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Artemisia afra Jacq. ex Willd.

Family: Asteraceae

Common names: wild wormwood, African wormwood (Eng.); wilde-als (Afr.); umhlonyane
(isiXhosa); mhlonyane (isiZulu); lengana (Tswana); zengana (Southern Sotho)

Named after the Greek goddess Artemis, this 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.

Artemisia afra, attractive silvery fern-like foliage


Description

Artemisia afra grows in thick, bushy, slightly untidy clumps, usually with tall
stems up to 2 m high, but sometimes as low as 0.6 m. The stems are thick and woody
at the base, becoming thinner and softer towards the top. Many smaller side
branches shoot from the main stems. The stems are ribbed with strong swollen lines
that run all the way up. The soft leaves are finely divided, almost fern-like. The
upper surface of the leaves is dark green whereas the undersides and the stems are
covered with small white hairs, which give the shrub the characteristic overall
grey colour. Very typical of A. afra is the strong, sticky sweet smell that it
exudes when touched or cut.

Artemisia afra, flowers

Artemisia afra flowers in late summer, from March to May. The individual creamy
yellow flowers are small (3-4 mm in diameter), nodding and crowded at the tips of
the branches.
Conservation Status

Artemisia afra is not threatened, and is assessed as Least Concern (LC) on the Red
List of South African plants.
Distribution and habitat

Artemisia afra is a common species in South Africa with a wide distribution from
the Cederberg Mountains in the Cape, northwards to tropical East Africa and
stretching as far north as Ethiopia. In the wild it grows at altitudes between 20-2
440 m on damp slopes, along streamsides and forest margins. A. afra is the only
indigenous species in this genus. A. vulgaris is naturalized in the Eastern Cape.
It is an annual, indigenous to Europe, Iran, Siberia and North Africa, is commonly
known as mugwort, and is described by Huxley et al. (1992) as 'a condiment with
supposed magical properties'.

World-wide there are about 400 species of Artemisia, mainly from the northern
hemisphere. Many of the other Artemisia species are aromatic perennials and are
used medicinally. Lesley Bremness (1988) in The complete book of herbs, mentions
that wormwood is included for its internal worm-expelling properties in the ancient
Greek text of Dioscorides; Indians from New Mexico use similar varieties to treat
bronchitis and colds; and the Chinese still use wormwood rolled up in the nostril
to stop nosebleeds.

Artemisia afra