The significance and extent of intestinal worm infestation as a factor behind diseases in affluent countries is hotly debated.
Everyone agrees that parasites such as pinworms and hookworms can be common in children, causing symptoms such as abdominal discomfort, skin rash, anaemia, loss of appetite, dry skin and hair, delayed puberty, and itching or irritation in the anal region. However, some clinicians believe that worm infestation can also act as a stealth pathogen in adults, going undetected for years.
Conditions to which worms might contribute include autoimmune disease, allergies, fatigue, joint and muscle pain, skin rashes, digestive disorders and even (in the opinions of some) cancer. Therefore, it’s important to know there are certain herbs that will help fight worms. In addition, these same herbs will also attack single-celled animal parasites (known as protozoa) like Giardia and Cryptosporidium.
In fighting worm infestation it is best to combine all or at least several of the following herbs:
Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) is, as the name suggests, a time-honoured treatment for parasites and is well known to herbalists. Its particular application is treating nematode infestation, especially infestation with pinworms and hookworms.
Wormwood has been used to fight worm infestations since ancient times and is currently used in many countries throughout the world for that purpose. For example, wormwood tincture is employed in the West Indies as a worm preventative. Wormwood has also been used for the deworming of horses, cows, and sheep.
Constituents of the aerial parts of wormwood include bitter substances (sesquiterpene lactones, mainly absinthin) and an essential oil. The essential oil contains the potentially toxic agent thujone and for this reason the normal therapeutic doses of wormwood should not be exceeded.
Wormwood aqueous extract was used successfully in laboratory studies against a small worm that infests sheep, called Trichostrongylus colubriformis.7 Thujone is also associated with the worm-killing properties of wormwood. Experiments carried out in Edinburgh in 1955 indicated the efficacy of thujone in eliminating a roundworm that infests humans and domestic animals, called Ascaris lumbricoides.
Wormwood powder (1.5 g./day) provided effective treatment for acute intestinal amebiasis in an uncontrolled trial of 20 patients. Symptoms were relieved and 70% of cases were cleared of the protozoa Entamoeba histolytica, according to stool analysis.
Wormwood is also used to treat other gastrointestinal conditions such as appetite loss, disturbed digestion, flatulence,10 and disordered bile flow.11 Clinical trials have demonstrated the ability of wormwood to increase the flow of gastric enzymes, pancreatic enzymes and bile, all of which will help to prevent worm infestation.
Black walnut hulls
Black walnut green hulls are another popular remedy against worms. A globular fruit is produced from the black walnut tree, which contains a corrugated nut in a yellowish-green hull. Upon ripening, the hull softens and turns dark brown to black due to chemical oxidation. An extract derived from boiling the hull of black walnut (Juglans nigra) fruit has been used traditionally to expel worms.14 The hull is best used while it is still green.
Lab studies indicate that a component of the hulls called plumbagin inhibited the activity and hatching of first-stage larvae of a large stomach worm that infests mainly sheep and goats, called Haemonchus contortus. Plumbagin was also larvicidal towards Ascaris suum the large roundworm found in pigs.
In China and the rest of Asia the use of Stemona is highly prized in the battle against parasites. Stemona is the tuberous root of Stemona sessilifolia, Stemona tuberosa or Stemona japonica.
In a clinical trial, 140 cases of hookworm infestation were treated with Stemona. After three months, a follow-up examination of 110 cases revealed a cure rate of 94.5%. Another group of 48 cases was effectively treated with the herb decoction; 116 worms, all from the duodenum, were expelled.
A suppository prepared from Stemona was used to treat 40 children with oxyuriasis (infestation with a type of nematode); 16 of them were cured. In addition, the herb powder cured 27 out of 63 cases.
Clove bud essential oil
Clove buds are the dried, unopened flower buds of the clove tree, Syzygium aromaticum, which have recently been popularized as a worm treatment. Traditional therapeutic uses for clove bud include the control of nausea, flatulence and dyspepsia, and to enhance the action of other herbal remedies.
The key active component of clove bud is an essential oil, comprised primarily of the chemical compound eugenol.
Some years ago, clove powder demonstrated an ability in the lab to kill earthworms. At that time earthworms were used as a model to investigate the ability of a substance to kill or expel intestinal worms. Suspension of clove powder was 4.5 times more potent than powdered fresh garlic and 7.3 times more active than piperazine22 (Piperazine is an anthelmintic drug that has been used to treat pinworm and roundworm infections in humans for decades.)
More recently, extracts of clove bud were found to be effective at killing intestinal worms in a study.23 The test used the second-stage larva of the roundworm Toxocara canis (dog roundworm), which at the time of the study was highly resistant to worm-killing drugs, yet the clove bud produced a 100% kill rate.
Other herbs with a support role
Immune-system-enhancing herbs like echinacea and andrographis will bolster the body’s natural immune function and assist in the immune response to worm infestation. Many worm infestations will feature eosinophilia (an increased number of eosinophils, a type of white blood cell) and elevated serum IgE antibody levels, indicating that the immune system is fighting the worms.
Garlic (Allium sativum) has also been used to treat intestinal worm infestations in western herbal medicine.24 Garlic extract was effective against Rhabditis (a nematode that invades the skin of dogs and cattle) and the eggs of the roundworm, Ascaris suum.25 In the Toxocara study mentioned above, an extract of garlic produced a 100% kill rate after 24 hours of incubation.26
Laxative herbs which include preparations containing cascara (Rhamnus purshiana) and senna (Cassia spp.) will promote elimination of the worm infestation (or worm debris) via the bowel and can be used intermittently.
The contribution of Michelle Morgan in the preparation of this article is gratefully acknowledged.To your better health,
Nutrition & Healing
Vol. 9, Issue 1 • January 2015
Full references and citations for this article are available in the downloadable PDF version of the monthly Nutrition and Healing issue in which this article appears.