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Family: Asteraceae (daisy family)
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.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.
Artemisia afra flowers in late summer, from March to May.Artemisia afra has a strong, sweet smell.
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.
Artemisia is named after the Greek goddess Artemis. Artemisia afra is one of the oldest and best known medicinal plants, and is still widely used today in South Africa by its people.
The list of uses covers a wide range of ailments from colds, colic, coughs, croup, ear ache, fever, gastro-intestinal disorders, headaches, influenza, intestinal worms, loss of appetite, malaria and whooping cough.
Artemisia afra (roots, stems and leaves) is used in many different ways and taken as enemas, poultices, infusions, body washes, lotions, smoked, snuffed or drunk as a tea.
Artemisia afra ii a natural insecticide can be used as a moth repellent.
Inhalations are used for the relief of headache and nasal congestion. In traditional practice, fresh leaf is inserted into the nostrils to relieve nasal congestion or placed in boiling water as a steam bath for menstrual pain or after childbirth. Warmed leaves may be applied externally as a poultice to relieve inflammation and aqueous infusions administered per rectum or applied as a lotion to treat haemorrhoids. The oil acts as a local anaesthetic for rheumatism, neuralgia and arthritis.
Growing Artemisia afra
Artemisia afra has traditionally been part of the herb garden, but this indigenous species is just as attractive in the garden used for display. Many of the exotic artemisias are popular garden plants. This tough and easy-to-grow species adds texture and colour with its fine, silver-grey foliage.
Artemisia afra needs full sun and heavy pruning in winter to encourage new lush growth in spring. Actively growing in the summer months, it should be able to take quite low temperatures during the winter months.