The History of Wormwood
Tormwood is a large, diverse genus of plants with about 180 species belonging to the daisy family (Asteraceae). It comprises hardy herbs and sub-shrubs known for their volatile oils which grow in temperate climates of the Northern Hemisphere, usually in dry or semi-dry habitats. The fern-like leaves of many species are covered with white hairs3.
Wormwood (Apsinthos in the Greek text) is the "name of the star" in the Book of Revelation (8:11) (kai to onoma tou asteros legetai ho Apsinthos) that John the Evangelist envisions being cast by the angel and falling into the waters, making them undrinkable and bitter (this herb is extremely bitter to taste). Outside the Book of Revelation, there are up to eight further references in the Bible which indicate that Wormwood was a common herb in this era and it’s awful taste was known, as a drinkable preparation applied for specific reasons3.
In Russian culture, the Artemisia species are commonly used in medicine. In this country the bitter taste is associated with medicinal effects and has caused Wormwood to be seen as a symbol for a "bitter truth" that must be accepted by a deluded (often self-deluded) person. This symbol has acquired a particular poignancy in modern Russian poetry, which often deals with the loss of illusory beliefs in various ideologies3.
MEDICAL USES OF WORMWOOD
Wormwood and its derivatives are a potent new class of antimalarials, originating from Artemisia annua. The clinical efficacy of these drugs is characterised by an almost immediate onset and rapid reduction of the malarial parasites in the blood. Wormwood is effectively used in this area as well as where multi-drug-resistance is rampant. Wormwood can be combined with other antimalarials (e.g. mefloquine) and is highly recommended by many researchers and physicians1.
Several hundred thousands of patients have been treated with Wormwood derivatives, particularly in China, Vietnam, and Thailand, and so far, no major side effects have been reported.
No significant differences have been found in the efficacy and/or toxicity profiles among the different compounds which were effective against all human malaria. The drugs showed rapid clinical improvement, good tolerability, and clearance of parasites from the blood within 2 days1.
Wormwood and its derivatives should be administered preferably in combination with other effective antimalarial drugs in order to reduce or slow the development of resistance. At present, the "drug of choice" for combined therapy is mefloquine1.
All Wormwood compounds induce a very rapid reduction of parasite numbers in the blood, starting almost immediately after administration. Wormwood and its derivatives kill all stages of the malaria parasite (including "young rings") by interacting with red blood cells to produce free radicals that damage the malaria parasites and membranes of the parasites. It is worth mentioning that no clinically relevant Wormwood-resistant human malaria has been reported yet1. Wormwood and its derivatives are safe and well-tolerated anti-malarial drugs1.
Wormwood selectively kills tumour cells
Due to their rapid rate of division, most cancer cells have high rates of iron intake. In general, the aggressiveness of a tumour is correlated with higher concentration of iron transporters on the cell surface. For example, breast cancer cells have 5–15 times of iron transporters on their cell surface than normal breast cells and these iron transporters are expressed on the cell surface of invasive breast carcinoma cells but not on benign breast tumour cells. This means that breast cancer cells do take up more iron than normal breast cells. High cell surface concentrations of iron receptors are also found in other cancer cells such as leukaemia cells. Studies have shown that wormwood, in the presence of iron, induces cell death to some cancer cells and is lethal towards human leukaemia and breast cancer cells. Wormwood is also selectively toxic to cancer cells because of their high iron content4.
Since Wormwood can effectively kill cancer cells, it may also be toxic to pre-cancerous cells. In a recent study, researchers investigated whether daily oral intake of Wormwood could prevent the development of cancer rats. In a study where half the rats were fed a cancer- inducing agent and the other half of the rats were also given Wormwood, the rats that were given Wormwood had a better prognosis compared to the rats that were not fed Wormwood4.
As previous studies mentioned earlier, trials have found that wormwood has a low toxicity and minimal side effects, which compares favourably to most medical chemotherapeutic drugs.
Contraindications of Wormwood
Wormwood is generally regarded as a safe herb however it should be avoided during pregnancy unless professionally prescribed. Although the adverse effect profile and tolerability of this herb are excellent, long-term safety studies are lacking. Check with your health care practitioner before taking this herb long term.
Higher dosages may be contra-indicated in some individuals suffering heart or blood conditions. Again, please speak to your practitioner about the suitability of this herb.
Drug interactions with Wormwood
Although Wormwood, like any herbal medicine, can conflict with medications, no significant herb/drug interactions with Wormwood have been reported. In fact, studies have confirmed that Wormwood may beneficially interact with other anti-malarial drugs. As a precaution however, it is advised that before using this herb or any other herbal preparation, you consult a health care professional.
Therapeutic/safe dosages of Wormwood
The usual dosage of crude, dried Wormwood root (used as an infusion) is 1,000 - 2,000 mg per day. Please note: this herb is very bitter and may be unpleasant to drink.
The usual dosage of 1:2 fluid extract of Wormwood is 4 ml per day.
The usual dosage of powdered Wormwood in capsules/tablets is 1,000 – 2,000 mg per day.
The usual therapeutic dosage of pure Artemisinin (the active constituent of Wormwood) is 100 – 400 mg per day.
Other herbs that can be used with Wormwood
As with many herbal preparations, herbs are often combined to make a formula. This formula usually contains herbs with a similar action which improves the effectiveness over a single herbal preparation. Herbs that are commonly used with Wormwood for the treatment of cancer include:
- Green tea. This commonly used drink is probably one of the most potent herbs known for the treatment of a wide variety of cancers. It is essential that Green Tea be considered for any cancer treatment or prevention program.
- Turmeric. Used for arthritis and other inflammatory conditions, turmeric is also a potent anti-carcinogenic herb. It reduces an inflammatory enzyme (COX-2) that not only drives conditions such as arthritis, it also accelerates cancer progression.
- Panax Ginseng. Panax or Korean Ginseng is one of the great herbal adaptogens, meaning it helps balance the bodies physiology into health. Panax Ginseng is used for numerous conditions including fatigue states, low libido, immune system problems and other chronic illnesses. Recent research reveals that it is also an excellent herb for the prevention and treatment of certain cancers.
Wormwood is a highly-prized herb and has been used for thousands of years for the treatment of infections and more recently cancer. Clinical trials now support these uses and there is weighty scientific data that supports the medicinal uses of this herb. While Wormwood is generally regarded as safe, interactions between this herb and medical drugs are possible. If you are on medication of any kind, please check with your health care professional before taking any herbs.
1. Balint, G.A., Artemisinin and its derivatives: an important new class of antimalarial agents. Pharmacology & Therapeutics, 2001. 90(2-3): p. 261.
2. Sriram D, R.V., Chandrasekhara KV, Yogeeswari P., Progress in the research of artemisinin and its analogues as antimalarials: an update. Nat Prod Res, 2004. 18(6): p. 503-27.
3. Wikipedia, E., 2001.
4. Lai, H. and N.P. Singh, Oral artemisinin prevents and delays the development of 7,12-dimethylbenz[a]anthracene (DMBA)-induced breast cancer in the rat. Cancer Letters, 2006. 231(1): p. 43.
The information contained on this website is for educational purposes only. It is not provided to diagnose, prescribe or treat any condition of the body. The information on this website should not be used as a substitute for medical counselling with a health professional.