African Wormwood – Artemisia afra
Soft aromatic shrub is one of the most popular medicinal plants in South Africa. Easy to grow, Artemisia afra is an essential part of the herb garden, and with its silver-grey foliage it makes a striking display in any garden. Makes very interesting combinations of foliage and flower colour throughout the summer. Deters common garden pests. Sandy soil and full sun.
Common names: African wormwood, wild wormwood (English); umhlonyane (Xhosa); mhlonyane (Zulu); wildeals (Afrikaans).
Botanical name: Artemisia afra
Artemisia afra contains thujone, a potential nerve toxin.
Soft, feathery, aromatic leaves. Rich in essential oil (cineole, thujone, camphor, borneol). Highly attractive to and tolerant of black aphids, that then feed a growing population of ladybirds. Bitter taste. Thujone is a potential neurotoxin, causing hallucinations, don’t use long-term.
Uses & Benefits
Important traditional remedy for a wide range of maladies. Leaves used as is gently inserted in the nostrils for blocked sinuses, as infusion, tincture (brandy), inhalations for coughs, colds, flu, fever; digestive upsets – loss of appetite; colic, intestinal worms; pain, headaches, earache.
Artemisia afra is one of the oldest and best known medicinal plants, and is still used effectively today in South Africa by people of all cultures. The list of uses covers a wide range of ailments from coughs, colds, fever, loss of appetite, colic, headache, earache, intestinal worms to malaria. Artemisia is used in many different ways and one of the most common practices is to insert fresh leaves into the nostrils to clear blocked nasal passages.
Another maybe not so common use is to place leaves in socks for sweaty feet
The roots, stems and leaves are used in many different ways and taken as enemas, poultices, infusions, body washes, lotions, smoked, snuffed or drunk as a tea. A. afra has a very bitter taste and is usually sweetened with sugar or honey when drunk.
Wilde-als brandy is a very popular medicine still made and sold today. Margaret Roberts (1990) lists many other interesting uses in her book, Indigenous healing plants, which includes the use of A. afra in natural insecticidal sprays and as a moth repellent. She also mentions that wilde-als with its painkilling and relaxing properties could be of real value to today’s stressful society.
Care & Cultivation
Perennial, will die back in winter in cold climates and re-sprout from base.
Seed can be sown in spring or summer. Seeds are very small, starting indoors is recommended. Sow on the surface of the soil. Seeds needs some sun to germinate so do not cover them or give them a light dusting to help get good soil contact. Keep moist until seedling appear, they are very small and delicate, they take a while to grow to any size. When large enough, transfer pot, let it grow in the pot until you can transfer is again to its final spot.
Fast-growing, established shrubs are very tough and will slowly spread to form thicker clumps. New plants can be propagated by division or from cuttings that root easily in spring and summer.
Artemisia afra needs full sun and heavy pruning in winter to encourage new lush growth in spring. Actively growing in the summer months, it should be able to take quite low temperatures during the winter months. Fast-growing, established shrubs are very tough and will slowly spread to form thicker clumps. New plants can be propagated by division or from cuttings that root easily in spring and summer. Seed can be sown in spring or summer.