Artemisia afra, commonly known as African wormwood or wilde-als, is a soft aromatic shrub and is one of the most popular medicinal plants in South Africa.
Strong and bitter, it is easy to grow from seedlings or cuttings and is not fussy about the soil that it is planted in, becoming a large, bushy and drought resistant plant. A. afra is a common species in South Africa with a wide distribution in all provinces of South Africa, except the Northern Cape.
It thrives in full sun and with its silver-grey foliage it makes a striking display in any garden. Wormwood 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. The upper surface of the leaves is dark green. 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.
Actively growing in the summer months, it should be able to take quite low temperatures during the winter months. In early spring cut it back to encourage new growth.
Uses for African Wormwood
Because the leaves are very strong-smelling, it is used extensively in pest control. If you scatter leaves between the leaves of cabbages, cauliflower or broccoli, they will repel leaf-eating worms. It works well when small farmers plant it amongst fruit trees to discourage harmful insects. Break off twigs and pull off the lower leaves. Scatter them as mulch amongst your vegetable seedlings, then push the twigs into the ground right next to the seedlings. This protects them from cutworms. The bushy tops of the twigs can also give protection from the hot afternoon sun until the seedling is growing strongly.
Smallholders can use it as an insect repellent in the home, where you can sprinkle leaves around ant holes or amongst your clothes as a moth repellent. Crush the leaves and mix with cornflower to make flea powder to use on dogs.
In the pantry dried leaves placed in containers of dried beans, flour and other grains will keep weevils out.
Medicinal Value of A. afra
Artemisia afra is one of the oldest and best known medicinal plants. People of all cultures use African wormwood effectively today in South Africa. The list of uses covers a wide range of ailments from coughs, colds, fever, loss of appetite, colic, headache, earache, intestinal worms, insect bites and even malaria. People us Artemisia in many different ways. One of the most common practices is to insert fresh leaves into the nostrils to clear blocked nasal passages. Wormwood has a very bitter taste. Many people add sugar or honey when drinking it. Wilde-als brandy is a very popular medicine that herbalists make and seel even today.
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.
Medical botanists are studying the properties of this plant in treating some very serious diseases, with most encouraging results.
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