What is it? Overview Usage Side Effects and Warnings

What is Wormwood?

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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).

Wormwood is sometimes recommended today for the treatment of digestive conditions such as intestinal parasites, dyspepsia , esophageal reflux , and irritable bowel syndrome . However, there is no meaningful evidence to indicate that it is effective for any of these conditions. Only double-blind , placebo-controlled studies can show a treatment effective, and only one has been performed using wormwood. (For information on why such studies are essential, see Why Does This Database Rely on Double-blind Studies? )

This 10 week study conducted in Germany evaluated the potential benefits of wormwood for treatment of people with Crohn’s disease , an inflammatory condition of the intestines. 1 All forty people enrolled in the study had achieved good control of their symptoms through use...

Safety Issues

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. 2 Furthermore, animal studies have generally failed to find significant toxicity with wormwood even at relatively high doses. 3 Despite the absence of firm...