Wormwood has a colorful history of use as a medicinal herb, natural insect repellant, and a key ingredient in the notorious alcoholic drink known as absinthe.
It's widely considered one of the best herbs to tackle parasites and contains bitter compounds that stimulate digestion. However, wormwood is very potent and comes with several precautions that you should know about before trying it.
With that in mind, here's more about the benefits of wormwood herb and how to use it safely.
What is Wormwood?
Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) is a plant that belongs to the daisy family, like many other herbs. It's closely related to mugwort, which is another member of the Artemisia genus often used to stimulate lucid dreams.
Wormwood plants are native to regions in Europe, Asia, and North Africa but have become widely naturalized in North America. They grow 1-3 feet tall and have white- or silver-green stems covered by tiny hairs.
All parts of the wormwood plant have seen use in traditional medicine practices, but usually it's the leaves and sometimes the flowers that are used to make teas, tinctures, etc.
There are many powerful compounds in wormwood, but one of the most well-known is thujone. In high amounts, thujone is toxic and can cause numerous side effects.
When wormwood is distilled into alcohol, thujone becomes highly concentrated. This is one of the reasons absinthe, in which wormwood is a key ingredient, caused many negative side effects in those who consumed it and ended up being banned in certain countries. (1)
Interestingly, thujone was once thought to be a hallucinogen because hallucinations were associated with overconsumption of absinthe. However, it was discovered that other compounds were responsible.
As an important note, dried wormwood leaves contain little to no thujone and extracts are commonly standardized to be thujone-free. That's why this herb can still be used safely when taken in the right amount.
Top Benefits of Wormwood Herb
One of the most common uses for wormwood is to get rid of intestinal parasites. That's why you'll often see it at the top of the list of best herbs to use for a parasite cleanse.
It isn't clear just how many types of parasites wormwood combats, but studies indicate activity against worms, particularly pinworms, tapeworms, and roundworms. One study found that it induced tapeworm paralysis and death, while another documented its use for deworming farm animals in Nordic countries. (2)(3)
If you want to try using it for a parasite cleanse, wormwood is often combined with black walnut (thought to target larvae) and cloves (thought to target parasite eggs).
You can try them together in this Intestinal Tract Defense Extract, but be sure to pay attention to the proper amount to take and for how long.
Aids Digestion and Appetite
Another one of the traditional benefits of wormwood herb is its ability to support and stimulate digestion. Like other bitter herbs, it contains compounds that stimulate bile production and other digestive juices- all important for healthy and effective digestion.
Wormwood has also specifically been used as a carminative herb, which means it helps relieve gas, and as a stimulant for a healthy appetite.
More recently, wormwood was found to be a potential treatment for small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). It and several other herbs were determined to be "at least as effective as rifaximin," which is a common antibiotic used for SIBO. (4)
In addition, one small study discovered that an herbal formula containing wormwood was highly effective at relieving the symptoms of Crohn's disease, even leading to remission in several cases. (5)
Antimicrobial and Antifungal Properties
Multiple lab studies have shown that wormwood essential oil possesses powerful antimicrobial properties.
In one, the essential oil showed activity against several different bacterial strains, including E. coli and Salmonella. Since both of these bacteria can cause digestive infections, this is further confirmation of wormwood's many digestive benefits. (6)
Because it's so potent, be sure to dilute wormwood essential oil before applying if you decide to try it.
Another one of the modern uses for wormwood is to combat malaria.
Malaria is a disease caused by a parasite. It gets transmitted to humans when they are bitten by an infected mosquito and causes symptoms like chills, fever, and sweating. Though rare in the U.S., malaria is still a huge problem in developing nations and can be fatal.
An extract from wormwood called artemisinin has become one of the best treatments for uncomplicated falciparum malaria. It's used to make artemisinin-based combination treatments (ACTs), which are considered a "first-line treatment" in malaria endemic countries. (7)
May Combat Pain and Inflammation
Some newer research indicates that there may be benefits of wormwood herb for pain and swelling.
Taking the extract daily helped some patients with their pain levels associated with osteoarthritis. Another study found that the herb contains antioxidants that may help with neuropathic pain. (8)(9)
There's also some evidence that wormwood may specifically help with joint pain associated with rheumatoid arthritis. (10)
Because wormwood isn't necessarily good for long-term use unless you work with a health professional, it can also be tried topically as an oil or ointment for general aches and pains.
How to Use Wormwood
Wormwood is most often used to make a tea or taken as a tincture.
To make a tea that helps cleanse your body, particularly your digestive tract, simply steep about half a teaspoon of dried wormwood in hot water for 5-10 minutes. Be aware that your tea will get bitter very quickly, so start with a small amount of the herb and a short steeping time.
If you want to improve the flavor of wormwood tea, try adding an herb like peppermint.
When using the tincture, take it in small doses for a short period of time (usually not over 4-5 weeks).
There are also uses for wormwood in the garden if you happen to be a gardener. Simply planting it (be sure you get true Artemisia absinthium) can help to repel pests that would otherwise eat holes in your plants. You can even make a tea from the leaves and spray it around garden plants or the outside of your home.
There are more precautions associated with wormwood than most other herbs.
Tea and tinctures made from wormwood do not typically contain toxic amounts of thujone and often contain none at all. However, wormwood is still recommended to be taken in low amounts and for a short period of time (less than 5 weeks).
If possible, work with a qualified herbalist or naturopath to determine the best and safest way to use wormwood.
Also note that wormwood should not be used when you are pregnant or breastfeeding and is not recommended for children. It also may be contraindicated if you have a medical condition, like epilepsy or kidney problems, or take certain medications, particularly anticonvulsants.
High doses of wormwood may cause nausea, vomiting, or trigger seizures, but doses within the normal range are usually well-tolerated.
The Cleansing Benefits of Wormwood Herb
Though it comes with several precautions, there's no need to be scared of using wormwood, and it can be very helpful in certain situations. It would be hard to find a more powerful herb for dealing with parasites, and wormwood can also be an excellent bitter tonic for digestion.
If you find yourself in need of what wormwood has to offer, simply take this herb with the respect it deserves and consult with an herbalist as needed.
Disclaimer: This post is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute medical advice and should not be substituted for medical advice. Please consult your health care provider, herbalist, midwife, or naturopathic physician before taking herbs, supplements, etc. Here's the link to our full disclaimer.