The Health Benefits of Wormwood

Common wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) is a perennial herb used in the alcoholic beverages absinthe and vermouth. The bitter-tasting plant has been used for centuries for medicinal purposes to reduce pain and swelling and to treat digestion problems, intestinal worms, and skin infections. Other species of wormwood are also used medicinally.

Wormwood can be grown from seeds or purchased as a supplement and a dried herb. Despite its possible benefits, pure untreated wormwood contains a chemical called thujone that can be toxic and cause hallucinations and seizures.

This article explains how wormwood is used as medicine, including what the current research says about its effectiveness, benefits, and risks. It also describes how to take wormwood and the possible side effects.

Wormwood and its essential oil
zetat / iStock / Getty Images

Also Known As

  • Absinthium
  • Green ginger
  • Madderwort
  • Mugwort

Wormwood Benefits

Evidence is limited regarding the benefits of wormwood for treating or preventing any health condition. Even so, there is some research illustrating wormwood’s effect on the human body, supported by smaller animal and human studies.

Before using wormwood for any health purpose, speak with your healthcare provider to understand the potential benefits and risks, and ensure that it doesn’t interfere with any medication you use or medical conditions you have.

Combats Pain and Inflammation

Artemisinin, a compound found in wormwood, is thought to have potent anti-inflammatory effects. Research suggests that it does so by tempering the action of proteins called cytokines that help instigate inflammation. By doing so, wormwood may help ease inflammatory symptoms like pain, redness, warmth, and swelling.

Historically, wormwood has been used to treat pain from labor, premenstrual pain, and joint and muscle pain.

Much of the research regarding wormwood’s anti-inflammatory effects has been centered on its use in people with osteoarthritis (“wear-and-tear arthritis”) and rheumatoid arthritis (an autoimmune form of arthritis).

A 2016 study published in Clinical Rheumatology reported that people with osteoarthritis who took 150 milligrams (mg) of wormwood extract per day for 12 weeks had fewer joint pain symptoms than those who took a placebo (sham drug). The findings were limited by the study’s small size (42 participants) and the fact that people who took a higher, 300-mg dose had no reported benefit.

A 2017 study in the Chinese Journal of Integrative Medicine also reported pain relief in people with rheumatoid arthritis when wormwood extract was used with leflunomide and methotrexate (two drugs commonly used to treat rheumatoid arthritis). Compared to people given leflunomide and methotrexate alone, those in the wormwood group had less pain and fewer affected joints overall. The study did not suggest that wormwood on its own had any effect on rheumatoid arthritis.

Fights Parasites

Wormwood’s name stems from its historical use in treating parasites, including helminths such as pinworms, roundworms, and tapeworms that cause severe gastrointestinal disease. Historically, wormwood had been considered a preferred remedy for intestinal worms, but it dropped out of favor due to severe side effects associated with the liquor absinthe.

Most studies investigating the use of wormwood in treating parasites have been conducted on animals, and the results have been mostly good.

A 2017 study in the Journal of Helminthology reported that wormwood extract was effective in killing Hymenolepis nana, the most common form of tapeworm affecting humans, both in test tubes and lab mice.

Although the researchers reported that wormwood extract was not as effective as Biltricide (praziquantel), a drug commonly used to treat helminths, the findings were considered important given that H. nana has become increasingly resistant to antiparasitic agents like Biltricide and Albenza (albendazole).

This suggests that wormwood extract may help support antiparasitic drugs in parts of the world where tapeworms, roundworms, and pinworms are common.

With that said, animal study results cannot be interpreted as having the same value in humans.

Fights Bacteria and Fungus

Wormwood has also been shown to have potent antibacterial and antifungal activity. Different compounds are thought responsible for these effects, including chemicals called terpenes that give certain plants their aromatic scent. This includes a terpene called camphor, which many people recognize from products like Vicks Vapo-Rub.

Wormwood has demonstrated activity against Staphylococcus aureus, a bacteria that is one of the leading causes of skin and soft tissue infections. This includes a potentially serious form called methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

A 2012 study in the Indian Journal of Microbiology reported that the twice-daily application of wormwood extract to surgical wounds in rats prevented S. aureus infection far better than those that were left untreated.

Wormwood's antifungal activity may also act against common fungi like Candida albicans (the type that causes yeast infections and oral thrush). In addition to terpenes, lab studies have suggested that thujone can suppress C. albicans and other disease-causing fungi.

Although these effects were seen in test tubes, a 2021 study in Longua Chinese Medicine reported that wormwood extract given for six days to lab mice had no tangible effect against six Candida species.

Aids in Digestion

Wormwood has long been used to treat indigestion, flatulence, gastritis, and symptoms of gallbladder disease. It is thought that terpenes in wormwood stimulate saliva, stomach mucus, and intestinal secretions that can help ease digestive symptoms. At the same time, they may help reduce stomach acids that contribute to peptic ulcers and acid reflux.

Wormwood also appears to increase the secretion of bile from the gallbladder, which may help improve digestion and ease constipation.

Research in humans is lacking, but a 2020 study in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine suggested that wormwood extract helped ease symptoms of dyspepsia (indigestion) in lab mice by altering the effects of hormones in the brain that influence digestion.

A 2020 review in Phytotherapy Research also suggested that wormwood could support the treatment of Crohn’s disease, a type of inflammatory bowel disease. By reducing inflammation and stimulating intestinal secretions, wormwood may reduce the need for steroid medications that are commonly used to reduce gut inflammation and pain in people with Crohn’s disease.

Possible Side Effects of Wormwood 

Wormwood is relatively safe for short-term use in adults and has been used at low doses without incident for up to 12 weeks.

Unaltered wormwood contains significant amounts of thujone, a psychoactive chemical that can be toxic even in small amounts. Fresh wormwood should be consumed with caution due to the potential for serious side effects like vomiting, hallucinations, and seizures.

Wormwood Safety

Wormwood products made in the United States are required to be "thujone-free," defined as containing no more than 10 parts per million (ppm) of thujone.

Possible side effects of wormwood include:

  • Sleeping problems
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Hallucinations
  • Restlessness
  • Seizures


Because wormwood contains ingredients that may have toxic effects, people with certain medical conditions should not take wormwood, including those with:

  • Pregnancy or breastfeeding: Animal studies show that wormwood may cause miscarriage.
  • Epilepsy or other seizure disorders: Wormwood may increase the risk of seizures and reduce the effects of some anti-seizure drugs.
  • Kidney disease: Wormwood is toxic to the kidneys and can lead to kidney failure, particularly in people with chronic kidney disease.
  • Allergies: Wormwood is part of the Asteraceae family. If you are allergic to plants like asters, ragweed, or marigolds, avoid wormwood.
  • Heart disease: If you take Coumadin (warfarin) for heart disease, wormwood can increase the effects of the blood thinner and cause bleeding.

Wormwood is not safe for children. 

Wormwood Dosage and Preparation 

There are no guidelines for the use of wormwood in any form. Be sure to follow all recommended dosages on the product labels. Overdosing can cause serious side effects.

Wormwood is often used as tea. To make wormwood tea:

  • Add 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of dried wormwood leaves to one cup of boiling water.
  • Let it steep for five to 10 minutes. The longer it steeps, the more bitter the flavor. 
  • Add peppermint, honey, or lemon juice to taste.

Wormwood can also be applied to the skin as an essential oil. With that said, it may need to be diluted with a carrier oil like almond oil. To be safe, test the oil on a small area of skin and wait an hour or two to see if you have any reaction.

What to Look For

Wormwood is available at health food stores and online. It may be found in essential oil, pills, and liquid extracts.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) lists wormwood as unsafe for internal use because it contains thujone. The FDA requires all wormwood products sold in the United States to be thujone-free.

Be sure to look for products that have certification from a third-party agency that provides quality testing. These organizations include U.S. Pharmacopeia, ConsumerLab, and NSF International.

A seal of approval confirms that the product was properly manufactured, contains the ingredients listed on the product label, and does not contain impurities or contaminants.


Wormwood is an herb that may help ease inflammation, improve digestion, treat skin infections, and kill parasites like tapeworms. Even so, there is not enough evidence that wormwood can treat or prevent any medical condition.

Wormwood contains a compound called thujone that can become toxic and cause hallucinations and seizures if overconsumed. Wormwood products sold in the United States are required to be thujone-free.

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Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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