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Native to temperate regions of Europe, Asia and northern Africa, wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) is a large woody garden plant with profuse gray-green, feathery leaves and tiny, yellowish flowers. The whole plant is pleasantly aromatic, but quite bitter. The herb is harvested to make teas and extracts.
Wormwood is perhaps best known because of the use of its oil to prepare certain alcoholic beverages, most notably vermouth and absinthe. Absinthe, popular in the 19th century in Europe, caused several cases of brain damage and even death and was banned in most places in the early 20th century. Wormwood oil continues to be used as a flavoring agent for foods, although in much smaller amounts than were found in absinthe.
As a traditional medicine, herbalists used wormwood as a bitter to improve digestion, to fight worm infestations, and to stimulate menstruation. It was also regarded as a useful remedy for liver and gallbladder problems.
Modern herbal medicine rarely uses wormwood alone. It is typically combined with herbs such as peppermint or caraway to treat heartburn and even irritable bowel syndrome. Clinical trials are lacking to support the use of wormwood for any indication, however.
Since wormwood contains thujone, a chemical similar to tetratetrahydrocannibinol (THC) which is found in marijuana, the FDA has placed wormwood in the unsafe category. It has been reported that thujone may cause nerve damage and other side effects. Also note that longer-term use (over four weeks) or intake of amounts higher than those recommended can cause nausea, vomiting, insomnia, restlessness, vertigo, tremors, and seizures.
Consult with a healthcare professional or doctor knowledgeable in herbal medicine before taking wormwood.
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