Medicinal Uses

This plant, as I’ve mentioned before, has some very unique characteristics and that is certainly true once one begins to explore the medicinal properties of Chenopodium ambrosioides. There are a couple things that you should keep in mind as you read how this plant can be used in the realm of healing. First of all there are parts of this plant, mostly the seeds, that contain an essential oil that if taken in excess is highly toxic and can cause dizziness, vomiting, convulsions, and even death. Now this may seem contradictory considering this plant is said to be widely used for medicinal purposes, but yet could potentially kill someone? What this comes down to is the lethal dose. If taken in excess the oils found mainly in the seeds could have adverse effects, but this is true of almost all medications taken in excess. But now let's move forward and explore the many ways Chenopodium a. is being used world wide in medical practices.

Chenopodium ambrosioides has long been known and grown for its uses as a medicinal plant. For centuries this plant has been used by Southern and Central Americans to rid the body of parasitic intestinal worms. This seems to work because the oil contained in the seeds appears to paralyze the worms when they are in the intestine. The main active ingredient of the oil is ascaridole, shown to the left. The effectiveness of the essential oils in the treatment of intestinal worms has led many scientists over the last decade or so to investigate the uses of this plant more extensively. I will discuss many of their findings later in this section. If you would like to check out another organism that has been used in medicinal practices for thousands of years take a gander at Polyrhachis lamellidens.

If you live in a well-developed country where infections due to parasitic intestinal worms are uncommon you may not have heard of this plant or its uses as a vermifuge. The essential oils extracted from Chenopodium ambrosioides was used very extensively, in fact until recently it was the most common means to remove intestinal worms from the GI tract. In the last decade or so there has been a decline in the usage of this traditional treatment for intestinal worms and a rise in synthetic drugs to harbor the same effects. However, in many developing and Central and South American countries this plant is used as a main means to rid people of parasitic worms. The oils are effective against a large number of parasites including the amoeba that causes dysentery, but this oil seems to be less effective at treating tapeworms. There are many other parasitic worms that affect humans world-wide, for more information on one such worm visit,  Wuchereria bancrofti. If you are simply curious about 'critters' that infect the GI tract, as the parasitic worms do that the oil from Chenopodium ambrosioides is used to treat, check out Helicobacter pylori, which can cause stomach ulcers.

Although this plant is very good at expelling intestinal worms, here in the United States the oil extracted from the plant has been replaced by a volatile oil obtained by the distillation of crushed fruits, to which fruit owes its medicinal importance to. The essential oil may be being replaced due to the mixed results that have been found in numerous studies and noted in many scientific journals. One such study conducted noted the tea-like concoction many indigenous peoples rely on to rid the worms from their system never actually yielded a cure, even at maximum doses. This study broke the participants up into five groups and each group was administered a concoction with different concentrations of oil. M. Kilks conducted the study and found that there was only a temporary depression in the worm egg-counts contained in the feces for the group that was being administered the highest doses of oil that was extracted only from the leaves and seeds. There was no curative effect found from using the essential oil found in Chenopodium a., but there was a temporary depression in egg count while the patient was being administered the oil. Why might this be? The scientists believe the plant may have irritated the worms in the intestinal tract and that could explain the relative depression in the release of eggs. But why then if the plant oil does not cure the patients are so many people world-wide adamant about the vermifuge nature of Chenopodium ambrosioides. This particular study points to three main factors that could explain the discrepancies regarding the efficiency of the oil. First of all the percent of ascaridole contained in the plant can vary anywhere from 1-6%, this is referring to the potency of the plant. Second Many people take varying doses, which will quite obviously play a role in the effect seen on the worms and finally there are also many seasonal factors that affect the host parasite relationship that may play a role in the idea that the plant ‘cures’ the patients for a time being. The study found that further investigation should be done into determining the feasibility of producing a more concentrated form of the drug (since the patients who were administered the highest dosage did tend to see a decline in egg counts) that could be distributed to the villages where other forms of modern medication are too expensive for everyday use by the villagers.

Now I know this page seems to contain contradicting information about the true medicinal uses of Chenopodium a. as a vermifuge, but that's because there is conflicting evidence about the plants effectiveness. It has been used for centuries and passed down for generations by the indigenous peoples, but the effectiveness is still being studied. I can not definitively say this form of treatment will work, but I do hope that more research is done. Whether the cure comes from Chenopodium a. or something else I hope one day there are cheap cures for the millions of people world-wide who suffer from parasitic intestinal worms.

Although Chenopodium a. is most well known as a vermifuge that is not the only medical importance that it serves. See Fun Facts for a few more unique medicinal uses.

 Next: Fun Facts
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