Artemisia afra

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.

African Wormwood is one of the most used traditional medicines, well-known for her fragrant leaves and bitter taste.

She is an strongly aromatic plant with fragrant,  feathery, grey/green leaves and small pale yellow flowers. She is a wonderful plant to use in companion planting. African wormwood acts as a nursery for ladybirds. By hosting a specific black aphid, she attracts ladybirds to lay their eggs on her leaves. The nymphs eat the aphids and pupate on the plant. Adult ladybirds emerge to take care of the aphids in the rest of the garden. If you want ladybirds in your garden – you need this plant.

Cooling, cleansing, and disinfecting, rich in essential oils, African Wormwood has anti-bacterial and anti-viral effects, and is a popular plant to help ease colds, coughs and flu. She is commonly used as a tea, and infused in hot water she also makes a useful wash to clean cuts and grazes, and as a compress to help reduce inflammation associated with strains, sprains and bruises. As a steam inhalation, the essential oil can help ease nasal congestion, and in a warm bath, ease headaches and menstrual pain. African wormwood is also mildly analgesic. The diluted essential oil, massaged topically onto the skin, can help ease pain associated with rheumatism and arthritis.

African wormwood enjoys full sun and heavy pruning in winter. She is fast growing, actively doing so in Summer. She can be propagated by division or from cuttings in spring and summer and seeds can be sown in spring or summer too.

For a tea, add 1 teaspoon dried herb to 1 cup of boiled water. Steep for 5 mins. Strain. Enjoy the fragrant bitterness.

African Wormwood is one of the most used traditional medicines, well-known for her fragrant leaves and bitter taste. She is an strongly aromatic plant with fragrant,  feathery, grey/green leaves and small pale yellow flowers. She is a wonderful plant to use in companion planting. African wormwood acts as a nursery for ladybirds. By hosting a specific black aphid, she attracts ladybirds to lay their eggs on her leaves. The nymphs eat the aphids and pupate on the plant. Adult ladybirds emerge to take care of the aphids in the rest of the garden. If you want ladybirds in your garden – you need this plant. Cooling, cleansing, and disinfecting, rich in essential oils, African Wormwood has anti-bacterial and anti-viral effects, and is a popular plant to help ease colds, coughs and flu. She is commonly used as a tea, and infused in hot water she also makes a useful wash to clean cuts and grazes, and as a compress to help reduce inflammation associated with strains, sprains and bruises. As a steam inhalation, the essential oil can help ease nasal congestion, and in a warm bath, ease headaches and menstrual pain. African wormwood is also mildly analgesic. The diluted essential oil, massaged topically onto the skin, can help ease pain associated with rheumatism and arthritis. African wormwood enjoys full sun and heavy pruning in winter. She is fast growing, actively doing so in Summer. She can be propagated by division or from cuttings in spring and summer and seeds can be sown in spring or summer too. For a tea, add 1 teaspoon dried herb to 1 cup of boiled water. Steep for 5 mins. Strain. Enjoy the fragrant bitterness.

 

 

 

Plant Uses & Benefits: aromatic, cosmetics, flavouring, fragrance, insect repellent, ladybirds, medicine, pot plant, small garden, tea

Names

Common names: African wormwood, wild wormwood (English); mhlonyane (Xhosa); mhlonyane (Zulu); lengana (Tswana); zengana, lengana (Sotho); wildeals, alsem (Afrikaans). 
Botanical name: Artemisia afra

Family: Asteraceae

  • Etymology – Artemisia derived from Greek goddess ‘Artemis’; wildeals meaning ‘wild everything’
  • Confusers –
  • Other species in the genus –
    • Artemisia absinthimum

 

 

 


Nature

Type: shrub
Vegetation type:  
Flower colour: cream, yellow
Flowering season: Autumn
Plant-animal interactions: aphids, ladybirds
Red list status: Least Concern

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. Nature • Indigenous to South Africa, up through East Africa as far as Ethiopia. It is found commonly in the fynbos and transitional karoo biomes in moister mountain and riverine zones. • Leaves – soft, feathery, silver-green, aromatic leaves, rich in essential oil • Flowers – small, cream-coloured flowers end of summer • Grows fast up to 2 metres tall. • Highly attractive to, and tolerant, of a black aphid species that then feed a growing population of ladybirds. Conservation Ecology • No concerns, widely cultivated, easily propagated, popular garden plant • A. afra plays an important role in local community economy and ecosystem services.43  

 

 

 


Use as Medicine

Herbal traditions: Cape Dutch, Cape Herbal Medicine, Khoi & San
Plant parts used: leaves, roots

• One of the most popular medicinal plants in South Africa • Jan van Riebeeck diary noted Khoi and San used it for a variety of complaints, from gout to jaundice. • Ethnobotanical review reveals A. afra as the herb most used in combination with other plants.76 Plant Parts Used • leaves • roots

 

 

 

Safety & Toxicity

Safety: caution during pregnancy, caution in long-term use

Artemisia afra contains thujone, a potential nerve toxin. Safety & Toxicity • Thujone is a potential neurotoxin, causing hallucinations, don’t use internally long-term. • Thujone content in the essential oil varies – alpha-Thujone was the major component of the essential oils of A. afra from Philippolis (Free State) and Keiskammahoek (Eastern Cape) (62-74%), while the camphor content was very low (< or = 0.1-0.6%). The samples from Gqumahshe, Hogsback (Eastern Cape) and Empangeni (KwaZulu Natal) had low a-thujone contents (3.7-20.0%) while 1,8-cineole (13.0-49.5%) and camphor (13.9-21.2%) were the main components of the essential oils. It was further observed that the concentration of alpha-thujone increased significantly in the dry leaves when compared with the fresh leaves. This implies that fresh leaves are better used for infusion than dry leaves.44 • A study in mice valuated acute and sub-acute toxicity of aqueous extracts of A afra on brain, heart, and suprarenal glands. No signs of toxicity observed. LD50>5000mg/kg.45 • A toxicity study in rats and mice showed aqueous extracts of A. afra are non-toxic given acutely, low toxicity when given chronically.46

 

 

 

Qualities & Phytochemistry

Plant qualities: 
Phytochemical constituents: acacetin, apigenin, betulinic acid, borneol, caffeoylquinic acid, camphor, chrysoeriol, cineole, coumarins, genkwanin, luteolin, phenols, polysaccharides, rutin, scopoletin, tamarixetin, thujone

Leaves47 • Bitter taste • Complex herbaceous fragrance • Volatile oil – rich in essential oils o Cineole – 1,8-cineole o Thujone – alpha-and beta-thujone o Camphor o Borneol • Flavonoids48,49 o Luteolin o Scopoletin o Apigenin o Rutin o Acacetin o Chrysoeriol o Tamarixetin o Genkwanin o Betulinic acid o Caffeoylquinic acid • Phenolic acids • Coumarins • Polysaccharides50 • Artemisinin – not present in A. afra as compared to A. annua.51 Root • No information found

 

 

 

Actions & Pharmacology

Plant actions: anthelmintic / vermifuge, anti-depressive / thymoleptic, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, anticonvulsant / anti-epileptic, antifungal, antioxidant, antiplasmoidial, antiviral, bitter, bronchodilator, cardioprotective, decongestant, hypoglycaemic / anti-diabetic, spasmolytic / anti-spasmodic, vulnerary

Vulnerary Antimicrobial Antiviral • An in vitro study of A. afra extracts showed positive results in reducing feline coronavirus and SARS-CoV-2 infection. Uncertain if peak plasma concentrations in humans can reach levels needed to inhibit viral infection.52 • An in vitro study demonstrated anti-HIV activity for A. afra and A. annua.53 Antibacterial • Studies have shown inhibitory and bactericidal activity of A. afra extracts against Mycobacterium tuberculosis (TB).54,55 • Multiple studies have shown inhibitory and bactericidal effects of A. afra on Gram negative and Gram positive bacteria.56–58 • An in vitro study suggests that the combustion process of A. afra produces an ‘extract’ with superior antimicrobial activity and provides evidence for inhalation of medicinal smoke as an efficient mode of administration in respiratory infections.59 Antifungal • Essential oil of A. afra exhibited significant activity against Aspergillus ochraceus, Candida albicans, Alternaria alternata, Geotrichum candidum, Aspergillus niger, Penicillium citrium and Aspergillus parasiticus.60 Antiplasmoidial • An in vitro study showed negative results for aqueous extract, positive results for apolar extract of A. afra against Plasmodium falciparum.61 • An in vitro study showed extracts of A. afra inhibit the viability of late-stage gametocytes of Plasmodium falciparum.62 • Two randomised controlled trials showed positive results of A. afra in Schistosoma mansoni and Plasmodium falciparum infected patients.63,64 These publications later retracted. Need to be replicated in well-designed clinical trials.65 • Emerging evidence demonstrates that the other phytochemicals in A. afra are therapeutically active not only artemisinin.66–68 Spasmolytic • A study of A. afra extracts effects on isolated mouse duodenum and guinea pig ileum demonstrated spasmolytic activity.69 Anthelmintic Antidiabetic / Hypoglycaemic • Multiple in vivo studies in rats show an aqueous leaf extract of A.afra ameliorates oxidative stress on pancreas, reduces blood glucose levels, increases serum insulin concentration, increases body weight.70–73 Bronchodilator • Study validated luteolin content and bronchodilator effects of A. afra steam inhalation.48 Anti-inflammatory Antidepressant Antioxidant • Attributed to flavonoids, polyphenols, and tannins that are reported to have antioxidant activity. • Study in rats showed increased pancreatic lipid peroxidation in the diabetic rats was also normalized by aqueous A. afra extract. 70 Antiepileptic • A study in mice showed whole-plant extract (70% hydroethanolic extract) of A. afra has anti-seizure activity.74 Cardioprotective • An in vivo study in rats demonstrated cardioprotective effect of A. afra against isoproterenol-induced myocardial injury.75

 

 

 

Preparations

Plant preparations: dried, enema, essential oil, fresh, infusion - aqueous, lotion, poultice, powder, smoke, snuff, steam, tincture, wash

• fresh leaves – nostrils, ears • fresh leaves – warmed and placed inside topical dressings • infusions • tinctures • essential oil • steam • enemas • poultices • wash • lotions • smoke59 • powder • snuff

 

 

 

First-Aid Indications

First-aid use: acne, boils, colds & 'flu, colic, constipation, cough, cuts, earache, fever, flatulence, grazes, haemorrhoids, headache, indigestion, influenza, intestinal worms, pain, poor appetite, rhinitis, sinusitis, sore throat, wounds 

• Important traditional remedy for a wide range of maladies. • Leaves used by gently inserting in the nostrils for blocked sinuses. • Bitter taste – can be sweetened with sugar or honey. Skin • Wounds, cuts, grazes • Acne • Boils Respiratory • Coughs • Colds & ‘flu • Fever • Sore throat • Rhinitis, sinusitis77 • Headaches78 Digestive • Loss of appetite • Indigestion • Dyspepsia • Colic • Flatulence • Constipation • Intestinal worms • Haemorrhoids Musculoskeletal Other • Sweaty, smelly feet – placed in socks

 

 

 

Medical Indications

Medical use:  

• COVID-19 • Diabetes • Bronchitis • Whooping cough • Tuberculosis79 • Pain – topically sprains, arthritis, stomach-ache • Earache • Measles • Malaria • Hypertension • Menstrual cramps • Epilepsy • HIV

 

 

 

Veterinary Indications

Medical use:  

• Coccidiosis in poultry – A. afra used in vivo study – feed conversion ratios similar to toltrazuril, and higher than the untreated control.80 • A combination of Helichrysum caespititium and A. afra roots and leaves have been used orally to treat coughing cattle in South Africa.81

 

 

 

Dosage

 

 

 

 

Research

Review Articles 1. Du Toit A, van der Kooy F. Artemisia afra, a controversial herbal remedy or a treasure trove of new drugs? J Ethnopharmacol. 2019 Nov 15;244:112127. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2019.112127. Epub 2019 Jul 31. PMID: 31376515. 2. Naß J, Efferth T. The activity of Artemisia spp. and their constituents against Trypanosomiasis. Phytomedicine. 2018 Aug 1;47:184-191. doi: 10.1016/j.phymed.2018.06.002. Epub 2018 Jun 9. PMID: 30166103. 3. Frimpong EK, Asong JA, Aremu AO. A Review on Medicinal Plants Used in the Management of Headache in Africa. Plants (Basel). 2021 Sep 28;10(10):2038. doi: 10.3390/plants10102038. PMID: 34685845; PMCID: PMC8539318. 4. Lall N, Kishore N. Are plants used for skin care in South Africa fully explored? J Ethnopharmacol. 2014 Apr 11;153(1):61-84. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2014.02.021. Epub 2014 Feb 21. PMID: 24566124. 5. Van Wyk BE. A broad review of commercially important southern African medicinal plants. J Ethnopharmacol. 2008 Oct 28;119(3):342-55. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2008.05.029. Epub 2008 Jun 3. PMID: 18577439. 6. Van Vuuren SF, Motlhatlego KE, Netshia V. Traditionally used polyherbals in a southern African therapeutic context. J Ethnopharmacol. 2022 Apr 24;288:114977. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2022.114977. Epub 2022 Jan 10. PMID: 35017037. Clinical Research Clinical Trials Randomised Controlled Trials 1. Munyangi J, Cornet-Vernet L, Idumbo M, Lu C, Lutgen P, Perronne C, Ngombe N, Bianga J, Mupenda B, Lalukala P, Mergeai G, Mumba D, Towler M, Weathers P. Artemisia annua and Artemisia afra tea infusions vs. artesunate-amodiaquine (ASAQ) in treating Plasmodium falciparum malaria in a large scale, double blind, randomized clinical trial. Phytomedicine. 2019 Apr;57:49-56. doi: 10.1016/j.phymed.2018.12.002. Epub 2018 Dec 5. Retraction in: Phytomedicine. 2020 Nov;78:153304. PMID: 30668322; PMCID: PMC6990969. 2. Munyangi J, Cornet-Vernet L, Idumbo M, Lu C, Lutgen P, Perronne C, Ngombe N, Bianga J, Mupenda B, Lalukala P, Mergeai G, Mumba D, Towler M, Weathers P. Effect of Artemisia annua and Artemisia afra tea infusions on schistosomiasis in a large clinical trial. Phytomedicine. 2018 Dec 1;51:233-240. doi: 10.1016/j.phymed.2018.10.014. Epub 2018 Oct 10. Retraction in: Phytomedicine. 2020 Nov;78:153303. PMID: 30466622; PMCID: PMC6990975. Meta-Analyses – none Systematic Reviews – none

 

 

 


Other Uses

Uses & Benefits: aromatic, cosmetics, flavouring, fragrance, insect repellent, ladybirds, medicine, pot plant, small garden, tea

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. • Love charm • Insect repellent • Ant repellent • Moth repellent Use as Food Plant Parts Used • Leaves – flavouring Preparations • Aromatic bitters

 

 

 


Cultivation & Harvest

Light-level: afternoon sun, full sun, morning sun
Soil type: loamy, sandy, well-drained
Soil pH: 
Propagation: cuttings, seed

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.   • Easy to grow • Fast growing • Perennial, will die back in winter in cold climates and re-sprout from base • Soil – sandy, well-drained soil • Light – full sun, semi-shade • Water – waterwise once established • Pruning – heavy pruning in winter to encourage new growth in spring Propagation • Seeds – very small, starting indoors is recommended. Sow in Spring or Summer, 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. • Cuttings – new shoots, root easily in spring and summer Harvest

 

 

 


Resources

Websites