What is Sweet Wormwood?
Sweet wormwood is also known as artemisia annua, sweet annie, sweet sagewort and annual wormwood (Chinese: qīnghāo).
It is a common type of wormwood that is native to temperate Asia but naturalized throughout the world.(1) It belongs to the family of Asteraceae and has fern-like leaves, bright yellow flowers and a camphor-like scent. Glandular structures (trichomes) producing a wide range of bioactive compounds (mostly terpenoids) can be found on the surface of leaves, stems and flowers.
It is an annual, aromatic herb from Asia, and has been used in China to treat fevers for more than 2,000 years. The name wormwood is derived from ancient use of the plant and its extracts as an intestinal anthelmintic, antiparasitic drug that expels parasitic worms and other internal parasites from the body. In ancient Egyptian times, it was a commonly used medicinal plant, specifically for anal pain, and as an additive to wine. Later on it was used in European folk medicine to induce labor. The plant, when steeped into a strong tea, has been used traditionally in Europe as well as a bitter stomach stabilizer to stave off indigestion.
Benefits & Uses
The main active constituent of sweet wormwood is artemisinin.
Sweet wormwood contains the chemical artemisinin and its aerial parts are used in making anti-malarial drugs. It is the source of the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) ‘Qing Hao’, which has been used for more than 2,000 years to alleviate fevers. In TCM it is often prescribed in combination with other herbs to treat (in addition to fevers) jaundice, headache, dizziness and nosebleeds. Scientific research also shows that wormwood can even kills cancer cells. (2) It can also be used to treat anorexia, insomnia, anemia, a lack of appetite, flatulence, stomach aches, jaundice and indigestion. (3)
Apart from malaria, sweet wormwood is also used in cases of fever, headaches, infections and inflammations. It has been claimed to kill cancer cells and to be especially effective in breast cancer and leukaemia.
According to studies that were published in an issue of Life Sciences, artemesinin – a derivative of the wormwood plant used in Chinese Medicine – can kill 98% of breast cancer cells in less than 16 hours. The herb used alone caused a 28% reduction in breast cancer cells, but when paired with iron, sweet wormwood was able to eradicate cancer almost entirely. What’s more, normal cells were not negatively affected in the experiment by this treatment.
Other uses includes: Bacterial infections such as dysentery and tuberculosis; illnesses caused by worms, other parasites, and mites; fungal infections; and viral infections such as the common cold. Other uses include treatment of upset stomach, fever, yellowed skin (jaundice), psoriasis, systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) and other autoimmune disorders, loss of appetite, blood vessel disorders, constipation, gallbladder disorders, stomach pain, painful menstruation, and joint pain (rheumatism).
It is sometimes applied directly to the skin for bacterial and fungal infections, arthritis and other joint pain, bruises, nerve pain, and sprains.
There is no documented safe or effective dose for the treatment of cancer in adults or children. The Chinese pharmacopoeia lists the dry herb as a remedy for fever and malaria. The daily dose described is 4.5 to 9 grams of dried herb to be prepared as a tea infusion with boiling water. The artemisinin content varies from 0.02% to 1.1% of the dry weight. In addition, artemisinin and its semisynthetic derivatives are used in antimalarial treatment in artemisinin-based combination therapies, with daily doses between 100 and 200mg. It is not recommended in pregnant or breastfeeding women due to a lack of available scientific evidence. Sweet wormwood may inhibit angiogenesis, which is the development of new blood vessels. Caution is advised in patients taking herbs or supplements that affect angiogenesis.