Sweet Wormwood

This shrub has enjoyed an extensive history of medicinal use, and nowadays, it is one of the best herbal tools in the fight against the deadly malaria.

Quick Facts
General Information
  • Common name(s)Sweet wormwood, Chinese wormwood
  • TCM nameQing hao
  • Scientific nameArtemisia annua
  • Geographic distributionSubtropical regions
  • Plant typeShrub
  • Native regionEast Asia
  • Main producer(s)China
  • Main Economic UseMedicinal
Sweet Wormwood

The sweet wormwood plant is the modern world's answer to malaria, most importantly to the increasing numbers of antibiotic-resistant strains. The plant is native to grassland and open areas in Vietnam, Japan, China, Russia, and North America, and has been widely naturalized in other parts of the world.

Medicinal and Nutritional Information

Quick Facts (Medicinal and Nutritional Information)
  • Medicinal actionAntimalarial
  • Key constituentsArtemisinin
  • Medicinal rating(5) Great value
  • Safety rankingUse with caution

Health Benefits of Sweet Wormwood

The antiparasitic and antibiotic properties of sweet wormwood have found the following medicinal uses:

  • Preventing and curing malaria. This is due to the plant's artimesinin content, which is found in the leaves. It has been shown to be up to 90% effective in curing and preventing malaria and serves as the precursor to antimalarial medications.
  • Treating headaches and fever. The herb's extract has been traditionally used as an antipyretic agent.

How It Works

Artimesinin works by disrupting the sexual reproduction of the most deadly malarial parasite, Plasmodium falciparum, eventually killing it off completely. The flavonoids also contribute to sweet wormwood's medicinal properties, having a natural antioxidant effect that rids the body of harmful compounds. Other significant compounds include abrotamine and beta-bourbenene in the essential oil, as well as flavonoids.

Artimesinin works by disrupting the sexual reproduction Plasmodium falciparum, a protozoan parasite that causes malaria.

Sweet Wormwood Cautions

Although sweet wormwood is generally free of side effects, it should be taken under the supervision of a doctor, who will be able to monitor the state of the malaria infection. Pregnant women should not take sweet wormwood except with a doctor's guidance. This herb should not be taken over a long period of time due to potential toxicity, but for the treatment of malaria, only short-term use is necessary.

How to Consume Sweet Wormwood

Main preparations: Infusion, capsules, tinctures

Sweet wormwood is dried and then used in medicinal preparations.

  • Infusions and tinctures. These are the most traditional preparations.
  • Capsules and tablets. Supplements are the most commonly used form of wormwood in the treatment in malaria because they are standardized. Because malaria is a serious illness, wormwood supplements should be taken under the care of a physician.

In addition, sweet wormwood can be processed pharmaceutically into more concentrated malaria medication – such as artemether - as the plants only contain about 1% artemisinin. Artemisinic acid, which is more abundant in the plant, can be used as a starting point for artemisinin synthesis.

Buying

Quick Facts (Buying)
  • Where to buySpecialized health stores, Online herb stores

Sweet wormwood capsules are available commercially, and are marketed to "support balance for the whole body." Dried forms of sweet wormwood herb are more difficult to obtain, but can be bought from online stores. Artemisinin-based antimalarial pills are also available, but usually sold only with a prescription.

Growing

Quick Facts (Growing)
  • Life cycleAnnual
  • Harvested partsLeaves
  • Light requirementsFull sun
  • Growing habitatTemperate climates, Subtropical regions
  • Planting timeSpring
  • Plant spacing average0.5 m (1.64 ft)

In countries with temperate to subtropical climates, sweet wormwood cultivation is quite easy. The plant can be propagated from seed when planted in the spring, as it needs full sun in order to survive, but can also be done by dividing the root stock in autumn. Sweet wormwood planting should involve sowing the seeds about 18 inches (45 cm) apart and lightly pressing the seeds onto the top layer of soil, as they need light in order to germinate. Once they have started growing, the sweet wormwood plants require little care. They only need occasional watering, and they should also be pruned now and then in order to prevent them from becoming too unruly.

Additional Information

Quick Facts (Additional Information)
  • Other usesCosmetics, Perfume

Plant Biology

  • Classification
    Sweet wormwood is a member of Asteraceae, or the aster family. It shares its genus, Artemisia, with around 100 other species. Sweet wormwood plants can grow up to 6.5 feet (2 m) high and bear bright green, saw-toothed leaves. The sweet wormwood flower heads are minute and cream-colored.

  • Related Species
    There are many Artemisia species, some of which are used in food and drink products. The most familiar include A. dracunculus (tarragon) and A. absinthium (absinthe). The species A. apiacea can be used interchangeably with A. annua for medicinal purposes.

Historical Information

The history of sweet wormwood seems to stretch back to 168 BCE, when it was mentioned in a text proclaiming that it "helped clear and relieve summer heat." It is a traditional Chinese medicine, having been used for more than 2,000 years to alleviate fevers. However, more recently, attention has shifted to its well-researched antimalarial properties. Scientific studies into this use of sweet wormwood began in the 1970s, as strains of malaria that were resistant to conventional medications of the time started appearing.

Economic Data

The sweet wormwood market is a booming business, and it is cultivated on a commercial scale in China, its largest producer. Many pharmaceutical companies convert artimesinin into the medicines artemether and artemotil, so sweet wormwood trading is becoming more and more profitable.

Other Uses

Sweet wormwood has few uses other than its medicinal value, although the aromatic essential oil is sometimes used in cosmetics and perfumes. The oil is reported to have antimicrobial activity, so some like to use it topically for various external ailments. The medicinal power of sweet wormwood has been known for millennia, although its use as a malarial treatment is relatively new.

Bibliography