Wormwood is a hardy perennial herb native to Europe but now found throughout the world. The wormwood bush can grow to a height of 2 meters, and produces a number of bushy stems that are covered with fine, silky grey-green hairs. Wormwood produces small yellow-green flowers from summer through to early autumn or fall (2).
Orally wormwood is taken for loss of appetite, indigestion and gastrointestinal problems (1) (7). It is often used in conjunction with other herbs to deal with gallbladder disorders and flatulence (3).
The constituents of wormwood include absinthin, anabsinthin (both bitter compounds), and a volatile oil that is 70% thujone (3).
Habitual large doses of wormwood can cause a range of undesirable effects. These may include restlessness, insomnia, nightmares, vomiting, abdominal pains, dizziness, tremors, convulsions and urinary tract dysfunction.
Thujone’s toxicity can cause various effects as the amount of wormwood consumed increases, including seizures, delirium and hallucinations in extreme cases. Some researchers believe that thujone’s mind altering effects are similar to THC in marijuana (3).
There are some beneficial uses of this wormwood constituent however, as thujone shows promise as an antioxidant. It also appears to have moderate antimicrobial and antifungal properties (6).
Without doubt the most famous therapeutic use of wormwood is the expulsion of parasitic worms. Many reference works continue to list wormwood as an effective vermifuge, and some also list it for it’s antibacterial and antifungal actions (4) (5) (8) (9) (10).
Historically wormwood has been used as a parasitic worm killer, an aphrodisiac, tonic and to induce perspiration (3). Other traditional applications include regulating menstruation and reducing fever (5). Duke’s handbook of Medicinal Herbs lists antibacterial and antifungal properties for wormwood (10).
In times past wormwood was thought to counteract poison. It was also strewn about chambers to repel moths, fleas and other insects. When rumors of plague breaking out in London hit the streets in 1760, merchants reported running out of wormwood due to the huge public demand (2).
The use of wormwood in beverages dates back many centuries, perhaps as far back as the Saracens. Various methods of consumption have been used throughout history, including mixing the essential oil with beer or adding wormwood seeds to the distillation of whisky (2).
Most famous however is the mixing of the wormwood drug absinthol with anise to produce the intoxicating beverage known as absinthe. Overuse of this drink had devastating effects in Europe in the 18th century, with overindulgence known to have brought about paralysis (2).
Wormwood is employed today in the making of vermouth, accounting for this drink’s characteristic bitter flavor (2).
It appears that wormwood may also have certain anti-malarial properties, with animal tests confirming that alcohol extracts of the dried leaves have considerable anti-malarial potential (11), with the wormwood species Artemisia annua showing far greater anti-malarial potential than extracts from over 30 other species in lab tests (12).
Wormwood is generally regarded as safe when used appropriately and for short durations. Wormwood should not be taken in large amounts or long-term.
This herb has been declared unsafe for use during pregnancy due to its uterine and menstrual stimulating effects. Due to the lack of sufficient reliable information, wormwood should not be used while breastfeeding.
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Duke JA, et. al.Handbook of Medicinal Herbs.Second Edition.Boca Raton, FL:CRC Press.2002.
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Abdin MZ, Israr M, Rehman RU, Jain SK. Artemisin, a Novel Anti-malarial Drug: Biochemical and Molecular Approaches for Enhanced Production. Planta Med 2003; 69: 289-29