Artemisia absinthium, or common wormwood, is most famous as an ingredient of the alcoholic beverage absinthe. Wormwood is also found in vermouth, but at lower levels. Besides its common function as a flavoring, wormwood also has a long history of medicinal use. A reputed ability to kill intestinal worms gave rise to the herb’s name. Other traditional uses include treating liver problems, joint pain, digestive discomfort, loss of appetite, insomnia, epilepsy, and menstrual problems. The leaves and flowers, and the essential oil extracted from them, are the parts used medicinally.

Common wormwood is a relative of sweet wormwood ( Artemisia annua), a source of the malaria drug artemisinin (also called artemesin).

Wormwood is sometimes recommended today for the treatment of digestive conditions such as intestinal parasites, dyspepsia, esophageal reflux, and irritable bowel syndrome. However, there is no meaningful evidence to indicate that it is effective for any of these conditions. Onlydouble-blind, placebo-controlled studies can show a treatment effective, and only one has been performed using wormwood. (For information on why such studies are essential, seeWhy Does This Database Rely on Double-blind Studies?)

This 10 week study conducted in Germany evaluated the potential benefits of wormwood for treatment of people with Crohn’s disease, an inflammatory condition of the intestines.9 All forty people enrolled in the study had achieved good control of their symptoms through use of steroids and other medications. Half were given an herbal blend containing wormwood (500 mg three time daily) while the other half were given an identical-appearing placebo. Both researchers and study participants were kept in the dark regarding who was receiving real treatment and who was not. Beginning at week 2, researchers began a gradual tapering down of the steroid dosage used by participants. Over subsequent weeks, most of those given placebo showed the expected worsening of symptoms that the reduction of drug dosage would be expected to cause. In contrast, most of those receiving wormwood showed a gradual improvement of symptoms. No serious side effects were attributed to wormwood in this study.

These are extremely promising findings. However, it must be kept in mind that a great many treatments that show promise in a single study fail to hold up in subsequent independent testing. Further research will be needed to establish wormwood as a helpful treatment for Crohn’s disease. Other proposed uses of wormwood have far weaker supporting evidence. Extremely preliminary indications hint

Other proposed uses of wormwood have far weaker supporting evidence. Extremely preliminary indications hint that wormwood essential oil (like many other essential oils) might have antifungal, antibacterial, and antiparasitic actions.1-5 Note, however, that is does not mean that wormwood oil is an antibiotic. Antibiotics are substances that can be taken internally to kill microorganisms throughout the body. Wormwood oil, rather, has shown potential antiseptic properties. Unfortunately, it is also potentially quite toxic. (See Safety Issues.)

Other weak evidence hints that an alcohol extract of wormwood might have liver-protectiveactions.6