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Botanical Description & Habitat

Artemisia absinthium


Common names

Native to Europe, but found throughout the world. It grows along roadsides and in waste places.

Has a woody rootstock which produces numerous bushy stems covered with white hairs. The stem grows from two to four feet high. The leaves are gray-green and alternate, with long, obtuse lobes. The flowers are green-yellow and appear from July to October.

Medicinal parts
Leaves, dried
flowering tops, dried, collected just after flowering

Historical Properties & Uses

Wormwood has acquired a bad name in many circles because its has an essential oil (0.25-1.32%) containing from 3 to 12% alpha- and beta-thujone.

Wormwood earned its bad reputation during the last century when it was used as the principle flavoring agent in a 136-proof drink called absinthe. Many cases of toxicity, psychological stupor, hallucinogenic spells, bizarre behavior and other psychotic symptoms, many of which are famous (such as Van Gogh cutting his ear off), were observed in users. The reputation of the drink was generalized to the herb, even though the herb had never caused any form of toxicity in the previous hundreds of years. The drink was quickly banned in country after country. France, the heaviest user, was the last to ban the drink in 1915.

In spite of its negative reputation, wormwood has continued to be used to treat dyspepsia or indigestion in one form or another. In Germany, Sweden, and other European countries, wormwood herb still is often found in medicinal preparations for stomach problems. In the United States, overeaction to the absinthe problem has resulted in the herb's practically being banned. The U.S. position would be probably just as valid as the European, if no research were available. But research is available, and it consistently demonstrates excellent therapeutic results, with no toxicity or side effects.

Generally, the effect of wormwood is the stimulation of gastric secretion so as to increase the digestion of protein and fat in the stomach, and the stimulation of the flow of bile from the gallbladder (cholagogue), and from the liver to the gallbladder (choleretic).

This herb has approval status by the German Commission E for loss of appetite (see appetite disorders), dyspepsia and biliary dyskinesia.


Blumenthal, M (Ed.): The Complete German Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. American Botanical Council. Austin, TX. 1998.

Method of Action

Wormwood Has Gastric Stimulant, Cholagogue And Choleretic Action
The effect of wormwood on the digestive systems of animals and man was studied in great detail during a series of German studies several years ago.

Wormwood had been used as a bitter for hundreds of years, but not until the late eighteen hundreds was the effect experimentally observed, and not until 60 years later or so was the effect studied intensively. Now it is known the herb stimulates gastric secretion in man, thereby contributing to the digestion of protein and fat. In addition it stimulates the flow of bile from liver to gallbladder (choleretic) and stimulates the flow bile from the gallbladder to intestine (cholagogue).

In cholagogue activity wormwood ranks among the top three herbs, raising the secretion of bile by over 40%. Furthermore, it is one the few plants, whose aqueous extract is as powerful a choleretic as the alcohol extract. The active principles appear to be located in the essential oil, possible absinthin and anabsinthin.

Drug Interactions & Precautions

There is presently insufficient data on this subject.

Safety Factors & Toxicity

The supposed toxicity of wormwood is due to the presence of minute amounts of thujone compounds in the oil. Injection of thujone at concentrations of 40 mg/kg or more produces convulsions in rats, and causes fatalities at a level equal to 120 mg/kg. In contrast, injections of 42 mg/kg of citric acid is the LD50 in mice. Supposedly, smaller amounts of thujone are required for lethal toxicity in man than are required in the rat, but this thesis has little or no experimental support.

Recently, the theory has been offered isomers of thujone compete for the same receptor sites in the brain as THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) from marijuana.

What relationship this theory has to wormwood, if any, is not clear, but only one of the several isomers and derivatives of thujone present in wormwood has been shown to have antinociceptive (analgesic) properties similar to those of THC. This particular chemical would exist in wormwood in miniscule amounts. Wormwood, of course, is generally regarded as unsafe by the F.D.A. Research must be carried out with whole plant material, water and alcoholic extracts, before the question of toxicity can be answered.

Prior to that, the toxicity of the alcoholic drink absinthe must be weighed against the common European use of the herb appearing to take place in the absence of adverse effects.

This herb has approval status by the German Commission E.


Blumenthal, M (Ed.): The Complete German Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. American Botanical Council. Austin, TX. 1998.

Preparation & Administration

Three times a day
Do not use during pregnancy

Dried leaf and flowering top
1-2 grams

made from 1/2 tsp of dried herb

Wormwood herb, for tea, 1 teaspoon to a glass of boiling water, leave to infuse for 10 minutes. (R.F.Weiss MD)

Fluid extract
1:1 in 25% alcohol: 1-2 ml

Wormwood tincture. 10-20-30 drops three times daily in water. (R.F.Weiss MD)

This herb has approval status by the German Commission E.

Recommended daily dosages in Germany are as follows:

2 - 3 g of the herb as a water infusion.


Blumenthal, M (Ed.): The Complete German Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. American Botanical Council. Austin, TX. 1998.

Note: This Herbal Preparation information is a summary of data from books and articles by various authors. It is not intended to replace the advice or attention of health care professionals.


Am Hospital Formulary Service. Am Soc of Hosp Pharm. Wash, D.C.

Blumenthal, M (Ed.): The Complete German Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. American Botanical Council. Austin, TX. 1998.

Boehm, K. Untersuchungen ueber choleretische wirkungen einiger arzneipflanzen. Arzneimittel-forschung, 9, 376. 1959.

Bressler, R., M.D. Bogdonoff & G.J. Subak-Sharpe. 1981. The Physicians Drug Manual. Doubleday & Co, Inc. Garden City, NY. 1213 pp.

Committee on Pharmocopaeia of the Am Institute of Homeopathy, The Homeopathic Pharmacopaeia of the United States. 8th ed., Vol 1. Otis Clapp and Son, Agents, Boston, l981.

Del Castillo, J., M. Anderson & G.M. Rubottom: Marijuana, absinthe and the central nervous system. Nature, 253, 365, 1975.

Glatzel, H. Treatment of dyspetic disorders with spice extracts. Hippokrates, 40(23), 916-919, 1969.

Glatzel, H. & K. Hackerberg. Roentgenological studies of the effect of bitters on digestive organs. Planta Medica, 1593), 223-232, 1967.

Glatzel, H. Therapie der dyspepsie mit gewuerzextrakten. Deutsche Apotheker-zeitung, 110(1), 5-6, 1970.

Goodman, L.S. & A. Gilman. 1975. Pharm Basis of Thera. MacMillan, NY.

Hansten, P.D. 1979. Drug Interactions, 4th ed. Lea & Febiger, Phila.

Kastrup, E.K., ed. 1981. Drug Facts and Comparisons, 1982 edition. Facts and Comparisions Division, J.P. Lippincott Co, Phila(St. Louis).

Lewis, Walter H. & Elvin-Lewis, Memory P.F. Medical Botany: Plants Affecting Man's Health, John Wiley and Sons. New York, l977.

List, P. & L. Hoerhammer. 1969-1976. Hagers Hanbuch der Pharmazeutischen Praxis, vols. 2-5. Springer-Verlag, Berlin.

Maiwald, L. Pflanzliche cholagoga. Zhurnal Allgemein Medizin, 59, 1304-1308, 1983.

Martin, E.W. 1978. Drug Interactions Index, 1978/79. J.B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia.

Mowrey, Daniel B., Ph.D. Exper. Psych., Brigham Young University. Director of Nebo Institute of Herbal Sciences. Director of Behavior Change Agent Training Institute. Director of Research, Nova Corp.

Rice, K.C. & R.S. Wilson. (-)-isothujone, a small nonnitrogenous molecule with antinociceptive activity in mice. Journal Of Medicinal Chemistry. 19(8), 1054-1057. 1976.

Sampson, W.L. & L. Fernandez. J Of Pharm And Exper Thera, 65, 275-280, 1939.

Scientific Committee, British Herbal Pharmocopaeia, British Herbal Med Assoc, Lane House, Cowling, Na Keighley, West Yorks, Bd Bd220lx, l983.


Artemisia absinthium

? Southwest School of Botanical Medicine


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