This is a genus of about 300 species of annuals, biennial, perennials, or subshrubs that grow wild in northen temperate regions, western S America, and S Africa. Many artemisias are grown as ornamentals for their finely cut, aromatic, often silver foliage, which makes excellent background material for arrangements and posies. They are easily cultivated, even on poor, dry soils. Several are attractive border plants, especially for white gardens. Artemisia arbrotanum, A. absinthium 'Lambrook Silver', and A. arborescens may be grown as informal hedges. Artemisia annua is a large but neat plant with handsome, fragrant foliage, useful for filling gaps in the back of a border or providing contrast to smaller, more colorful plants. Used as an anti-malarial for 2,000 years in the East, its active ingredient, artemisinin (qinghaosu) was isolated in 1972. Synthetics derived from A. annua are now the most promising anti-malarials for drug-resistant strains of the disease. Populations of A. annua in Vietnam have the highest concentration of artemisinin.Various artemisias are used medicinally and include some of the most bitter herbs known. Southernwood (A. abrotanum) has been cultivated since antiquity to repel insects and contagion. It was popular in nosegays (posies carried to ward off infection and unpleasant smells); until the 19th century, a bunch of southernwood and rue was placed in court to protect against the spread of jail fever from the prisoner. Another traditional use was as a cure for baldness: "The ashes [of southernwood] mingled with old salad oil helps those that have their hair fallen and are bald, causing the hair to grow again, either on the head or the beard" (Culpeper, The English Physician Enlarged, 1653). Wormwood (A. absinthium) has been a household remedy since Biblical times, its bitterness becoming a metaphor for the consequences of sin: "For the lips of a strange woman drop as an honeycomb, And her mouth is smoother than oil: But her end is bitter as wormwood" (Proverbs 5:3-4). The word absinthium means "without sweetness", and refers to the intensely bitter taste. Essential oil of wormwood was an ingredient in absinthe, an alcoholic aperitif first made by Henri Pernod in 1797. Consumption of absinthe became a serious problem in the 19th century, both in Europe and the USA. The use of wormwood oil as a flavoring was banned in various countries, beginning in 1908 with Switzerland, after the discovery that the thujone content is addictive, and in excess causes hallucinations and damage to the central nervous system. Ironically, the common name "wormwood" comes from the German Wermut, "preserver of the mind", as the herb was thought to enhance mental functions. Today's successors to absinthe-anisette and vermouth- do not contain thujone, although absinthe liqueurs are enjoying a revival in France, Italy and Spain. Tarragon (A. dracunculus) used to be known as dragon herb, a cure for poisonous stings and bites, hence the species name. Russian tarragon (A dracunculus subsp. dracuculoides is similar in appearance but hardier, with a pungent, less pleasant flavor. Mugwort (A. vulgaris) was important in Druidic and Anglo-Saxon times, being one of the nine herbs used to repel evil and poisons. The common name is from the Anglo-Saxon mucgwrt, "midge plant", because of its use in repelling insects. It was known as the "Mother of Herbs" and was associated with witchcraft (old goddess religions) and fertility rites. On the Isle of Man mugwort is worn on the national day, July 5 (midsummer day in the Old Calendar), and is known as "Bollan bane". The herb is mentioned frequently in the first-century CE Greek and Roman writings and appears in Chinese medical literature dating back to c.CE500. It was reputedly planted beside roads by the Romans for soldiers to put in their sandals on long marches. Both the plant and it reputation for soothing sore feet persisted: "if a footman take mugwort and put it into his shoes in the morning he may goe forty miles before noon and not be weary…" (William Coles, The Art of Simpling, 1656). Other wormwoods with medicinal and culinary uses include: A. afra, used in southern Africa for digestive and menstrual problems, and feverish illnesses; A. anomala, used externally in China for burns and inflamed skin; A. apiacea, a fragrant biennial Asian species, used to lower fever, control bleeding, and improve appetite; A. asiatica, used to flavor and color Japanese glutinous rice dumplings (yomogi-mochi); A. cina (Levant wormseed, santonica), one of the oldest and most reliable, though extremely toxic anthelmintics, especially for roundworms in children; A. frigida, used by the Hopi trib in N America to flavor corn; A. genipi (spiked wormwood), an Alpine species used to flavor eau d'absinthe; A. glacialis, for the SW Alps, used to flavor liqueurs and vermouth; A. judaica (semen contra, graines à vers), a Middle Eastern condiment and flavoring for liqueurs; A. pallens (davana), a fragrant Asian species, used in perfumery, food flavoring and ritual; A. princeps (Japanese mugwort, yomogi), an important flavoring herb in Japanese and Korean cuisines; and A. tilesii, an Arctic species with properties similar to codeine, used by Eskimos.

Aromatic perennial with upright, branched stems and linear, smooth leaves, 3-6cm (1¼-2½in) long, with a licorice aroma. The tiny, green flowers do not open or produce viable seed in cool summers.

Common Name:
Other Names:
French tarragon, estragon
Botanical Name:
Artemisia dracunculus
Native Location:
SE Russia
Well-drained, neutral to slightly alkaline soil in sun. Artemisia absinthium, A. a. 'Lambrook Silver', and A. lucoviciana tolerate drought. A. capillaris thrives in moist soil and tolerates light shade. Hardiness varies with species; cover marginally hardy plants with loose straw or overwinter plants under cover. In spring, cut back shrubby species near ground level, or remove dead stems and trim to shape. Rust may attack foliage.
By seed sown in spring (annuals, perennials, and A. d. subsp. dracunculoides); by semi-ripe cuttings with a heel in summer (shrubby species); by division in autumn or spring (perennials).
By seed sown in spring (annuals, perennials, and A. d. subsp. dracunculoides); by semi-ripe cuttings with a heel in summer (shrubby species); by division in autumn or spring (perennials).
Subsp. dracunculoides
(Russian tarragon)
Is hardier and more vigorous than the species, with narrower, paler leaves. It sets seed more readily, and has a pungent, less pleasant flavor, said to improve in mature plants.
Height: 1.5m (5ft)
Width: 60cm (24in)
45cm-1m (1½-3ft)
30-38cm (12-15in)
Parts Used:
Leaves, oil
A bitter, warming, aromatic herb that stimulates the digestive system and uterus, acts as a diuretic, lowers fevers, and destroys intestinal worms.
Medicinal Uses:
Internally for poor digestion, indigestion, and worms in children. Not given to pregnant women. Externally for rheumatism and toothache. In aromatherapy for digestive and menstrual problems.
Culinary Uses:
Leaves are used to flavor chicken, egg dishes, salad dressings, vinegar, mustard, and sauces, such as béarnaise, béchamel, and tartare. Popular in the form of a cordial, tarhun, in its native Georgia.
Economic Uses:
Oil is used in commercial flavorings, perfumery, and detergents.
Artemisias, and extracts from them, such as cineole and santonin, are subject to legal restrictions in some countries.
Encylopedia of Herbs by Deni Brown Copyright ©: 1995, 2001 Dorling Kindersley Limited pp 130-131, 133