Wormwood is a medicinal plant that has a long history of use, mostly as a flavouring for absinthe. It’s native to Europe, Asia, and North Africa and has over 2,000 years of recorded use, with mentions in the bible and other historical texts.
There hasn’t been a great deal of human studies on the benefits of wormwood, but we do have thousands of years of anecdotal evidence to review, as well as a number of lab studies and animal studies examining its constituent compounds and its effects when consumed in medicinal doses.
Is Wormwood Bad For You?
Some believe wormwood is a hallucinogenic, and many point to this plant as being the reason absinthe was known to send users into a delirious state. It’s true that there is a potentially hallucinogenic compound in wormwood, but to experience any of those effects, you’d need to consume large quantities of it.
This is as true of pure wormwood as it is of extracts and infusions used in absinthe. Simply put: if you were to consume enough absinthe to experience these effects, you’d likely drop dead of alcohol poisoning long before you started seeing pink elephants. The stories of mad, delirious absinthe binges are likely the result of alcohol intoxication, due to the fact that absinthe can be as high as 90% ABV.
There have been multiple reported cases of people dying from consuming too much absinthe, but all of these were attributed to the alcohol content of the drink. There’s only one recorded incident of someone dying from wormwood alone, and they consumed large quantities of a distilled wormwood extract, apparently believing it to be absinthe.
There have also been some suggestions that thujone, the chemical in wormwood said to be responsible for these so-called hallucinogenic effects, has an effect on the body comparable to THC, the psychoactive component in cannabis. But while it can cause some mild (very mild) sedation and relaxation, it’s nothing like THC.
Is Wormwood Good For You?
Wormwood has a long history of use as an alternative medicine, with many cultures considering its intensely bitter properties to have purging effects. In the last few decades, wormwood has been at the centre of some very interesting research on these effects, and while many of them have drawn blanks, wormwood can help with some things, including:
It Can Kill Bad Bacteria in the Gut
Several studies have shown that wormwood extracts can help kill bad bacteria in the gut, including bacteria responsible for gas, bloating, and other digestive issues. This is one of the oldest uses of wormwood, and it’s also the one that has the most research behind it. This is why you’ll find wormwood extracts in many digestive bitters, alongside bitter herbs like gentian root.
These bacteria-killing properties may also provide other benefits, and wormwood has also shown promise as a natural insect repellant. (1)
It Can Stimulate the Appetite
A handful of human studies have shown wormwood to have some appetite-stimulating properties, which is something backed by its bitterness. Bitter foods produce a stimulating reaction that could increase hunger levels when taken 20 to 30 minutes before a meal.
The digestive benefits mentioned above may also come into play here, as gas and bloating can kill your hunger, and if those problems are eradicated, then that hunger may return.
It Could Help with Crohn’s Disease
Crohn’s Disease is a debilitating, embarrassing, and painful condition that can infiltrate and wreak havoc on every aspect of a sufferer’s life. There is no cure, but it can be managed with careful dietary choices. Many sufferers get relief from drinking herbal teas like Sideritis scardica, and some also suggest that a tea made from wormwood can provide the same relief, reducing occasions of diarrhoea and intestinal pain.
It Could Help Prevent Chronic Disease
Wormwood cannot cure cancer or heart disease—let’s make that clear right off the bat. The internet is awash with claims that certain plants and herbs can cure this disease, and we don’t want to help spread that reckless misinformation. However, because wormwood contains antioxidants and possesses anti-inflammatory effects, it could help decrease an individual’s chances of getting certain forms of cancer.
Cancer is often seen as a bad luck disease, something you either get or you don’t, and something you can’t control beyond limiting your consumption of cigarettes and alcohol. But there have been multiple links between a balanced diet rich in antioxidants and reduced rates of cancer
This is true for most herbal teas—the more, the better. A 2012 study also found that wormwood could inhibit breast cancer cells in the lab. However, this is true for many things (you’d be surprised how many substances can kill or inhibit the growth of cancer cells under controlled laboratory conditions) and it’s unlikely it will have the same effects in the body
Still, while it can’t cure or prevent anything in itself, it could play a small role in a healthy diet, which in turn could reduce your chances of getting many forms of cancer as well as other chronic diseases.
Other Benefits of Wormwood
Some claim that wormwood can help you relax, and while there isn't a great deal of research backing this claim, some people swear by it. It also contains a number of unique antioxidant compounds, as well as small amounts of essential vitamins and minerals.
How to Take Wormwood
Just in case it’s not obvious, you should avoid taking wormwood in the form of absinthe. Not only do many modern absinthe drinks not contain wormwood, but any benefits the plant would provide will be offset by the alcohol.
You can drink wormwood in tea form, but you may want to add a dollop of honey or a couple spoons of sugar to sweeten it, as it’s a very bitter plant. Wormwood is in the same family of plant as tarragon, but it’s not quite as rich and naturally sweet. It’s not as stomach-churning as valerian root either.
You could also buy capsules of the dried plant. Whatever you do and however you choose to consume it, make sure you follow dosing guidelines. We’d also recommend staying clear of essential oils. As mentioned above, the only recorded case of someone dying from wormwood resulted from an essential oil extraction. These oils can be okay when used in very small and controlled doses, but you’re running a risk that you simply won’t get with the dried plant material.