Other names: Wormwood, Absinthium, Green Ginger, Absinthe, Old Woman, Southernwood
Dating back to the time of Hippocrates; wormwood has most commonly been used for ridding intestinal worms, hence the name Wormwood. However, it also has many other applications; Hippocrates prescribed it for menstrual pains, jaundice, anaemia and rheumatism.
Wormwood is also used in some alcoholic beverages. Absinthe is a well-known beverage made with wormwood. It is an emerald-green alcoholic drink that is prepared from wormwood oil, often along with other dried herbs such as anise and fennel. Supplemental wormwood extract, from reputable brands, is produced under methods whereby the active components of wormwood are standardised and therefore undergo better regulation for safety. Although the active components of Absinthe are also regulated now, the drink is still banned in many countries.
Digestion and Parasite Cleanse:
Wormwood has also been used against intestinal worms as far back as Ancient Egypt. This ant-parasitic property is attributed to a component of wormwood called thujone [i]. There is limited clinical evidence in humans, however research from animal and test tube studies may be applied to indicate similar functions in humans [ii] [iii].
Wormwood is also a digestive stimulant due to its bitter qualities. Its actions involve the entire digestive system: salivation, stomach acid production and intestinal tract movement. A common cause of weak digestion is too little stomach acid (hydrochloric acid). Wormwood works to increase hydrochloric acid allowing for improved digestion and assimilation of nutrients. Many chronic diseases can be avoided by proper absorption of nutrients from dietary intake. This action can also optimise bowel flora whilst killing off dangerous organisms such as Helicobacter Pylori (H. pylori ), which can lead to stomach and duodenal ulcers if left untreated. This anti-H. pylori action is attributed to agents of the compound Artemisinin in wormwood [iv].
Recent evidence has also shown that Wormwood could be an effective treatment for SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth). One study on 104 SIBO patients concluded wormwood, as a herbal treatment appears to be as effective as triple antibiotic therapy for SIBO therapy [v].
Anti-inflammatory Action and Pain:
Due to its anti-inflammatory properties, wormwood can also be used to reduce pain [vi]. In a 4-week study on 90 adults with osteoarthritis of the knee joint, applying a 3% standardised extract of wormwood skin ointment 3 times a day helped improve both pain levels and physical function of the joints [vii].
However, the plant itself should never be directly applied to the skin, as its compounds are very potent which may result in painful burns [viii].
Wormwood has also been found to fight inflammation due to its action affecting the production of inflammation signalling proteins, known as cytokines. This action is thought to be due to the compound Artemisinin, found in Wormwood[ix].
Research in Cancer Cells:
Early research has led to wormwood being used on breast cancer cells in test tube studies. At the moment, results in this area are encouraging, however there is not yet sufficient evidence in humans. In a study, researchers report that artemisinin in wormwood kills iron-enriched breast cancer cells but does not cause harm in healthy cells. It is thought that artemisinin's potentially destructive properties towards cancer cells may be triggered by elevated levels of iron in cancer cells [x] .
Wormwood was given to Crohn’s disease patients in a clinical trial. It was found that the need for steroid treatment was reduced in the group given Wormwood versus the placebo group. Furthermore, when assessing quality of life of the patients via questionnaire, it was indicated that wormwood also has an effect of lifting the patients’ mood, which was not achieved by other standard medications. This effect of Wormwood may be due to beneficial changes in the microbiome, regulating mood via the gut-brain connection [xi].
Antimicrobial and Anti-fungal Activity:
Test tube studies suggest that wormwood oil exhibits a broad spectrum of antimicrobial activity against several bacterial strains, including E. coli and salmonella [xii].
Studies have also shown that wormwood may be effective against 11 strains of disease causing fungi [xiii]. Additionally, wormwood oil inhibits the growth of Candida albicans; the most common type of yeast infection found in the mouth, intestinal tract and vagina, for example [xiv].
It is worth noting these aforementioned studies have been performed with oil extract. However, it is advisable to use forms and dosages recommended to you by a qualified practitioner or herbal specialist.
Pregnancy: Wormwood should not be taken in pregnancy, due to risk of miscarriage.
Breastfeeding and early childhood: Women who are breastfeeding and children should avoid this herb due to a lack of safety information.
Epilepsy: Thujone stimulates the brain and has been known to cause seizures in those with pre-existing conditions. Wormwood may also decrease the effectiveness of common anti-seizure medications [xv].
Heart Disease: Taking this herb with the heart disease medication, such as warfarin may cause higher risk of intestinal bleeding [xvi].
Kidney Disease: Wormwood may increase risk of kidney failure in those with kidney disease
Allergies: Those allergic to members of the Asteraceae family, such as ragweed and marigolds, may also react to wormwood [xvii].
Lastly, wormwood should not be taken regularly for over 4 weeks. This duration is considered a long term dose; the long-term safety and side effects are unknown.
Very high doses of wormwood may result in digestive upset, kidney failure, nausea, vomiting, and seizures [xviii]. However, it is unlikely these side effects will occur in small doses, such as those found in tea for example [xix]. It is advisable to only use forms and dosages recommended to you by a qualified practitioner or herbal specialist.
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