Artemisia afra

Artemisia afra

When the old folks said: “The worse the medicine tastes, the better it works”, they could well have been talking about wormwood.  It certainly is as bitter as gall, but it is also one of the oldest and most popular and trusted remedies in South Africa, where it has many names like Wilde Als, African Wormwood, Lengana, Mhlonyane, Umhlonyane, Lanyana and Zengana.

The genus ‘Artemisia’ was named after Artemis, the Greek goddess of hunting, wild animals and the moon!

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Artemisia afra

Wilde Als is a must-have for the garden, be it ornamental, medicinal, herb or veggie garden, not only because of its attractive feathery grey foliage, but also for its strong smell, which acts as a deterrent against flies, ants, mosquitoes, beetles and caterpillars – even dogs will avoid beds planted with wild wormwood!

An insecticidal spray can be made by brewing a strong ‘tea’ with 3 cups of leaf and stem cuttings and half a bucket of boiling water.  Leave the mixture to steep until it is cooled down, then strain and use it to spray against aphids and white fly on young plants as well as ants and flies in the house or fleas in your dog’s kennel.  The tea can also be used, mixed with warm water, as a final rinse against fleas after you have washed your dog.

Branches of the plant can be hung up to dry and ground to a powder.  Sprinkle this powder on the soil around vegetable seedlings like tomatoes, brinjals, peppers and lettuce to keep slugs, snails and aphids at bay.  It can also be watered into the soil against pesky cutworms.  Fresh leaves and stems can be used as mulch to protect plants against insect attacks.

Growing Artemisia afra

Artemisia afra is tough, easy-to-grow and disease resistant.  Plant your young plant in full sun in pots or beds where the woody shrubs will grow up to 2m high.  They will add lovely texture and colour to mixed herbaceous borders, especially if combined with other indigenous beauties like wild dagga and wild sage.

They can also be planted along pathways where the aromatic foliage can be brushed against to release its strong scent. Its watering needs are moderate to dry – allow the surface to dry out before the next watering – and a well-draining soil or potting mix is essential. Prune your plant back at the end of winter to encourage strong new spring growth. Butter-yellow flowers are borne from late summer to early winter.

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Companion plants:

Wild Wormwood is of great benefit to many plants and especially so if planted near beans, tomatoes, peppers, carrots, beetroot, brinjals, potatoes, strawberries and roses where it will offer protection from insect infestations and stimulate healthy growth.

Don’t, however,  plant it together with sage, anise, fennel or caraway as it tends to inhibit their growth.

An old standby:

Artemisia afra and its many medicinal applications came under the spotlight and gained huge popularity during Covid-19. In traditional herbal medicine Artemisia is classed as a ‘bitter tonic’ – no surprises there! The bitter taste is caused by the presence of a chemical which acts to stimulate and invigorate the entire digestive system and it is often used for indigestion and as a general health tonic. It also has an anti-inflammatory action and can be used to help the body deal with fevers and infections, especially of the respiratory tract.

In traditional African medicine the leaves can be used to brew a tea or the vapour can be inhaled to help for coughs and bronchial infections. The same brew can be used externally as a disinfectant wash for sores, cuts and grazes and a poultice of hot leaves will bring relief of painful sprains and rheumatic swelling.

A fresh leaf rolled up and inserted into each nostril (yes, a sight to behold!) can offer excellent relief from sinus, blocked nose, colds and headaches.

Another old favourite is wilde als brandy – a mixture of wilde als with sugar, thyme, rosemary, ginger and mint, preserved in brandy, and used for respiratory and digestive problems.

PLEASE NOTE:   The above material is for informative purposes only.  Always seek advice from a medical practitioner.  Avoid using if you are pregnant, lactating or have seizures of any kind.

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