California mugwort (Artemisia douglasiana Besser) is used by many tribes throughout California to treat a variety of conditions, including colds, allergies, and pain. California mugwort is also utilized as women's medicine. Its use is on the rise outside of Native communities, often without the guidance of a traditional healer or experienced herbalist. Because it has been shown to have antiproliferative activity against plant and animal cells, we investigated whether California mugwort extracts have an effect on normal human cells as well as estrogen receptor positive (ER+) and estrogen receptor negative (ER-) human breast cancer cells. Ethanolic and aqueous extracts of A. douglasiana leaves were tested for cytotoxicity against unstimulated normal human peripheral blood mononuclear cells (hPBMC), as well as against an ER+ human breast cancer cell line (BT-474) and an ER- human breast cancer cell line (MDA-MB-231). An ethanolic leaf extract killed hPBMC, BT-474, and MDA-MB-231 cells with IC50 values of 23.6 ± 0.3, 27 ± 5, and 37 ± 4 μg/ml, respectively. An aqueous extract killed hPBMC with an IC50 value of 60 ± 10 μg/ml, but had no effect on the two cancer cell lines at concentrations up to 100 μg/ml. The results of this study indicate that the cytotoxicity of California mugwort extends to normal human cells, as well as cancerous cells. Therefore, until further is known about the safety of this medicine, caution should be taken when consuming extracts of California mugwort, whether as a tincture or as a tea.
Keywords: Artemisia douglasiana; California mugwort; Native American Traditional Medicine; cytotoxicity.