Artemisia absinthium , or common wormwood, is most famous as an ingredient of the alcoholic beverage absinthe. Wormwood is also found in vermouth, but at lower levels. Besides its common function as a flavoring, wormwood also has a long history of medicinal use. A reputed ability to kill intestinal worms gave rise to the herb’s name. Other traditional uses include treating liver problems, joint pain, digestive discomfort, loss of appetite, insomnia, epilepsy, and menstrual problems. The leaves and flowers, and the essential oil extracted from them, are the parts used medicinally.
Common wormwood is a relative of sweet wormwood ( Artemisia annua ), a source of the malaria drug artemisinin (also called artemesin).
What Is Wormwood Used for Today?
Wormwood is sometimes recommended today for the treatment of digestive conditions such as intestinal parasites, dyspepsia
This 10 week study conducted in Germany evaluated the potential benefits of wormwood for treatment of people with
These are extremely promising findings. However, it must be kept in mind that a great many treatments that show promise in a single study fail to hold up in subsequent independent testing. Further research will be needed to establish wormwood as a helpful treatment for Crohn’s disease. Other proposed uses of wormwood have far weaker supporting evidence. Extremely preliminary indications hint
Other proposed uses of wormwood have far weaker supporting evidence. Extremely preliminary indications hint that wormwood essential oil (like many other essential oils) might have antifungal, antibacterial, and antiparasitic actions.
In the study noted above, wormwood was taken at a dose of 500 mg three times daily. A typical traditional dose of wormwood is 3 cups daily of a tea made by steeping 2.5 to 5 grams of wormwood in hot water. Wormwood essential oil should not be used. Long-term use of any form of wormwood (over 4 weeks) should not be attempted except under physician supervision.
There are many unsolved questions about the toxicity of wormwood. When absinthe was popular in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a mental disorder known as “absinthism”—involving hallucinations, tremors, vertigo, sleeplessness, and seizures—was associated with it. Wormwood contains thujone, a substance thought to be toxic to nerves when taken at high doses, and thujone has been proposed as a factor contributing to absinthism. However, the symptoms of absinthism are also consistent with mere chronic overuse of alcohol, and absinthe does not appear to contain sufficient thujone to cause harm.
Furthermore, animal studies have generally failed to find significant toxicity with wormwood even at relatively high doses.
Despite the absence of firm evidence, wormwood is still considered a potentially toxic herb, especially if taken over the long term. Wormwood essential oil contains thujone at much higher levels than those found in absinthe, and should be avoided. Wormwood should not be used by young children, pregnant or nursing women, or people with severe liver or kidney disease.
1. Kordali S, Cakir A, Mavi A, et al. Screening of chemical composition and antifungal and antioxidant activities of the essential oils from three Turkish artemisia species. J Agric Food Chem . 2005;53:1408–16.
4. Chiasson H, Belanger A, Bostanian N, et al. Acaricidal properties of Artemisia absinthium and Tanacetumvulgare (Asteraceae) essential oils obtained by three methods of extraction. J Econ Entomol . 2001;94:167–71.
Last reviewed April 2009 by EBSCO CAM Review Board
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