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Discover the Many Benefits of Wormwood to Your Health

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wormwood

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  • Traditionally used by the Chinese to help alleviate fever, wormwood is known today as a herbaceous plant that may help suppress malaria. It also may provide beneficial effects against various health conditions such as Lyme disease, lymphoma, leukemia, liver disease, depression, Crohn's disease, IgA nephropathy, lead exposure and osteoarthritis
  • Aside from being the key ingredient in absinthe, a popular liqueur during the 19th century, this plant may also be used for flower arrangements, wreaths and garlands, and as an ingredient in insecticides, pain-relieving ointments and antiparasitic drugs
  • Excessive intake of wormwood may lead to loss of appetite, restlessness, unconsciousness, dyspepsia, biliary dyskinesia, headache and shaking. Intravenous administration of wormwood oil may cause convulsions in dogs and cats

Absinthe, also known as the green fairy, was a notorious drink enjoyed by famous writers and artists such as Oscar Wilde, Ernest Hemingway and Vincent Van Gogh. Despite its popularity, absinthe later became infamous because of its psychoactive effects, especially when consumed in excessive amounts.1

Wormwood, a medicinal plant, was thought to cause toxicity in absinthe.2 But what is wormwood exactly, and what are its potential benefits and side effects? Learn more about this plant by reading the following article.

What Is Wormwood?

Woodworm (Artemisia absinthium) is a perennial and herbaceous plant native in regions with mild temperatures such as Europe, North Africa, North India, Scotland and Scandinavia. Today, it may also be found in America, North and West Asia, New Zealand and the Azores. It thrives best in uncultivated fields and roadsides with nonacidic, sandy loam.

This plant grows up to 1.1 meters (3.6 feet) or higher, with spirally arranged leaves and branches that produce light yellow flowers. Its long leaves are green in color with hints of silver or gray because of the fine, silky strands of hair that cover them.

Although it is known to have a bitter taste, wormwood root has an aromatic and warm taste. Other common names of wormwood are green ginger, grand wormwood, American or Western wormwood, madderwort and wormwood sage. The name Artemisia is believed to have originated from Artemis, a Greek goddess, while the name absinthium is said to be derived from the ancient Greek word “absinthion.”3

Wormwood contains thujone, a monoterpene ketone often found in its essential oil.4 It acts as a modulator for the GABAA-receptor, which causes excitations and convulsions, as observed in animal studies.5 Its variant, sweet wormwood (Artemisia annua), is a medicinal plant traditionally used by the Chinese to help relieve fever.6

9 Wormwood Benefits That You Should Be Aware Of

As early as the Roman period, wormwood was known for its neuroprotective properties that were intended to address gastrointestinal problems such as sea sickness, but which scientists today believe may also help alleviate stroke.7,8,9 The ancient Egyptians, on the other hand, used this plant to get rid of parasitic worms.10 Wormwood may provide beneficial effects to combat the following health conditions:

  • Lead exposure — As a neurotoxic agent, exposure to lead may greatly affect your central nervous system. Wormwood extract, with its neuroprotective effects, may help reduce this by inhibiting cell damage, and restoring enzyme activities and behavioral changes.11
  • Liver disease — Wormwood extract was found to exhibit hepatoprotective activities against liver damage by helping suppress microsomal drug metabolizing enzymes (MDME).12
  • DepressionThe methanolic extract of wormwood’s aerial parts were found to contain natural antioxidants that may help improve the symptoms of depression.13
  • Crohn’s diseaseA 2010 study found that wormwood may help improve the mood of people with Crohn’s disease as it may help suppress inflammation and boost their condition.14
  • IgA nephropathy — Consumed as a supplement, thujone-free wormwood was found to help manage proteinuria15 or the presence of abnormal amounts of protein in urine, which is a symptom of IgA nephropathy.16
  • Osteoarthritis — A 2017 study found that wormwood ointment may help reduce pain caused by knee osteoarthritis, one of the most common types of osteoarthritis.17
  • Leukemia —A 2019 study found that artemisinin (a drug extracted from wormwood) and its derivatives may be therapeutic alternatives to chemotherapy for leukemia. Aside from their antimalarial and antischistosomal properties (the ability to inhibit the growth of schistosomes or blood flukes),18 they also exhibit anticancer activities that may help induce programmed cell death and suppress cancer cell growth and reproduction.19
  • Lyme diseaseDr. Dietrich Klinghardt, one of the top authorities on Lyme disease, recommends the Klinghardt antimicrobial cocktail to help you recover from the infection. The formula includes phospholipids, vitamin C, specific herbs and artemisinin, which can be extracted from wormwood.
  • Lymphoma — Artesunate, a derivative of artemisinin, was found to help suppress the growth of B lymphoma cells,20 which may affect your immune system.

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4 Wormwood Uses You Should Know About

Wormwood and its derivatives not only may help improve the symptoms of the mentioned health conditions, but it may also be used as a culinary herb with its preservative and digestive properties, distinct odor and bitter taste.21 Its other uses are:

Insecticides — Wormwood may be used as an insect repellant in the form of dust or spray. To make the dust, hang a few branches with leaves in a cool and dry place. After 10 days, rub them through a fine wire sieve and gather the dust. Sprinkle the wormwood dust on plants when the soil is damp.

To make the spray, chop the leaves and boil them for three to four hours. Strain the infusion and dilute one part with four parts of water.22

Anthelmintic — According to a 2009 study, wormwood extracts may be used as an alternative to anthelmintics or a group of drugs that may help suppress infections caused by parasitic worms.23

Analgesic ointment — Wormwood ointment may be used to help heal wounds, and relieve muscle and joint pain.24

Ornamental plant — Wormwood’s unique gray foliage makes it a good addition to floral arrangements25 as it helps balance color clashes between orange and magenta. Freshly cut stems of its variant, A. ludoviciana, may be used to make wreaths and decorative garlands.26

Wormwood's Artemisinin Content Helps Alleviate Malaria

A Chinese study led by Youyou Tu, chief professor at the China Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine, found that artemisinin or qinghaosu, a sesquiterpene lactone, may help suppress malaria.27 Artemisinin may be extracted from sweet wormwood leaves to be used as a potent and fast-acting blood schizonticide,28 a destructive agent against the malaria parasite.29 Tu received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2015 for this significant discovery.

In addition, a 2012 study suggests that dried wormwood plant material, together with an artemisinin-based combination therapy (ACT) drug partner, may be utilized as a low cost and effective oral therapy against malaria.30 The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends ACT because its artemisinin content may help kill gametocytes,31 which are responsible for the transmission of disease from the host to the vector.32

What Is Absinthe and Its Association With Wormwood?

As a flavoring agent, wormwood may also be mixed with alcoholic beverages, liqueurs, aperitifs, wines and vermouths. Being the main ingredient in absinthe,33 a popular liqueur in France during the 19th century, wormwood as a drink led to the establishment of a daily event called “green hour” or a “happy hour” when people gather in cafés to drink absinthe.34

Absinthe should not be consumed straight, so French drinkers introduced a way of drinking this liqueur to fully savor its taste. First, a sugar cube must be placed on an absinthe spoon or a spoon with holes, which is placed across the glass rim. Cold water is then poured over the sugar until the cube dissolves. This procedure creates a louche, or white cloud effect, in the liquid. It may be stirred after.35

The chronic consumption of this once-banned beverage is called absinthism. It is a psychiatric disorder caused by absinthe’s high thujone content, with symptoms such as:36,37

  • Hallucinations and delirium
  • Vertigo
  • Thirst
  • Paralysis
  • Limb shaking
  • Mental decline
  • Digestive disorders
  • Psychosis
  • Seizures

Modern premium grade absinthe products are made by distillation with at least 45 percent alcohol volume and no artificial dye. These products must also have a recognizable wormwood flavor and must be able to create the louche effect when infused with liquid sugar.38

Wormwood Oil Also May Provide Numerous Uses and Benefits

Wormwood essential oil is usually produced in Morocco, China, India and Bulgaria through steam distillation.39 Although this plant is known for its toxicity, a 2008 study found that essential oil of wormwood flowers from Iran has a lower thujone content.40

Fresh wormwood leaves produce a clear, green-colored oil, while dried leaves produce green to yellow-brown oil. As the oil ages, it becomes opaque and dark brown in color.41 If a dried woodworm herb is used, it must be moistened and left to dry for a few hours.42

Wormwood oil also may be used to help alleviate sprains, bruises and lower back muscle or joint pain. Other ways in which wormwood oil may help are to:44

  • Kill pests through its antifeedant (a property that helps inhibit insect feeding)45 and toxic effects
  • Suppress agricultural and foodborne pathogens through its antifungal and antimicrobial activities
  • Inhibit the growth of parasites
  • Relieve spasm of involuntary muscles when used in small amounts46

Try This Wormwood Tea Recipe Today

Despite its bitterness, wormwood may be brewed as a tea to maximize its medicinal properties. Known as a digestive tonic, it may help improve the symptoms of gas pain, upset stomach, fat digestion difficulties and gallbladder problems when consumed.47

Studies have found that wormwood tea exhibits disease-preventing and therapeutic activities through its artemisinin content.48 Another study found that wormwood tea infusions may help improve the symptoms of schistosomiasis,49 an acute and chronic disease caused by parasitic worms.50 Here is a quick and easy recipe for making wormwood tea:51

Wormwood Tea Recipe

Ingredients:

1 teaspoon dried wormwood leaves

1 cup of hot water

Raw honey (optional)

Procedure:

1. Place the dried leaves in a cup filled with hot water. Set it aside for about 15 minutes. Remember that using more than one teaspoon of wormwood leaves may make your tea too bitter or strong.

2. Strain the infusion and drink while hot.

3. To reduce its bitterness, you may add honey or mix it with another herbal tea, such as peppermint or anise tea.

Wormwood tea may have other uses around the house, too. When sprayed on the ground, it may help lure away slugs and aphids on trees and plants, and ward off beetles from grains in storage rooms. Remember to only spray the tea occasionally, as too much of it may inhibit the plants’ growth.52 For dogs and cats, wormwood tea baths may help get rid of fleas or ticks.

Wormwood Side Effects to Watch Out For

Although wormwood may provide numerous beneficial effects, you should also be aware of its side effects, especially if taken in large doses. Thujone, a ketone found in wormwood essential oil, may exhibit neurotoxic effects if threshold concentrations are exceeded.53 In cats and dogs, intravenous administration of wormwood essential oil may cause convulsions.54

A 2016 study suggests that this toxic agent may cause redness and pain in the face when used as a poultice. This may lead to a first-degree burn, so remember to consult a health care professional before applying wormwood products on your skin. Excessive consumption of wormwood products may also lead to potential dangers such as:55,56

  • Loss of appetite
  • Dyspepsia
  • Biliary dyskinesia or symptomatic functional disorder of the gallbladder sphincter of Oddi57
  • Headache
  • Shaking
  • Restlessness
  • Unconsciousness

In addition, pregnant women are should avoid wormwood oil because of the potential toxicity of its thujone and sabinyl acetate content.58

Wormwood Supplements Promote Beneficial Effects in Animals

Aside from the notable applications mentioned, wormwood may also be used as a supplement, according to a 2017 study involving rabbits. Wormwood helped improve their growth performance and exhibited antioxidant effects. Additionally, it helped reduce the number of oocysts in the rabbits,59 or the thick-walled stage in the life cycle of one-celled parasites.60

Dried wormwood plant is usually more palatable to animals compared to freshly cut wormwood. In a 2002 study involving male cattle, it was found that they consume more nutrients when rice straw is replaced with dried wormwood, which contains more crude protein, crude fat and organic matter.61

It was also found that wormwood supplementation may help boost gastric juice and bile secretion, which may result in enhanced digestibility of feed in animals.62

Growing Wormwood at Home

Growing wormwood at home is easy — its small seeds are surface sown because they need plenty of sunlight. Wormwood seeds usually germinate within six to 10 days.63 These plants do not need too much care and attention — they simply have to be watered and pruned occasionally when transferred to the ground.64 Here is a step-by-step guide for growing wormwood at home:65

  1. Sprinkle the seeds on the surface of the soil and gently tap them.
  2. Place the pot in an area with indirect sunlight and a temperature of not more than 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
  3. Spray water to the soil or place the pot on a tray with water. Let sit for half an hour for the soil to be able to seep in the water. Pour out the excess water.
  4. Once the second set of leaves appears, transplant the seedlings to the dry, rocky part of your garden. Allow 2- to 3-foot spaces between them.
  5. Harvest the leaves in their second year by cutting the stalks. Leave a height of at least 2 feet of the plant so it may grow again.

Here are a few maintenance tips when growing wormwood plants:

  • They must be planted in an area where children or pets can’t reach them because they are mildly toxic when ingested.66
  • Due to their toxic root excretions, they must not be grown near other plants such as fennel, sage and caraway because they may inhibit their growth.67 Instead, plant them in separate beds around ornamental plants to help ward off pests.68
  • Aside from seeds, you may also plant divided wormwood plants or their stems.69
  • Fertilizers are not necessary when planting wormwood because it doesn’t like rich soil.70
  • These plants must be grown in an open area to help avoid fungal and rust diseases.71
  • Wormwood plants may be planted along with carrots, as their toxic components may help repel carrot flies and other garden pests such as ants, slugs, cabbage loopers, flea beetles, codling moths and tomato hornworms.72

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Wormwood

Q: What is wormwood good for?

A: As found by studies, wormwood may be beneficial against malaria, Lyme disease, lymphoma, leukemia, liver disease, depression, Crohn's disease, IgA nephropathy, lead exposure and osteoarthritis.

Q: Can wormwood make you hallucinate?

A: Wormwood, a key ingredient in absinthe, may cause hallucinations if taken in high amounts due to its thujone content.

Q: Is wormwood safe to eat?

A: Wormwood leaves may be steeped in water to make tea, while their extracts may be used in alcoholic beverages such as absinthe. However, I advise regulating your intake of this liqueur because it contains thujone, a potentially toxic chemical, which may be detrimental to your health if consumed in excessive amounts.73

Q: What does wormwood taste like?

A: Wormwood has a bitter taste with a strong, distinct odor.

Q: Where can I buy wormwood?

A: Wormwood essential oil, tea bags, supplements and seeds are available online.

+ Sources and References