Discover the many benefits of wormwood to your health
Story at-a-glance –
- Woodworm is a perennial and herbaceous plant that may help suppress malaria. It may also 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 is also a great addition to gardens and may be used for natural pain relief, insect repellent and antiparasite
- Thujone, a ketone found in wormwood essential oil, may exhibit neurotoxic effects if threshold concentrations are exceeded
- What is wormwood?
- 9 wormwood benefits that you should be aware of
- 4 wormwood uses you should know about
- Wormwood’s artemisinin content helps alleviate malaria
- What is absinthe and its association with wormwood?
- Wormwood oil also provides numerous uses and benefits
- Try this wormwood tea recipe today
- Wormwood side effects to watch out for
- Wormwood supplements promote beneficial effects in animals
- Growing wormwood at home
- Frequently asked questions (FAQs) about wormwood
Wormwood is a medicinal herb that was thought to cause toxicity in absinthe, a popular liqueur in France during the 19th century.1,2 But what is wormwood exactly, and what are its potential benefits and side effects? Read on to learn more about this plant.
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.3 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 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.”4
Wormwood contains thujone, a monoterpene ketone often found in its essential oil.5 It acts as a modulator for the GABAA-receptor, which causes excitations and convulsions, as observed in an animal study published in the journal Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology.6 Its variant, sweet wormwood (Artemisia annua), is a medicinal plant traditionally used by the Chinese to help relieve fever.7
According to the Scientific American journal, the earliest recorded medicinal use of wormwood dates back to ancient Egypt, where this plant had “religious as well as medicinal significance.”8 During the Roman period, wormwood was also known for its neuroprotective properties that may help alleviate stroke.9 Wormwood may provide beneficial effects to combat the following health conditions:
1. Lead exposure — Exposure to lead may greatly affect your central nervous system, since it is a neurotoxic agent. Wormwood extract, with its neuroprotective effects, may help reduce this by inhibiting cell damage and restoring enzyme activities and behavioral changes.10
2. Liver disease — Wormwood extract was found to exhibit hepatoprotective activities against liver damage by helping suppress microsomal drug metabolizing enzymes (MDME).11
3. Depression — The methanolic extract of wormwood’s aerial parts were found to contain natural antioxidants that may help improve the symptoms of depression.12
5. IgA nephropathy — Consumed as a supplement, thujone-free wormwood was found to help manage proteinuria14 or the presence of abnormal amounts of protein in urine, which is a symptom of IgA nephropathy.15
6. Osteoarthritis — A 2017 study found that wormwood ointment may help reduce pain caused by knee osteoarthritis, one of the most common types of osteoarthritis.16
7. Leukemia — A 2019 study found that artemisinin (a drug extracted from wormwood17) 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
8.Lyme disease — Dr. 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.20
9. Lymphoma — Artesunate, a derivative of artemisinin, was found to help suppress the growth of B lymphoma cells,21 which may affect your immune system.
Wormwood and its derivatives not only may help improve the symptoms of the mentioned health conditions, but may also be used as a culinary herb with its preservative and digestive properties, distinct odor, and bitter taste.22 Its other uses are:
- Insecticide — According to a study published in the Journal of Economic Entomology, wormwood essential oil has an acaricidal property,23 a specific insecticidal activity that affects species under the arachnid subclass Acari,24 which includes mites and ticks.25
- 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.26
- Analgesic ointment — Wormwood ointment may be used to help heal wounds, and relieve muscle and joint pain.27
- Ornamental plant — Wormwood’s unique gray-green foliage makes it a good addition to gardens.28
A Chinese study led by Tu Youyou, chief professor at the China Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine, found that artemisinin or qinghaosu, a sesquiterpene lactone, may help suppress malaria.29 Tu received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2015 for this significant discovery.30
Artemisia annua contains the highest amount of artemisinin out of all Artemisia species, but this compound can be extracted from Artemisia absinthium leaves as well.31 According to the World Health Organization (WHO), artemisinin may be used as a potent and fast-acting blood schizonticide,32 a destructive agent against the malaria parasite.33
In addition, a 2012 study suggests that dried sweet 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.34 The World Health Organization recommends ACT because its artemisinin content may help kill gametocytes,35 which are responsible for the transmission of disease from the host to the vector.36
As a flavoring agent, wormwood may also be mixed with alcoholic beverages, liqueurs, aperitifs, wines and vermouths. Being the main ingredient in absinthe,37 wormwood consumption led to the establishment of a daily event called “Green Hour” or a “happy hour” when people gather in cafés to drink absinthe.38
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.39
Chronic consumption of this once-banned beverage can lead to something called absinthism. It is a psychiatric disorder caused by absinthe’s high thujone content, with symptoms such as:40,41
- Hallucinations and delirium
- Limb shaking
- Mental decline
- Digestive disorders
Modern premium grade absinthe products are made by distillation with at least 45% 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.42
Wormwood essential oil is usually produced in Morocco, China, India and Bulgaria through steam distillation.43 According to the journal Planta Medica, wormwood oil is greenish and has a strong odor.44 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.45
Wormwood oil may be used to help alleviate bruises and lower back muscle or joint pain.46 Other ways in which wormwood oil promotes benefits are by helping to:47
- Kill pests through its antifeedant (a property that helps inhibit insect feeding)48 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 amounts49
Despite its bitterness, wormwood may be brewed as a tea to maximize its health-giving properties. Learn how to make wormwood tea with this quick and easy recipe from Leaf.TV:50
Wormwood tea recipe
- 1 teaspoon dried wormwood leaves
- 1 cup of hot water
- Raw honey (optional)
- Place the dried leaves in a cup filled with hot water. Set it aside for several minutes. Remember that using more than 1 teaspoon of wormwood leaves may make your tea too bitter or strong.
- Strain the infusion and drink while hot.
- 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. For dogs and cats, wormwood tea baths may help get rid of fleas.51
Although wormwood provides 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.52
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.53 According to WebMD, wormwood may also cause the following side effects because of its thujone content:54
- Muscle breakdown
- Kidney failure
- Difficulty sleeping
- Stomach cramps
- Irregular heart rate
- Numbness of arms and legs
- Urine retention
Pregnant women and breastfeeding moms should avoid wormwood oil because of the potential toxicity of thujone. You should also avoid this herb if you have a kidney disorder or an allergy to ragweed and other related plants.55
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, or the thick-walled stage in the life cycle of one-celled parasites,56 in the rabbits.57
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.58
Growing wormwood at home is easy. It can be easily propagated from the seed or through cutting or dividing the roots. This plant does not need too much care and attention — it simply has to be watered and pruned occasionally when transferred to the ground.59 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, as they are mildly toxic when ingested.60
- Due to their toxic root excretions, they must not be grown near other plants, such as fennel, sage and caraway, since they may inhibit their growth. Instead, plant them in separate beds around ornamental plants to help ward off pests.61
- Aside from seeds, you may also plant divided wormwood plants or their stems.62
- Fertilizers are not necessary when planting wormwood because they do not like rich soil.63
- These plants must be grown in an open area to help avoid fungal and rust diseases.64
- 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.65
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.66
Q: How 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
- 1, 3, 4, 22, 37, 43, 47 “Essential Oils in Food Preservation, Flavor and Safety,” 2016
- 2 BMJ. 1999 Dec 18; 319(7225): 1590–1592
- 5, 9, 52 J Ethnopharmacol. 2010 Aug 19;131(1):224-7
- 6 Regul Toxicol Pharmacol. 2013 Feb;65(1):100-107
- 7 World J Pharmacol. 2014 Dec 9; 3(4): 39–55
- 8 Scientific American Vol. 260, No. 6, pp. 112-117
- 10 J Emerg Trauma Shock. 2011 Jan-Mar; 4(1): 82–88
- 11 Gen Pharmacol. 1995 Mar;26(2):309-315
- 12 Afr. J. Biotechnol. 2009 Dec;8(24):7170-7175
- 13 Phytomedicine. 2010 Apr;17(5):305-9
- 14 Am J Kidney Dis. 2010 Dec;56(6):1095-9
- 15 National Kidney Foundation, “IgA Nephropathy”
- 16, 46 Iran J Med Sci. 2017 Nov; 42(6): 524–531
- 17 Pak J Bot. 2007;39:799–805
- 18 Merriam-Webster, “Antichistosomal”
- 19 Anticancer Drugs. 2019 Jan;30(1):1-18
- 20 Klinghardt Academy, “Treating Lyme Without the Use of Antibiotics”
- 21 J Hematol Oncol. 2018; 11: 23
- 23 J Econ Entomol. 2001 Feb;94(1):167-71.
- 24 Science Direct, Acaricide
- 25 Medical Insects and Arachnids 1993 p. 597-658
- 26 Vet. Parasitol. 2009 Mar;160(1-2):83-88
- 27 Int. J. Pharm. Sci. Rev. Res., 24(2), Jan – Feb 2014; nᵒ38, 237-244
- 28 LA Times July 21, 2005
- 29 “A Detailed Chronological Record of Project 523 and the Discovery and Development of Qinghaosu,” 2005
- 30 Nobel Prize, Tu Youyou
- 31 Pak J Bot. 2007;39:799–805
- 32, 35 World Health Organization, “Guidelines for the Treatment of Malaria”
- 33 Merriam-Webster, “Schizonticide”
- 34 Phytochem Rev. 2011 Jun; 10(2): 173–183
- 36 Trends Parasitol. 2008 Nov; 24(11): 525–53
- 38 BBC, January 9, 2014
- 39 he Spruce March 9, 2019
- 40 “Veterinary Herbal Medicine,” 2007
- 41 The European Journal of Herbal Medicine 6(2):28-33
- 42 Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2007 Apr;26(5):365-377
- 44 Planta Med 2014; 80(18): 1698-1705
- 45 JMP 2008, 2(26): 40-44
- 48 “Encyclopedia of Applied Plant Sciences,” 2003
- 49 The Pharma Innovation Journal 2017; 6(8): 176-187
- 50 Leaf, How to Make Wormwood Tea
- 51, 61, 65 SFGate, “Things to Plant With Wormwood”
- 53 Pan Afr Med J. 2016; 23: 10.
- 54, 55, 66 WebMD, Wormwood
- 56 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Glossary”
- 57 Journal of the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine. 2017;87(6):769-782
- 58 Asian-Aust. J. Anim. Sci. 2002;15(3):390-395
- 59, 60 SFGate, “How to Grow a Wormwood Plant”
- 62, 63, 64 The Spruce, June 29, 2018