Botanical Name: Dysphania anthelmintica
Synonyms: Ambrina anthelmintica (L.) Spach Atriplex anthelmintica (L.) Crantz Botrys anthelmintica (L.) Nieuwl
Common Names: Wormseed
Habitat: Dysphania anthelmintica is native to S. America – Argentina, Paraguay, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, the Guyanas; C. America – Panama to Mexico; southern N. America. It is mainly found on dry wasteland and cultivated ground. Sand dunes, pinelands, meadows, roadsides, and other waste areas; at elevations up to 1,100 metres in southern N. America.
Dysphania anthelmintica is an erect, multi-branched, annual to short-lived perennial plant (herb) growing around 1 metre tall. It is irregularly branched, with oblong- lanceolate leaves up to 12 cm (4 .7 in) long.The bruised leaves emit an unpleasant foetid odour. The flowers are small and green, produced in a branched panicle at the apex of the stem. The flowers bloom all the year round.Fruiting during summer to fall. Seeds are horizontal or vertical, reddish brown, ovoid, 0.6–0.8 × 0.8–1 mm; seed coat smooth.The plant is a popular and very effective vermifuge, as well as having many other medicinal properties.
Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and prefers well-drained soil. Suitable pH: mildly acid, neutral and basic (mildly alkaline) soils. It cannot grow in the shade. It prefers moist soil.
A plant of the tropics and subtropics, where it is found at elevations up to 1,500 metres. It grows best in areas where annual daytime temperatures are within the range 15 – 22°c, but can tolerate 4 – 31°c. It can be killed by temperatures of -1°c or lower. It prefers a mean annual rainfall in the range 800 – 1,500mm, but tolerates 300 – 4,200mm. An easily grown plant, succeeding in most soils but disliking shade. It prefers a moderately fertile soil. Prefers a pH in the range 6.5 – 7.5, tolerating 5 – 8.7.
Through seed – whilst it can be sown in situ in mid to late spring, we have had better results by sowing the seed in a cold frame in early spring. Put a few seeds in each pot and thin to the best plant if necessary. Germination rates are usually very good and the seedlings should appear within a few days of sowing the seed. Plant out in late spring, after the last expected frosts.
Leaves are edible they are cooked and eaten. The tender leaves are sometimes used as a potherb. Used as a condiment in soups etc, it is said to reduce flatulence if eaten with beans. The leaves have a rank taste due to the presence of resinous dots and sticky hairs. The raw leaves should only be eaten in small quantities, see the notes above on toxicity. Seed – cooked. The seed is small and fiddly, it should be soaked in water overnight and thoroughly rinsed before it is used in order to remove any saponins. An infusion of the leaves is a tea substitute.
Wormseed is a Central American herb that has been used for centuries to expel parasitic worms from the body. The seed, or the essential oil obtained from the seed and flowering stem is used for this, though all parts of the plant are used medicinally. The plant, especially the essential oil, is toxic in larger doses and so should be used with care and preferably under the direction of a skilled practitioner. This remedy should not be prescribed for pregnant women. See also the notes above on toxicity. Until fairly recently, this was one of the most commonly used vermifuges, though it has now been largely replaced by synthetic drugs. The seed, or the essential oil, was used. It is very effective against most parasites, including the amoeba that causes dysentery, but is less effective against tapeworm. Fasting should not precede its use and there have occasionally been cases of poisoning caused by this treatment. The essential oil is used externally to treat athlete’s foot and insect bites. This is at its highest concentration in the flowering stems before seed is set, these contain around 0.7% essential oil of which almost 50% is the active vermifuge ascaridol. The essential oil is of similar quality from plants cultivated in warm climates and those in cool climates. The whole plant is analgesic, antiasthmatic, carminative, febrifuge, stomachic and vermifuge. An infusion can be used as a digestive remedy, being taken to settle a wide range of problems such colic, diarrhoea and stomach pains; it is also used to treat conditions such as coughs, fevers and internal haemorrhages. The leaves are added in small quantities as a flavouring for various cooked bean dishes because their carminative activity can reduce flatulence. Externally, it has been used as a wash for haemorrhoids, as a poultice to detoxify snake bites and other poisons and is thought to have wound-healing properties. The macerated leaves and flowers are mixed with a pinch of salt, and used as a poultice for treating persistent sores. The essential oil is high in ascaridol, a nematicidal terpene peroxide which is active against ascaris, worms and ankylostomes.
Other Uses: The plant is used as a fumigant against mosquitoes and is also added to fertilizers to inhibit insect larvae. Gold/green dyes can be obtained from the whole plant.
Known Hazards: The essential oil in the seed and flowering plant is highly toxic. In excess it can cause dizziness, vomiting, convulsions and even death. The plant can also cause dermatitis or other allergic reactions. The leaves and seeds of all members of this genus are more or less edible. However, many of the species in this genus contain saponins, though usually in quantities too small to do any harm. Although toxic, saponins are poorly absorbed by the body and most pass straight through without any problem. They are also broken down to a large extent in the cooking process. Saponins are found in many foods, such as some beans. Saponins are much more toxic to some creatures, such as fish, and hunting tribes have traditionally put large quantities of them in streams, lakes etc in order to stupefy or kill the fish. The plants also contain some oxalic acid, which in large quantities can lock up some of the nutrients in the food. However, even considering this, they are very nutritious vegetables in reasonable quantities. Cooking the plant will reduce its content of oxalic acid. People with a tendency to rheumatism, arthritis, gout, kidney stones or hyperacidity should take especial caution if including this plant in their diet since it can aggravate their condition.
Disclaimer : The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplement, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.