Artemisia absinthium or Common Wormwood is an aromatic medicinal plant with bitter taste. It is distributed in Europe, northern Africa, parts of Asia, and North and South America. This medicinal plant has been used for thousands of years as a medicine worldwide.
The fresh or dried upper shoots and leaves, the fresh or dried basal leaves, or a mixture of the aerial plant parts from plant are collected during flowering season and used for therapeutic purpose. Wormwood is indicated mainly in digestive weakness, low appetite, debility, nervous disorders and intestinal parasites.
It is very important to mention here that though Wormwood is used since ancient times for medicinal purpose but it may produce many side-effects or adverse reactions if not used properly in medicinal doses. Moreover, this herb is not suitable for long term use. There are certain conditions in which Wormwood should not be used. For example, it is given to women for menstrual disorders but it reduces chances of implantation/conception and hence a woman who is trying for baby should avoid its long term use.
Wormwood reaches 30 to 120 cm in height. It has woody, hardy rosette and a high branch bearing stem. The stem is usually erect and leafy. The plant has distinct silver-green leaves with fine silk hairs and yellow-green flowers.
Leaves: Leaves are alternate, long-petioled. They are silky pubescent on both sides. The lower leaves are abrupt pinnate and the upper ones simple. The leaf tips are lanceolate to linear-lanceolate, obtuse to acuminate and 2 to 3 mm wide.
Flower: Flower heads are short stemmed and hang in a many-flowered panicle. The capitula are small, globular, inclined and nearly as long as their 3 to 4 mm width. The bracts are gray, silky-pubescent witii a rounded tip. The outer bracts are linear-oblong and pubescent, while the inner ones are ovate, obtuse, broad and have a transparent, membranous margin. The receptacle is rough haired. The flowers are yellow and fertile. The disc florets are androgynous and the ray florets are female with an extending style stem.
- Native: native to temperate regions of Eurasia and Northern Africa
- Plant type / Growth Habit: herb / Subshrub
- Duration: Perennial
- Distribution: Europe, Asia and northern Africa.
- Habitat: Naturally on uncultivated, arid ground, on rocky slopes and wastelands; cultivated in dry soil.
Part(s) used for medicinal purpose:
- Whole fresh plant harvested during flowering season
- Dried aerial parts
Vernacular names / Synonyms
- Scientific name: Artemisia absinthium L.
- English: Bitter wormwood, Wormseed, Absinth Sagewort, Absinth Wormwood, Absinthium, Common Sagewort, Assenzio, Wermutkraut, Green Ginger, Absinthe
- German: Magenkraut, Wermutkraut
- French: Absinthe, Armoise amère
- Polish: Ziele piolunu
- Romanian: Iarbă de pelin
All plants are scientifically classified into main 7 levels. These levels are Kingdom, Division, Class, Order, Family, Genus and Species. A genus comprise of many species and botanical name consists of Genus (uppercase) followed by Species (lowercase). Genus consists of many species which are closely related and have lots of similarities. Species is the lowest level and represents the group of same plant.
The botanical name of Common Wormwood is Artemisia absinthium. It belongs to plant family Asteraceae, Sunflower family. Below is given taxonomical classification of plant.
- Kingdom: Plantae (comprising all living or extinct plants)
- Subkingdom: Tracheobionta (have lignified tissues or xylem for conducting water and minerals)
- Superdivision: Spermatophyta (produce seeds)
- Class: Magnoliopsida (flowering plant producing an embryo with paired cotyledons)
- Subclass: Asteridae
- Order: Asterales
- Family: Asteraceae ⁄ Compositae – Aster family
- Genus: Artemisia L. – sagebrush
- Species: Artemisia absinthium L. – absinthium
Artemisia absinthium L. var. insipida Stechmann
Other Closely related plants: Roman wormwood (Artemisia pontica), Artemisia judaica, Sea Wormwood (Artemisia maritima) and Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus), Southernwood (Artemisia abrotanum)
Constituents of Artemisia absinthium
Wormwood contains at least 0.3% volatile oil and a bitter principle of the sesquiterpene lactone types absinthin, anabsinthin, artabsin, anabsin.
Volatile oil: With a high level (varies a great deal among different strains) of (+)-thujone, cis-epoxy ocimene. transsabinyl acetate or chrysanthenyl acetate Sesquiterpene bitter principles: including absinthine, anabsinthine, artabsine and matricine.
Important Medicinal Properties
Artemisia absinthium is rich in medicinal properties. The understanding of these properties will help us to better utilize this herb. These also indicate the conditions in which we should avoid it.
Below is given medicinal properties along with the meaning.
- Abortifacient: Induces abortion.
- Anthelmintic: Antiparasitic, expel parasitic worms (helminths) and other internal parasites from the body.
- Antianxiety: tending to prevent or relieve anxiety.
- Antibacterial: Active against bacteria.
- Appetizer: Improves appetite.
- Cholagogic: Inducing a flow of bile.
- Digestive: Digestant.
- Diuretic: Promoting excretion of urine/agent that increases the amount of urine excreted.
- Emmenagogue: Stimulates or increases menstrual flow.
- Hallucinogenic: Causing hallucinations or profound distortions in a person’s perceptions of reality.
- Sedative: Promoting calm or inducing sleep.
- Wound healing: Hasten healing of wounds.
Medicinal Uses of Artemisia absinthium or Common Wormwood
Wormwood is used in Europe since Roman times. It is used as a folk medicine to promote appetite and digestion. As wormwood stimulates secretion of bile and gastric juice, it helps in indigestion. It also stimulates the gustatory nerves in the mouth and improves appetite.
- Oral intake of Wormwood in form of infusion or decoction, gives relief in following conditions:
- Crohn’s Disease
- Dyspeptic complaints
- Gastric insufficiency
- Intermittent fever
- Intestinal atonia
- Irregular menstruation
- Liver and gallbladder complaints
- Loss of appetite
- Worm infestation
Wormwood is taken in the form of infusion and decoction. The dried – pulverized herb is used for this purpose. Along with powdered herb, the extracts and tinctures in liquid or solid forms are also available which are used for oral administration. Wormwood is often combined with other medicinal herbs according to the ailment to be treated.
Externally, the drug is applied for poorly healing wounds, ulcers, skin blotches and insect bites.
In Homeopathy, Remedy Absinthium is available in first to sixth potency.
It is indicated in following conditions:
- Cerebral irritation
- Chorea (neurological disorder characterized by jerky involuntary movements affecting especially the shoulders, hips, and face)
- Delirium with hallucinations and Loss of consciousness
- Epileptic form seizure
- Excitement and sleeplessness in children
- Hysterical and infantile spasms
- Nervous excitement and sleeplessness
- Nervous tremors precede attacks
- Poisoning by mushrooms
- Sudden and severe giddiness
The leaves were dried and stored with garments and furs to protect them from moths.
It is used as a natural insect repellant.
Wormwood is also used as an ingredient in the liquor Absinthe. In the beginning of the 19th century many countries banned the use of absinthe. Since 1988 the European Union permits a maximum thujone level of 5 mg/kg in alcoholic beverages with less than 25% volume of alcohol, 10 mg/kg in alcoholic beverages with more than 25% volume of alcohol, and 35 mg/kg in alcohol labelled as bitters.
Dosage of Artemisia absinthium
In one day, 3 to 5 g of the herb can be taken as aqueous extract. Internal dose of the infusion is 1 cup freshly prepared tea taken 30 minutes before each meal.
- How to brew the infusion/tea: To prepare an infusion, pour 150 ml boiling water over 1/2 teaspoonful of the drug, strain after 10 minutes.
- How to make a decoction: A decoction is prepared by adding 1 handful of drug to 1 liter of boiling water for 5 minutes.
- The mother tincture can be taken in dosage of 10 to 30 drops in sufficient water taken 3 times daily.
- The liquid extract dosage is 1 to 2 ml taken 3 times daily.
- Storage: Store Wormwood in sealed containers and away from light.
Contraindications, Interactions, Side-effects and Warnings Artemisia absinthium
Wormwood contains Thujone.
- Thujone, reduces GABAA receptor activity, thereby decreasing serotonergic responses. Because thujone reduces GABAA receptor activity, neuronfiring inhibition is reduced, allowing neurons to fire more frequently. This causes convulsions.
- Thujone is a toxic substance, and can be lethal as high doses. It is toxic for liver, kidney and brain.
- Thujone in excess dose, can lead to vomiting, stomach and intestinal cramps, headache, severe diarrhea, retention of urine or dazed feelings, dizziness and disturbances. Convulsions resembling epilepsy have been reported after the ingestion of isolated thujone.
- Larger dose of Thujone has neurotoxic effect leading to dose-dependent tonic-clonic seizures.
Herb is not suitable for long term use.
The use of volatile oils and alcoholic extracts from wormwood is ban in many countries because of possible injuries to health.
Over dosage of alcoholic preparations or the use of the essential oil may cause CNS disturbances which can lead to convulsions and ultimately to unconsciousness and death.
Concentrated infusion of wormwood can cause dizziness, atony, tremor of the legs, lasting uresiaesthesia and burning in the glans penis in males.
It has anti-implantation, narcotic effect in females.
- The thujone component may lower the seizure threshold. Drugs that are used to control seizures may have decreased effectiveness.
- Caution must be exercised when administering this herb to patients that have a predisposition to seizures.
- Wormwood preparations should not be administered in conjunction with drugs that are known to lower the seizure threshold.
Use in pregnancy and lactation:
- It is contraindication in pregnancy and lactation due to the uterus stimulating effects of thujone.
- It is used as an abortifacient.