Artemisia (aka Wormwood)


Artemisia growing in the long back-patch perennial flower beds. (16 September 2019)

Artemisia belong to the Asteracea family of plants.  It is also known as mugwort, wormwood and sagebrush.

Once established these plants are very hardy and do not require frequent watering, so are perfect for ‘dry’ gardens.

Artemisia is a major botanical used in the production of Absinthe and is also used in the other herbal alcohols, such as Vermouth. It is also used as an addition to potpourri mixes, and one tidbit of folk learning tells that a sprig of wormwood laid under a pillow can act as an aphrodisiac.  Hhhmmmnn…

The name “Artemisia” is a tribute to the Greek goddess Artemis, who was worshiped or invoked to influence matters of birth and chastity. Absinthium comes from the Greek word “absinthion,” which means “undrinkable,” referring to its very bitter taste.

Saying all this, it must be stressed that the plant can be toxic and never consumed – leave all that distillation to the experts!  Leaves are also said to be toxic to children and family pets, so best used carefully in gardens.

In addition to types grown for use in the production of botanicals and brews, there are a few species which are grown as ornamental plants, valued for their finely textured leaves.  All artemisia are best grown in free-draining soil in full sun.  Like many mediterranean plants, these do best in unfertilised ground.


Large patches of pale green-grey Artemisia are visible at the corner point of the perennial flower beds in the back patch. (27 May 2020)

Propagating Artemisia: Grow from seed.  Mature perennial plants can also be divided in autumn by digging up and lifting the whole rootball from the ground.  Cut the rootball into sections selecting the outer parts and discard the center of the plant.  Replant divisions one or two feet apart into a full sun, well-draining position.

Artemisa pesticide: A natural pesticide can be made of wormwood ‘tea.’  Simply take about 500 g of fresh cut wormwood cuttings and put into a large pan with a few litres of water.  Boil for about 10 minutes and then let sit to cool for a day.  Strain and put the resulting liquid into a spray to use on plants.  This pesticide is said to be effective against aphids, mites, fungal infections and bug larvae. ** It is recommended to only use this natural pesticide on flowerbeds and other ornamental beds, and not onto edible crops.

Maggie Campbell-Culver’s The Origins of Plants notes that Artemisia was already familiar in Abbey and Cloister gardens in England circa 1100s.

“A plant which the Italians knew of, Artemisia abrotanum, and which was on the list that Abbot Aelfrid made, may well have settled in Britain some time during this century.  It comes from southern Europe and has always been known as Southernwood – which is what its second name means; it is also known as Lad’s Love and Old Man.  Its yellow blooms have a heavy scent and the Romans believed that if a sprig of the shrub were placed under a pillow, its magical properties would act as a powerful aphrodisiac.  There are about three hundred species in the genus, most of them found in the northern hemisphere.” (The Origin of Plants, p.60; emphasis added)

There are several large patches of artemisia planted in the back patch – one just past the first pergola, and the other patches at the sunny corner end of the shady patch under the large cherry tree.