Artemisia is the herb of the year; therefore, I’ve chosen to write about it. My dictionary has this definition: "Any of a genus (Artemisia) of aromatic herbs or shrubs of the composite family, with small greenish heads, including wormwood." I have been told there are around 200 species of artemisia. Many of them are tough, perennial, shrubby weeds that grow in the dry, dusty regions of North American prairies, Siberian steppes and Turkey’s tan deserts. There are other species that commonly grow along roadsides and in waste areas near the sea in Europe.
Many species have been cultivated for medications for such purposes as antiseptics, digestive aids, bitter tonics and to expel internal parasites. Some are cultivated for use in insecticides. Many are used in the art of dried crafts. Some have a long history of use as culinary seasonings.
I have had the pleasure of growing a good many of these herbs. I will tell you about a few.
Artemisia annua, sweet wormwood or sweet Annie, is a reseeding annual. It can easily grow head high. Its sweet-scented, green foliage is widely used in potpourri and wreath making. The dried herb maintains its wonderful aroma for many years. It has been used in China for centuries to treat malaria, tuberculosis, dyspepsia, jaundice, boils and other diseases.
Artemisia vulgaris, mugwort, is a hardy perennial. It has dark green leaves which are downy-white underneath. It easily grows to a height of five feet. It is most often used to rid the body of intestinal parasites. The dried leaves make an excellent stuffing for a dream pillow.
Artemisia dracunculus, French tarragon, is a much sought culinary herb the world over. Here in Alabama, I think we can consider it a half-hardy perennial. It doesn’t like our hot, humid summers, or our extremely wet, freeze and thaw winters. For this reason, I had better luck growing this plant in containers with shade during the heat of the day. Wherever it’s grown, it always looks wilted due to its floppy, weak-stemmed traits. Its limbs can reach a length of two to three feet. It is also a perennial.
(There is a Russian tarragon. It is not desirable for culinary use. Do not confuse the two plants.)
Artemisia absinthium, wormwood, is a very ornamental, hardy perennial that can grow to a height of five feet. It has intricately cut, grey-green foliage with stout woody stems. I believe it is still used to flavor vermouth and it was formerly used to flavor the now illegal absinthe. (That’s what my reference says.) It makes a beautiful ornamental bedding plant.
Artemisia abrotanum, Southernwood, is another hardy perennial which can grow to a five foot height. It has feathery, grey-green leaves on stout woody stems. The leaves have a strong, rich smell and easily serve as a moth repellent. This herb, bearing the common name of "Lad’s Love," is a native of Europe. It has somewhat naturalized over parts of North America. There is a variety of the plant which has a citrus scent. According to legend, Southernwood is useful in the treatment of coughs, congestion, catarrh, fever and stomach problems.
Author Charlotte Bronte evidently had a great appreciation for this particular herb. In her book, "Jane Eyre," the heroine often gained solace from her many woes by going into the garden and smelling Southernwood.
My growing days are over, but they are remembered with pleasure.
As always, I advise you to consult your physician before taking any herbal remedy.