Ask Granny Earth – ARTEMISIA ANNUA

I love the scent of Sweet Annie and have some hanging in my house from last year. Is it possible that I could grow it in my own yard this year? Is Sweet Annie good for anything, medicinally?

Yes, it is very possible for you to have your own crop of Sweet Annie this year. Just take that old bunch you have hanging on your wall and over some newspaper, ‘skin’ off the little seeds. Don’t worry if you get leaves along with the old flower buds and seeds. Put into a jar, can or brown bag until you have prepared the soil in your yard. Then scatter your seeds and rake gently into the loose soil. Water gently and wait for them to sprout- about one to two weeks should do it. My experience with Sweet Annie was that it is easy to grow, hardy and grows up to 4 –5 feet high.

Sweet Annie (Artemisia annua); Artemisia refers to the Greek goddess Artemis (goddess of hunt, forests and protector of children) who so benefited from this plant that she give it her own name. Annua refers to being an annual plant, that is, living for only one growing season. Sweet Annie is also known as Qing Hao, or Chinese Wormwood and has been used medicinally in China for at least 2,000 years. Traditionally it was seen as an herb that helped “to clear and relieve summer heat.” Qing hao has a cool, bitter taste and is used for conditions brought on by heat, especially with symptoms such as fever, headache, dizziness and a tight-chested sensation. It treats chronic fevers, night fevers and morning chills and is a traditional remedy for nosebleeds associated with heat.

Recent studies reveal that Sweet Annie has antibiotic effects against many fungal skin conditions and leptospirosis (Weil’s disease). Leptospirosis or Weil’s disease is an animal (bacterium) infection that can be spread to humans through the animal’s urine.  The bacteria can survive for days or weeks in moist conditions and is caught by direct contact with urine or ‘polluted environment’. Bacteria enter through skin abrasions or via eyes, nose or mouth. The disease causes a flu-like illness (fever, severe headache and pain in the back), which lasts 2 – 3 weeks. Severe cases develop jaundice,  known as Weil’s disease, which can cause death. Could this be another reason to re-think keeping animals and their urine in the house, i.e., cats and litter boxes ?

In addition, this plant has a direct effect against the malaria parasite, Plasmodium. Plasmodium is a protozoon that is introduced into the body by an infected mosquito. Recent research has focused on the isolated compound ‘artemisinin’ which has proved to be a dramatically effective anti-malarial drug. Clinical trials in Thailand have shown artemisinin to be 90% effective and more successful than the standard drug, chloroquine. Here again, we have research (costing lots of $) ‘isolating’ one phytochemical from Sweet Anni; artemisinin. Artemisinin will most likely be made into a pharmaceutical drug (having been patented) to treat malaria. If it runs true to other isolated compounds (drugs), it will undoubtedly cause additional side effects.

Sweet Annie has the following actions: bitter, reduces fever, anti-malarial and antibiotic. It would be good to use it as a tea in cases of fever and/or head-aches. You would take about a teaspoon of the herb and add it to 1 – 2 cups of boiling water. Reduce heat to simmer for 10 minutes and strain off. Add honey to taste and sip on until fever/headache is gone. I like to use Sweet Annie in my healing salve because it is good for fungal infections such as athletics foot.

In a later article I’ll explain the process of making healing salve with herbs in a base of olive oil and bee’s wax. It’s really not that hard.

Although some of my research tells me that Sweet Anni (Qing Hao) is a perennial, my experience is (and other research says) that it will not winter over. As such, treat it as an annual, planting the seeds outside in late spring. The seeds are tiny, so you’ll want to have the soil racked very fine. Scatter them on top of the ground, cover lightly with sand, or fine soil and tamp down gently with your hand or a hoe. Sprinkle gently with water and that’s it! In a few weeks you’ll see the sprouts coming. As summer goes on, Sweet Annie will grow to heights of four to eight feet tall. Its feathery, fern- like branches will provide fine and delicate shade to parts of your garden.

Later in the summer you’ll begin to see its small flowers beginning to bloom. That’s when you’ll have that distinctive, wonderful, Sweet Annie aroma!  Now’s the time to harvest- cut long stems of this treasure and hang it upside down in a warm, shady space, away from moisture and sun. Leave it hanging for as long as it takes to dry. This might be anywhere from 2 – 4 weeks, depending on the weather conditions.

Here’s the fun part; give bunches to friends, or start making your own wreathes, wall-hangings or herbal medicines and salves. If time is not available for these projects, Sweet Annie stores very well in glass jars or brown paper bags for later use.

Don’t forget to save some of the seeds for next year’s crop.