns)