Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium L.) is a shrub and member of the daisy family. It is native to Europe but now found throughout North America. It has been used as a natural remedy for centuries and as a flavoring in some alcoholic drinks.
As its name suggests, wormwood is an herb that has traditionally been used to treat intestinal parasites. Its bitter taste is believed to stimulate digestion. Wormwood is sometimes used externally to bring relief to bruises, and skin irritations. It is also used as a natural bug repellent.
Wormwood is also used as a natural remedy to treat:
- Upset stomach
- Gall bladder disorders
- Loss of appetite
However, according to Drugs.com, there are no clinical studies that support these uses. Animal studies support wormwood's anti-inflammatory and fever reducing capabilities.
The form of wormwood used in herbal medicine to reduce fever is known as sweet wormwood (Artemisia annua). Its main compound, artemisinin, is used to treat malaria, states the American Cancer Society on its website.
It is believed wormwood's medicinal effects are due in part to the herb's content of thujone, a compound found in many herbs including sage, mugwort, tansy, and cedar. The National Institutes of Health indicates in a Summary of Data for Chemical Selection that thujone is banned as a food additive in the United States and regulated in many other countries. According to WebMD on its website, the distilling of wormwood in alcohol increases the concentration of thujone.
Besides its use as a natural remedy, wormwood gives a bitter flavor to absinthe, a green liqueur with a high alcohol content, and vermouth. Although wormwood is one of many ingredients in absinthe such as anise, it is considered to be the main ingredient.
The Food and Drug Administration has listed Artemisia absinthium L. as an unsafe herb, states Drugs.com, because of its Thujone content. Thujone can cause neurotoxicity with symptoms including:
- Digestive problems
- Numbness of extremities
- Loss of intellect
Sweet wormwood is less toxic but may cause adverse side effects such as:
- Digestive problems including nausea, pain, diarrhea, and vomiting
- Pain at injection site
Any form of wormwood may cause allergic reaction, especially if you are allergic to plants from the Asteraceae/Compositae family which include ragweed, daisy, chrysanthemum, dandelion, thistle, and marigold.
WebMD mentions on its website that wormwood may interact with anticonvulsant medications including the following:
- Valproic acid (Depakene)
- Primidone (Mysoline)
- Phenytoin (Dilantin)
- Gabapentin (Neurontin)
- Carbamazepine (Tegretol)
How to Use
Wormwood is available as an extract, essential oil, tea, capsule, or tincture. Although there are no clinical studies to support a recommended dosage, according to Drugs.com, two to three grams daily of the herb or three to five grams as an infusion the traditional dose to treat stomach upset.
Herbs2000.com recommends consuming a tea three times a day, made of one teaspoon of wormwood in one cup of boiling water. You can also use 10 to 20 drops of wormwood tincture in water and consume 15 minutes before each meal. However, they caution that the tea or tincture should not be used longer than four weeks at a time.
A Potent Herb
Although herbalists and natural healers have touted the benefits of wormwood for centuries, the herb is potent and there is a risk of side effects, especially in preparations that contain thujone. As a result, you should not use wormwood without consulting a physician or herbalist.
Pregnant or lactating women should avoid the herb. Drugs.com suggests sweet wormwood not be used by pregnant women in the first trimester; however, you should still consult a physician after that point before using.