Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium)

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Wormwood Summary

Wormwood is most famous for its central role in the European liquor known commonly as "Absinthe." The mild psychedelic liquor owes much of its psychoactivity to the thujone content of the wormwood (as well as the high alcohol content of course).

Wormwood is a deeply bitter herb and is useful for removing parasites of the gastrointestinal tract as well as cleaning out bacterial infections. It's antiviral and anticarminative, but can also be neurotoxic at high doses thanks to the thujone.

 

+ Indications

  • Anorexia
  • Dyspepsia
  • Insufficient flow of gastric juices, and enzymes.
  • Worm infestations
  • Parasitic infection
  • To stimulate appetite
  • Gastrointestinal complaints
  • Colic
  • Spasmodic conditions of the GIT
  • Cancer
  • Bacterial infection
  • Biliary dyskinesia
  • Crohn's disease
  • Fevers
  • Flatulence
  • Food intolerances
  • Fungal infection
  • Gout
  • Hypochlorhydria
  • Liver and bile insufficiencies
  • Malaria

+ Contraindications

  • Pregnancy and lactation
  • Hyperacidity
  • Do not use essential oil

Herbal Actions:

  • Bitter
  • Anthelmintic
  • Hepatoprotective
  • Carminative
  • Choleretic
  • Antispasmodic
  • Antipyretic
  • Antitumor
  • Antimicrobial
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Antioxidant
  • Nootropic
  • Febrifuge
 

What Is Wormwood Used For?

Wormwood is mainly used for treating parasitic infections, bacterial infection of the gastrointestinal tract, spasmodic conditions, and as a bitter to stimulate digestion and appetite.

 

Traditional Uses

+ Western Herbal Medicine

Artemisia absinthium has traditionally been used to treat parasitic, and bacterial infection, as well as neurodegenerative disorders, cancer, stomach aches, fevers, declining cognitive function, hepatitis, and as a cardiac stimulant, nootropic, and antispasmodic agent [1, 7]. Artemesia as a genus, including wormwood, were often used to treat conditions such as malaria, hepatitis, cancer, inflammation, and fungal infections [1, 6].

In Culpepers complete herbal, Culpepper lists wormwood seeds for expelling worms [15].

+ Traditional Chinese Medicine

In traditional Chinese medicine, this herb is referred to as yin chen and is used to treat acute biliary dysentery, cancers, and neurodegenerative diseases [7, 18].

Pinyin:

Yin Chen (Alternate names are Yin Chen Hao or Mian yin chen)

Taste:

Bitter and pungent [18]

Energy:

Cool [18]

Actions:

Clears heat, drains dampness, promotes gallbladder function, relieves jaundice [18].

Indications:

Jaundice, scanty urine, eczema, itching, abdominal distention and fullness, greasy tongue coating [18].

+ Iran

In northern parts of Iran, where Artemisia absinthium grows wild, its arial parts are traditionally used as both food and medicine [1]. It has been, and is continued to be used in the food industry to prepare aperitifs, bitters, and spirits [7], such as absinth.

 

Herb Details

Weekly Dose

Part Used

  • Aerial Parts

Family Name

  • Asteraceae

Distribution

  • Throughout North America, Europe, and Asia

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Constituents of Interest

  • Thujone
  • Myrecene
  • Quercetin

Common Names

  • Wormwood
  • Yin Chen (China)
  • Mian Yin Chen (China)
  • Yin Chen Hao (China)
  • Tethwen (India)

Quality

  • Cool

Pregnancy

  • Unknown

Taste

  • Bitter

Duration of Use

  • Long term use not recommended. Duration less than 2 weeks only.
 

Botanical Information

Wormwood is one of the many medicinal species of Artemisia, or "sage," not to be confused with Salvia, which is also a large family of sages. This particular family has a wide range of different medicinal actions from species to species. It is a member of the Asteraceae family of plants, which is the second largest of the flowering families of plants containing some 32,000 species and 1911 genera. There are about 250-500 species in the genus Artemisia, which are mainly found in Europe, Asia, and North America [1].

The herb itself can be described as a perennial herbaceous plant with a woody rhizome.

Some of the other notable members of the Artemesia genus includes:

  • Artemisia vulgaris (Mugwort)
  • Artemisia arbuscula (Sagebrush)
  • Artemisia canadensis (Canada wormwood)
  • Artemisia dracunculus (Tarragon)
 

Habitat Ecology, and Distribution

The genus Artemisia can be found over a wide range from North America, through Europe, and Asia [1, 2]. Artemisia absinthium specifically is mainly found growing wild in Northern Iran [1]. In China, it is commonly found growing in most gravel areas [18].

 

Harvesting Collection, and Preparation:

When preparing Artemisia absinthium, a study investigating the antioxidant potential of various extracts discovered that the optimal temperature for extraction using a variety of solvents was 45 degrees C, and the best solvent was methanol (75%). They recorded the highest extraction was with a 75% methanol extract at this temperature, and the lowest was a 100% water extract [1].

Some of the best wormwood is suggested to come from Jiangxi, China [18].

 

Pharmacology & Medical Research

+ Antimicrobial

The antimicrobial effects of the essential oil of Artemisia absinthium were shown to be most pronounced in gram-positive bacteria. The reason for this is suggested to be due to gram-negative bacterias hydrophilic outer membrane which blocks the mainly hydrophobic compounds found in Artemisia absinthium volatile oil from entering the cell membrane [7].

+ Anthelmintic

In vitro studies have determined Artemisia absinthium to possess anti-parasitic activity [4].

+ Cancer

Wormwood extracts have been shown to possess anti-cancer effects via cell apoptosis signaling in human breast cancer cell lines. Its actions have been found to be through multiple apoptosis pathways, which suggests a powerful synergy contained within the chemistry of this plant. [14].

+ Hepatoprotective

An aqueous extract of Artemisia absinthium was shown to protect the liver cells from chemical toxins [5].

 

Phytochemistry

+ Constituents

[1, 3, 7, 12, 13]

Flavonol-3-glycosides:

  • Quercetin
  • Isorhamnetin
  • Patuletin
  • Spinacetin derrivatives

Volatile oils: [16+]

  • Myrecene
  • trans-thujone
  • alpha-thujone
  • beta-Thujone
  • trans-sabinyl acetate
  • Sabinene
  • Myrecene
  • trans-sabinaol
  • Linalyl acetate
  • Geranyl propionate
  • 1,8-Cineol (<3.4%) data-preserve-html-node="true"
  • Borneol
 

Clinical Applications Of Wormwood:

Wormwood is a reliable bitter herb, and is useful for eliminating parasites and treating infections of the gastrointestinal tract.

 

Cautions:

Do not use during pregnancy and lactation or hyperacidity.

The essential oil of wormwood is considered highly toxic and neurotoxic and should not be used in aromatherapy. 

Use for a short time only, especially in the higher doses. The main chemical, thujone is highly toxic. It has been reported that thujone interacts with the same receptors sites associated with tetrahydrocannabinol. Prolonged use or high dosage can cause restlessness, vomiting, vertigo, tremors, renal damage, and convulsions. [16].

Prolonged consumption of the wormwood-based liquor absinthe leads to a condition known as "absinthism." This involved the development of visual and auditory hallucinations, hyperexcitability, reduction in cognitive function, and addiction [16].

 

Author

Justin Cooke, BHSc

The Sunlight Experiment

(Updated November 2018)

 

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References:

  1. Ghafoori, H., Sariri, R., & Naghavi, M. R. (2014). STudy of effect of extraction conditions on the biochemical composition and antioxidant activity of Artemisia absinthium by HPLC and TLC. Journal of Liquid Chromatography & Related Technologies, 37(11), 1558-1567.

  2. Bremer, K. (1993). Generic monograph of the Asteraceae-Anthemideae. Bull. Nat. Hist. Mus. London (Bot.), 23, 71-177.

  3. Hoffmann, B. Z.; Herrmann, K. (1982). Phenolic Species. 8. Flavonol Glycosides of Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris), Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus L.) and Absinthe (Artemisia absinthium L.). Z Lebensm Unters-Forsch. 174, 211–215.

  4. Gonzalez-Coloma, A., Bailen, M., Diaz, C. E., Fraga, B. M., Martínez-Díaz, R., Zuñiga, G. E., ... & Burillo, J. (2012). Major components of Spanish cultivated Artemisia absinthium populations: Antifeedant, antiparasitic, and antioxidant effects. Industrial Crops and Products, 37(1), 401-407.

  5. Amat, N., Upur, H., & Blažeković, B. (2010). In vivo hepatoprotective activity of the aqueous extract of Artemisia absinthium L. against chemically and immunologically induced liver injuries in mice. Journal of ethnopharmacology, 131(2), 478-484.

  6. Bora, K. S., & Sharma, A. (2011). The genus Artemisia: a comprehensive review. Pharmaceutical Biology, 49(1), 101-109.

  7. Joshi, R. K. (2013). Volatile composition and antimicrobial activity of the essential oil of Artemisia absinthium growing in Western Ghats region of North West Karnataka, India. Pharmaceutical biology, 51(7), 888-892.

  8. Caner, A., Döşkaya, M., Değirmenci, A., Can, H., Baykan, Ş., Üner, A., ... & Gürüz, Y. (2008). Comparison of the effects of Artemisia vulgaris and Artemisia absinthium growing in western Anatolia against trichinellosis (Trichinella spiralis) in rats. Experimental parasitology, 119(1), 173-179.

  9. Lee HG, Kim H, Oh WK. (2004). Tetramethoxy hydroxyflavone p-7F downregulates inflammatory mediators via the inhibition of nuclear factor kappa B. Ann N Y Acad Sci 1030:555–68.

  10. Canadanovic‐Brunet, J. M., Djilas, S. M., Cetkovic, G. S., & Tumbas, V. T. (2005). Free‐radical scavenging activity of wormwood (Artemisia absinthium L) extracts. Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, 85(2), 265-272.

  11. Wake, G., Pickering, A., Lewis, R., Wilkins, R., & Perry, E. (2000). CNS acetylcholine receptor activity in European medicinal plants traditionally used to improve failing memory. Journal of ethnopharmacology, 69(2), 105-114.

  12. Lopes-Lutz, D., Alviano, D. S., Alviano, C. S., & Kolodziejczyk, P. P. (2008). Screening of chemical composition, antimicrobial and antioxidant activities of Artemisia essential oils. Phytochemistry, 69(8), 1732-1738.

  13. Orav, A., Raal, A., Arak, E., Muurisepp, M., & Kailas, T. (2006, September). Composition of the essential oil of Artemisia absinthium L. of different geographical origin. In Proceedings-estonian Academy of Sciences Chemistry (Vol. 55, No. 3, p. 155). TRUEKITUD OU.

  14. Shafi, G., Hasan, T. N., Syed, N. A., Al-Hazzani, A. A., Alshatwi, A. A., Jyothi, A., & Munshi, A. (2012). Artemisia absinthium (AA): a novel potential complementary and alternative medicine for breast cancer. Molecular biology reports, 39(7), 7373-7379.

  15. Culpeper, N. (1995). Culpeper's complete herbal: A book of natural remedies for ancient ills. Wordsworth Editions.

  16. Battaglia, S. (2003). The Complete Guide to Aromatherapy (2nd ed.). Brisbane, Australia: The International Centre of Holistic Aromatherapy. (Pg 325)

  17. Bone, K. (2003). A clinical guide to blending liquid herbs: Herbal formulations for the individual patient. Edinburgh [u.a.: Churchill Livingstone. (Pg. 469-470).

  18. Yang, J., Huang, H., Zhu, Li-Jiang, & Chen, Y. (2013). Introduction to Chinese materia medica (3rd ed.). (Pg 217-220).