Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Artemisia - Herb of the Week

This week I was out moving / relocated plants in the herb garden (in-between terrible rain storms) and spent much time with all of my Artemisias.  They are a drought loving plant so last year was a good year for them and they are the largest and hardiest of my returning plants in 2013. 
So since my fingers are covered with the powerful and unique scent of
Artemisia I chose them all as the herb of the week.
The genus Artemisia (which includes over 400 plants) may also be named after an ancient botanist. Artemisia was the wife and sister of the Greek/Persian King Mausolus from the name of whose tomb we get the word mausoleum. Artemisia, who ruled for three years after the king's death, was a botanist and medical researcher, and died in 350 B.C.   However, the prevailing belief is that the plant is named for the goddess Artemis, the genus is dominated by subshrubs, many evergreen or nearly evergreen. As plants with a long history of use as medicinals to treat a variety of complaints, they have always been represented in herb gar­dens. Gardeners value them for their beautifully cut foliage in the sterling to gray range, versatility of forms from ground-hugging to tall shrubs, and their dependabil­ity. Bitter properties, present to some degree in all artemisias, are due to the chemical thujone, which gives them their characteristic bracing aroma and medic­inal value as a treatment for intestinal worms. Some have an important place in Traditional Chinese Medicine, and many are choice for crafts (especially wreaths).
Silver king bundles to make a wreath
Artemisia belongs to the daisy family Asteraceae. It comprises hardy herbs and shrubs known for their volatile oils. They grow in temperate climates of the Northern Hemisphere and Southern Hemisphere, usually in dry or semi-dry habitats. The fern-like leaves of many species are covered with white hairs. Common names used for several species include mugwort, sagebrush, sagewort, and wormwood, while a few species have unique names, notably Tarragon (A. dracunculus) and Southernwood (A. abrotanum). Most species have strong aromas and bitter tastes compounds in the leaf that exist as an adaptation to discourage plant eaters. The small flowers are wind-pollinated.
artemisia schimiditania

When purchasing artemisias, do be aware that taxonomic confu­sion abounds among artemisias: species are shifted around, plants are sold under names that have no botanical standing and plants with the same names may bear little resemblance to one another (while plants with different names appear very much alike!).
The aromatic leaves of many species of Artemisia are medicinal, and some are used for flavoring. Most species have an extremely bitter taste. Artemisia oils had inhibitory effects on the growth of bacteria, yeasts and dermatophytes.
Artemisinin (from Sweet wormwood, Artemisia annua) is the active ingredient in the anti-malarial combination therapy Coartem produced by Novartis and the World Health Organization. A few species are grown as ornamental plants, the fine-textured ones used for clipped bordering. All grow best in free-draining sandy soil, unfertilized, and in full sun.
The broken pieces cut from the top of the plant are used in Asia to prepare a wide range of herbal medications. Herbal teas and tinctures made from the artemisia are well known to practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine - or TCM. Chinese traditional medical doctors usually supply artemisia and call this herb as well as all the products made from by the name - yen chen hao. Artemisia based herbal products can be obtained from shops that sell traditional Chinese medicine.  There are many who feel artemisia is not an herb to take internally.  I never have.

Artemisia’s also have a literary history.  The bitterness of the plant led to its use by wet-nurses for weaning infants from the breast and was referred to by Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet (Act I, Scene 3.)  Shakespeare also refers to the herb as "Dian's bud" (Diana being the Roman incarnation of Artemis) in Midsummer Night's Dream, as the antidote to the love potion concocted from the flower "Love in Idleness" (the pansy) that Oberon and Puck use to enchant the lovers:
Oberon: ...
Be as thou wast wont to be:
See as thou wast wont to see:
Dian's bud o'er Cupid's flower
Hath such force and blessed power.
MND 4.1.70-73

A Few of the Genus
Artemisia  dracunculus (Tarragon) is the most widely know of this family.  It is a culinary herb particularly important in French Cuisine. I posted an entire blog on this culinary Artemisia back in February 2012
Artemisia absinthium (Absinth Wormwood) was used to repel fleas and moths, and in brewing (wormwood beer, wormwood wine). The aperitif vermouth (derived from the German word Wermut, "wormwood") is a wine flavored with aromatic herbs, but originally with wormwood. The highly potent spirits absinthe and Malört also contain wormwood. Polish vodka Zoladkowa Gorzka is flavoured with wormwood. Wormwood has been used medicinally as well.
Artemisia arborescens (Tree Wormwood, or Sheeba in Arabic) is a very bitter herb indigenous to the Middle East that is used in tea, usually with mint. In small quantities (in tea) its believed to have medicinal properties, pacifying various kinds of digestion turmoils. In larger doses it may have some hallucinogenic properties. In Israel Artemisia is sometimes referred to by the name "Shiva", the Queen of Sheba.
Artemesia stelleriana is known as 'Dusty Miller'.
Artemisia capillaris is the plant known as both Artemisia and Wormwood in traditional Asian herbal literature. This plant is a bushy perennial shrub that can reach 2 to 4 feet high - from 60 to 120 centimeters. This is the plant found in the wild in the forest of East Asia, and a native to the island of Taiwan, the Japanese islands and the northern parts  the People’s Republic of China.

Artemisia ludoviciana
Artemisia ludoviciana 'Silver King' is native to the western United States although I grew it quite well beginning with my first herb garden here in Illinois. It is commonly called white sage because of the appearance of its foliage: lance-shaped leaves (to 4” long) are silver-white, pubescent and somewhat sage-like in appearance. 'Silver King' is a compact cultivar that features leaves and stems that are somewhat more slender than the species. It is a generally upright perennial that is grown for its attractive foliage that adds texture and contrast to gardens.  Not only is it nice in the garden, but I used it dried to create wreath bases and to make tree shaped table decorations that I covered with holiday ornaments at Christmas time.
Artemisia schmiditiana (Mugwort)
Artemisia schmiditiana is the most common found in herb gardens in Illinois.  This is the species known most commonly as Silver Mound, Mugwort, and Wormwood. This cultivar is best known for its bug repelling qualities.  Some have taken dried Wormwood, placed it inside a coffee filter to form a sort of "pod" and then placed them under furniture and such as a natural way of repelling fleas from their home.
Artemisia annua (Sweet Annie flowering)
Artemisia annua (Sweet Annie) has fern-like leaf, bright yellow flowers, and a slightly more sweet  camphor-like scent. Its height averages about 3 to 4 feet on a single stem, with alternating branches, and alternating leaves.  As a result this is a perfect plant for making aromatic wreaths.
To Grow

Artemisia is very easy to grow, it manages to grow very well in slightly alkaline loamy soil or in well drained soils - the plant grows well in places exposed to good sunlight throughout the day. It is hardy from zone 3 to 10.  Artemisia is quite tolerant to drought and low moisture conditions. In fact, plants grown in poor and dry soils are actually longer lived, much hardier and have more of the prized aromatic quality. When grown in temperate places like Britain, this species will probably not be as hardy in all parts of the country as temperature varies quite a lot along the length of the British Isles - however, artemisia can easily tolerate temperatures that are as low as -5° C. Another notable feature of all the plants included in this genus is their resistance to the honey fungus - a common fungus that affects many plants. At the same time, plants in this genus are rarely troubled by deer and other browsing animals.

Artemisia is usually propagated using the seeds. These seeds are sown on the soil surface in late winter and sometime in the early summer when they are grown in a greenhouse. When the seeds germinate and seedlings become large enough to handle, they are pricked and sorted out into individual pots and then plant out in the summer months. Plants are also grown from cuttings of the half ripe wood; these are placed in a frame sometime in July or August. They are then divided in the spring or autumn.

I use Sweet Annie crumbles on rugs throughout my house. Let them sit a day or two on the carpet if you can, then vacuum up. It leaves a great fresh smell that is freshening and takes away musty smells and pet odors as well as being a flea repellent.  The Backyard Patch has two different moth repellent sachets each with a different combination of Artemisa.

Herbal Moth Repellent
 This blend is both naturally antiseptic and antimicrobial.

¼ cup dried thyme
¼ cup whole cloves
¼ cup wormwood
¼ cup sweet annie

Combine the herbs in a small bowl.  Place a tablespoon of the mixture in a small cloth bag or tea ball.  To use, tuck into drawers or hang in your closet.

Moth Chaser Potpourri (adapted from a recipe by Kathleen Kips)

4 C. dried moth repellant herbs: tansy, santolina, southernwood, wormwood, and thyme any combination.
1/2 C. dried lavender foliage
1/2 C. bay leaves, crushed
1/4 C. mixed spices slightly crushed
1/2 C. cedar chips
1/4 C. cut orris root or cellulose fiber
15 to 20 drops cinnamon essential oil
25 to 30 drops lavender oil
25 to 30 drops lemon grass essential oil
15 to 20 drops patchouli essential oil
(Note: combine oils before adding to orris root or cellulose fiber.)

Blend all ingredients together. Store in airtight container for about two weeks to allow  fragrances to blend. Tie in cloth squares, put in small muslin bags or tie in old hankies. Tuck in trunks and drawers, hang from hangers and put in closet corners. Put in suitcases, lockers and trunks. Put under car seat. Refresh with a few drops of oil once yearly or crush spices to release more scent. 


  1. Have you published a book? If not will you?

    1. Trust me if I could find a publisher, I'd do it! Thank you for the vote of confidence! M

  2. Great information. Thank you!


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