"a last, long, breathless draught of the cup of wormwood and aloes"

A brew of two extremely bitter herbs. A tall, woody plant that is considered a weed in North America, wormwood’s unappetizing qualities owe to the chemicals it secretes in its leaves to put herbivores off from eating it. Its bitterness has been proverbial since ancient times and is referred to often in the Bible (see, for example, Lamentations 3:15 and Proverbs 5:4).


Aloe ferox
Creative Commons AttributionAloe ferox - Credit: art_es_anna

Aloes, species of succulent native to Africa, likewise store a harsh-tasting yellow sap in their fleshy, tentacle-like leaves to deter would-be grazers. They also vie with wormwood as being a plant of axiomatic bitterness. In the Hadith, for example, Allah claims, “I have created creatures whose tongues are sweeter than honey and their hearts are more bitter than aloes.”


Both these plants are also known for their purifying, medicinal properties.