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Treats from the sun-loving Artemisia family

May 20, 2011
By H.I. JEAN SHIELDS, Garden Club of Cape Coral

I have had a very sweet scented plant in a garden area that I enjoy every year. It is a nice medium green with lacy leaves and grows to about 3 feet tall until I think it is starting to look too leggy.

It must be self-seeding because last year it was a little too wide and I cut and discarded most of the plant and now I have a couple extras. All I have to do is brush my hand across the plant and the clean fresh, sweet scent spreads in the air and lingers a short time on the hand.

I never was concerned what it was, it was no trouble, liked the sunny spot and the regular soil around it, never fertilized it either. It was happy with whatever water it received. It did look pretty dry at times, in a black pot, but continued on just fine.

Earlier this year a gardening friend finally told me that it is Artemisia. That was a surprise. Herbs to me are basil, rosemary and Cuban oregano. I do know parsley. My parsley mostly comes from the store for cooking and decorating food trays. I do keep a pot full outside as a host plant for our beautiful monarch butterflies.

I know I obtained this Artemisia from a fellow gardener. The Garden Club has several herb ladies and they are willing to share their knowledge and plants with all of us. One of them has advised me that mine is Artemisia annua. This particular herb is not to be ingested; rather it is most useful as a sweet smelling wreath, or a sweet scented addition to a flower arrangement.

In late summer the plant will have tiny bead-like yellow flowers. You can use it in fresh flower arrangements, minus the flowers, or hang it in a bundle to dry and use to make sweet smelling wreaths, or garlands.

You can also use sweet annua in sachets to keep moths out of clothing and some people think it will repel mosquitoes.

I know have clippings on a kitchen windowsill to figure out what I want to do with them. You can sow seeds in late summer as you do most seeds, no special watering or soil needed. No mulch. If you let the plant go to seed, you will have a lot of seeds to sow or pass around.

The soil mine is growing in is a mixture of old potted plant soil that I have dumped around that area - no special additives but it does drain well.

It does not seem invasive, but will grow to 3 feet tall and pretty wide. The lacy look of the leaves make it a pretty plant. Some Artemisia's have a more weedy and invasive nature. Also, it is not wise to ingest any herbs unless you consult with an herbalist.

The genus Artemisia includes over 400 plants, and there is much folklore that goes way back to 350 B.C.

There are many religious beliefs and powers attributed to the Artemisia plants. Artemisia absinthium, Absinth wormwood, was used in brewing beer and wine. Polish vodka is flavored with wormwood. Wormwood has been used medicinally, as a tonic and as a natural way to repel fleas from a home.

Artemisia arborebscens, tree wormwood, is very bitter and used in tea, usually with mint. I am assuming it is used with a large amount of mint.

Wormwood is also believed to have multiple effects on the psychic abilities of the practitioner. Beliefs surrounding this genus are founded upon the association between the herbs and the moon goddess Artemis, who is believed to hold those powers.

The Genus Artemisia may be named after an ancient Queen. Artemisia was the wife and sister of the Greek/Persian King Mausolus. She ruled for three years after the king's death. She was a botanist and medical researcher who died in 350 B.C.

My Artemisia annua is the active ingredient in the anti-malarial therapy used by a large drug company today.

The Artemisia is a large diverse species belonging to the daisy family, Asteraceae. It includes many hardy herbs and shrubs known for their volatile oils. Common names for several species are mugwort, sagebrush, sagewort, and wormwood.

Artemisia dracunculus var. sativa is French tarragon. This anise-flavored herb can be used in cooking. It does not grow from seed and does not do well in our climate.

Occasionally some of the species are called sages, causing confusion with the Salvia sages in the family Lamiaceae.

There is a lot of interesting information concerning herbs. There is even an Herb Club in Fort Myers. Remember do not eat anything just because it is an herb, eat it because you know what it is used for.

What cool evenings we had at the beginning of last week. Could use about a month of that.

Remember, next month local fertilizing restrictions will be in effect. Compliance is not that hard and will benefit our ground water and waterways. The weather forecast seems to indicate our summer rains will be a little late.

Conserving water in the home will get to be a habit. A lot of gray water from the kitchen can be used on lanai plants. I use my rain barrel water mostly for orchids, and still have an open pail out on the lanai to catch a surprise shower.

I hope everyone has as pretty geraniums as I do. The dry hot weather has been kind to them this spring. I will pull them back out of the sun in a couple of weeks.

Cool and safe gardening until we meet again.

H. I. Jean Shields is a past president of the Garden Club of Cape Coral.



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