Absinthe / wormwood: neurotoxic?

Abstract

The medical use of the wormwood plant Artemisia absinthium L. dates back to at least Roman times, while during the last century this tradition was seemingly on the decline due to fears of absinthism, a syndrome allegedly caused by the wormwood-flavoured spirit absinthe and more specifically as a result of thujone, a monoterpene ketone often present in the essential oil of wormwood. If threshold concentrations are exceeded, thujone does in fact exhibit neurotoxic properties leading to dose-dependent tonic-clonic seizures in animals, likely caused by GABA type A receptor modulation.

Research has shown that the concentrations of thujone present in absinthe were not sufficient to exceed these thresholds, and the marketing of wormwood-flavoured alcoholic beverages has ultimately been reinstated.

The declining fears of absinthism may have led to a revival of the medical uses of wormwood, evidenced by several experimental reports, e.g. on the treatment of Crohn’s disease. Most recently in this journal, neuroprotective properties of wormwood were detected in rats, and the plant was suggested to be possibly beneficial in the treatment of strokes. While these results sound promising and worthwhile for further investigation, the well-defined profile of adverse properties of wormwood demands a more cautious interpretation of these results. It remained unclear in the studies, for example, if the threshold dose for thujone (e.g. as set by the European Medicines Agency) would be exceeded during therapeutic usage.

Due to the colourful history of wormwood, its application in humans should be preceded by a thorough and careful risk-benefit analysis.

Herb gardens

Course Description

Herbs are beautiful multi-functional plants that are easy to grow and have many beneficial effects on our health and the health of our gardens. They look and taste fantastic and they are an easy and cost effective way to add interest to our garden and to our diets. They are forgiving tolerant plants that can survive in the most unlikely of containers, and given the right conditions will thrive in the smallest of spaces.

Herbs connect us with many traditions and cultures through millennia and offer interest to every gardener whether your interest is in food, wildlife, flower arranging, or purely ornamental growing, herbs have something to offer.

This course will talk you through the multifunctional nature of herbs, how to grow them and how to look after them and will suggest some familiar and perhaps unfamiliar herbs to try.

COURSE INFO: Learning with experts