Artemisia annua is a bitter-tasting plant that has a long history of use for its various health benefits.
This plant is also commonly called sweet wormwood or sweet Annie. Both names will be used throughout this article.
Sweet wormwood is commonly used as a treatment for malaria, this is due to its artemisinin content, a phytochemical that works to eradicate malaria. This herb has also been shown to help to reduce symptoms of arthritis, as well as with blood sugar regulation.
In this article, we will look at the health benefits of sweet wormwood, its safety, and its history.
Table of Contents
- What is Artemisia annua?
- Health Benefits of Artemisia annua:
- The Best Artemesia annua Supplements:
- Artemisia annua Safety:
- Naming & Taxonomy:
- History & Traditional Use:
What is Artemisia annua?
Artemisia annua is an annual plant in the Asteraceae (i.e. sunflower) family. It was originally native to China but is now localized in many countries, including scattered areas of North America
The scientific name for this herb is Artemisia annua, but it’s commonly called sweet wormwood. In China, this herb is known as huang hua hao.
Note that this herb is different than common wormwood, which is known as Artemisia absinthium.
The leaves of this plant have been used in traditional Chinese medicine for the treatment of fevers and other symptoms related to malaria.
Modern research indicates that Artemisia annua benefits various diseases such as malaria, diabetes, heart diseases, and arthritis. It also appears that sweet wormwood possesses antimicrobial, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties.
Health Benefits of Artemisia annua:
There are many purported health benefits of artemisia annua. As a malaria treatment, Artemisia annua is scientifically proven to be effective.
Other uses, including for arthritis, are still being explored.
Below is a review of the top research-backed artemisia annua benefits.
1. May Help Treat Malaria
Artemisia annua, and its primary compound artemisinin, is a common treatment for malaria that’s used throughout the world.
Malaria is a parasitic infection transmitted by mosquitoes that can be life-threatening and poses a significant risk to global health. It’s estimated that two billion people risk contracting malaria annually.
Artemisia annua was used as far back as 200BC in traditional Chinese medicine as a herbal remedy for malaria and fevers. This old remedy was rediscovered in 1960s during the Vietnam war when troops in North Vietnam requested a new treatment for malaria as they fought in mosquito-infested jungles.
The Chinese government launched a secret research program investigating both known chemicals and traditional Chinese medicines for the treatment of malaria. The scientists tasked with studying traditional medicines ultimately produced the powerful botanical compound known as artemisinin, which was shown to be effective in patients with malaria (with a ~98% success rate).
Artemisinin is chemically categorized as a sesquiterpene lactone, it’s found concentrated in the upper leafy section of the Artemisia annua plant.
There are many different derivatives of artemisinin that have been created by various pharmaceutical companies, these include:
Numerous clinical trials over the last 50 years have shown that artemisinin, and its various derivatives, are the most effective treatment for malaria.
While artemisinin is an incredibly effective compound in combatting malaria, it has one downside in that it is rapidly metabolized and moves through the bloodstream quickly. Hence, it cannot be used prophylactically to prevent malaria.
Summary:Artemisinin, a phytochemical found in Artemisia annua, is the most effective treatment of malaria. It has been used successfully for the last 50 years to save lives throughout the world.
2. Antimicrobial Properties
Research shows that sweet wormwood has strong antimicrobial properties. This makes it one of the best herbs for immune health.
Lab-based research shows that sweet wormwood essential oil is effective in stopping both gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria, including:
- Staphylococcus aureus
- Enterococcus hirae
- Streptococcus pneumonia
- Bacillus spp.
- Listeria innocua
- Escherichia coli
- Shigella spp.
- Salmonella enteritidis
- Klebsiella pneumonia
- Haemophilus influenza
- Pseudomonas aeruginosa
- and more
Regarding its antifungal properties, sweet wormwood has been shown to be effective against:
- Aspergillus fumigatus
- Candida albicans
Artemisia annua has also been shown to be effective against a variety of soilborne fungal pathogens.
Summary:Sweet wormwood may have strong effects against various bacteria strains and fungal pathogens. Further research is needed to verify the exact constituents within artemisia that work to attack these various microbes.
3. Antioxidant Properties
Research shows that another benefit of Artemisia annua is its antioxidant properties. These properties are thought to be due to the plant’s phenolic compound content.
Reactive oxygen species and free radicals are produced in the human body as a result of normal metabolism. Research shows that long-term exposure to these damaging molecules can cause various chronic diseases, including cancer and diabetes. Antioxidants help to neutralize these harmful molecules and protect the body.
A study looked at the impact of Artemisia annua leaf in cell culture models as well as in animals. Artemisia was shown to have antioxidant effects.
Another test-tube study found that the essential oil of artemisia had an antioxidant response. The researchers noted that it showed a good antioxidant capacity, in particular as antiradical scavengers.
Another lab-based study found that A. annua leaf has antioxidant capacity.
Summary:Lab-based research shows that sweet wormwood may have antioxidant properties.
4. May Help With Arthritis
Research indicates that sweet wormwood benefits those suffering from arthritis.
A human clinical pilot study found that sweet wormwood extract was effective in improving joint mobility and reducing joint stiffness and pain scores. The researchers tested doses of 150mg twice per day and 300mg twice per day. They found that the 150mg dosage was as effective as taking 300mg.
Another clinical trial involving 159 participants compared the effectiveness of sweet wormwood alongside common arthritic drugs (methotrexate and leflunomide) against drugs alone. The researchers found that the sweet wormwood group had a greater reduction in joint pain in individuals with arthritis.
A lab-based study found that artemisinin may be the active constituent that helps to relieve arthritic symptoms. The researchers found that artemisinin inhibited the expression of proinflammatory chemokines and cytokines, including:
- Interleukin (IL)-1β, IL-6
- Tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNFα)
- Matrix metallopeptidase-13
Summary:Clinical research shows that sweet wormwood may be effective in reducing arthritic symptoms.
5. Antidiabetic Properties
Preliminary animal studies have shown that sweet wormwood has significant anti-hyperglycemic and anti-hypoinsulinemia activities in diabetic animals.
High levels of fasted blood sugar can lead to insulin resistance, weight gain, and can contribute to a host of diseases.
An animal study found that a significant decrease in blood glucose levels occurred in animals that received sweet wormwood extract. The researchers noted that this blood sugar-regulating effect may be due to stimulation of the secretion of insulin by β cells, inhibition of α cells of the pancreatic islets, or by enhancing insulin activity.
Recently, an important link has been made between oxidative stress, inflammatory response, and insulin activity. An animal study found that sweet wormwood helped to reduce blood sugar levels in diabetic rats. The researchers noted that Artemsia annua‘s antioxidant compounds are the mechanism for helping to improve glucose metabolism.
Summary:Preliminary research shows that sweet wormwood may help to regulate blood sugar. While these early studies are promising, human clinical trials are needed to verify the efficacy of this herb.
6. Other Potential Benefits
Other purported sweet wormwood health benefits include:
- May Have Anti-Cancer Properties – A scientific review paper on artemisinin noted that much research has been done on the anti-cancer effects of sweet wormwood. Researchers noted that this impact is thought to be due artemisinin’s capability to arrest cell growth or disrupt the steps in the cell cycle through proliferation pathways. Human clinical trials are needed to verify promising lab research.
- May Have Anti-Viral Properties – A lab study showed that Artemsia annua has strong anti-HIV activity. The researchers noted that this effect was not due to artemisinin content, and thus comes from another chemical compound found in sweet wormwood (and other varietals of artemisia).
- May Help with Covid-19 – Starting in 2020, much research was conducted looking at the benefits of traditional herbs for supporting against Covid-19. A review article looked at 20 lab studies (conducted in 2020/2021) and found that the various constituents in A. annua may impede the SARS-CoV-2 attachment, membrane fusion, internalization into the host cells, and hinder the viral replication and transcription process. Clinical trials are needed to verify if these findings hold up in human participants.
- May Benefit Asthmatic Symptoms: One animal trial shows that Artemisia annua may be a beneficial herb for asthma by its ability to reduce airway inflammation. An in vitro study also shows evidence that Casticin, a phytochemical found in artemisia, may be responsible for reducing the inflammatory response in airway cells. Large-scale human research is required to confirm these findings.
- May Support Digestion: Maude Grieve of herbal text A Modern Herbal (1931) mentions Artemisia annua as being a bitter herb beneficial for digestion, similar to the rest of the wormwood family.
While these various other health benefits of sweet Annie are interesting, human clinical trials are needed to corroborate these findings.
Summary:Artemisia annua has been tied to a wide variety of health benefits. Human clinical trials are needed to verify these findings.
The Best Artemesia annua Supplements:
As previously stated in this article, artemisia benefits the body in a variety of ways, especially for malaria. Many people ask the question, what is the best artemisia supplement?
The ideal way to supplement with artemisia is through either an artemisia tincture or an encapsulated formula.
We recommend looking at Herb Pharm’s artemisia tincture. Herb Pharm makes some of the best artemisia supplements that we’ve researched. Their sweet wormwood supplements are made with organic artemisia. Herb Pharm’s products are certified organic and made in the USA. This clean, high-quality product is the perfect way to add artemisia to your daily routine.
You can pick up these artemisia supplements at Amazon, which offers competitive pricing and fast shipping.
Artemisia annua Safety:
Safety Class: 2b (not for use during pregnancy)
Interaction Class: A (no clinically relevant interactions are expected)
The Botanical Safety Handbook states that sweet wormwood has an interaction class of “A” which suggests that adverse interactions are not expected to occur.
A clinical study showed that taking appropriate doses of artimesian for malaria has a high rate of efficacy and is well tolerated and safe to take for most individuals.
Pregnancy & Lactation:
The Botanical Safety Handbook puts Artemsia annua in the safety class of 2b, which means that it should not be used during pregnancy.
Animal studies demonstrate that ingesting A. annua may have the ability to cause embryotoxicity, especially in the 1st trimester.
Standard dosing for sweet wormwood is as follows:
Tincture: Take 0.7mL two to four times per day of a 1:4 tincture (in 50% alcohol).
Infusion: To make an infusion, pour 1 cup boiling water over 1 teaspoon of dried leaf and infuse for 10-15 minutes. For therapeutic use, it is recommended to drink 2 to 4 cups a day.
Sweet wormwood contains a variety of different phytochemicals.
- Monoterpenes (including 1,8-cineole, α-and-β-pinene, camphene, borneol, camphor, carvone, limonene, α-terpinene, and myrtenol)
- Sesquiterpenes (including artemisinin, arteannuin B, and artemisinic acid)
- various Phenolic Compounds (including caffeic acid, luteolin, quercetin, rutin,
- Coumarins (including scopolin and scopoletin)
The demand for Artemisia annua is very high since it provides a natural source of artemisian, a key anti-malarial drug.
Sweet wormwood is not on the United Plant Savers “at-risk” list (sensitive to the impact of human activities), which indicates that it is not currently at risk.
However, due to the importance of this herb as an anti-malarial drug, researchers are keeping a close eye on global production and potential environmental threats.
One study showed that the main distribution areas of A. annua were concentrated in mid-latitudes in western and central Europe, southeastern Asia, southeastern North America and southeastern South America
Naming & Taxonomy:
Sweet wormwood’s scientific name is Artemisia annua. It’s an annual plant that belongs to the Asteraceae family of plants.
The Latin name “Artemisia” is thought to refer to the Greek goddess “Artemis”, Zeus’s daughter and Apollo’s sister, who was considered the protector of the wild animals and goddess of the hunt. Another interpretation assigns the origin of the name to the King of Caria’s wife Artemisia, who was crowned queen after her husband’s death.
The Latin word “annua” is translated as “annual”, which references this plant’s annual growth pattern.
A. annua is low to the ground plant, but it can reach heights of around 3 feet tall. The artemisinin content in dried artemisia leaves is between 0% and 1.5%.
In Asia, this plant is known as qing hao. In America, it’s known as sweet wormwood or sweet Annie.
This important plant grows throughout Europe, southeastern Asia, southeastern North America, and southeastern South America.
History & Traditional Use:
Chinese physicians have used sweet wormwood for the treatment of fevers and other symptoms related to malaria since around 200BC (Hsu, 2006)
Ge Hong, a fourth-century Chinese physician, was known for having a method of preparing the Chinese medication qing hao from sweet wormwood, which was used for malaria. His method involves soaking the fresh whole plant in water, wringing it out, and ingesting the juice produced (Herbalgram, 2019).
Sweet wormwood appears to be a safe and well-tolerated herb.
Common usage tells us that this herb is helpful for malaria. Clinical research indicates that it may also be helpful for reducing arthritis symptoms and regulating blood sugar.
It also appears that this herb has strong anti-viral, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial properties.
It’s worth looking into Artemisia annua if you are needing support in any of these areas. As always, make sure to consult your doctor before making any changes to your diet or adding a new supplement.