Artemisia is named after the Greek goddess Artemis. This soft aromatic shrub is a popular medicinal plant in South Africa. Another interesting link to the name is Artemisia, the wife of the Greek/Persian King Mausolus, who ruled after his death in 353 BC. In his honour she built a magnificent tomb called the Mausoleum, known as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
World-wide there are about 400 species of Artemisia, mainly from the northern hemisphere. Artemisia was used by the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans both medicinally and in religious rites and was thought to be a love charm centuries ago. The Indian tribes of North America prepared parts of this plant to treat sore throats and bronchitis.
The species name afra means from Africa. 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 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 earache, 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. A not so common use is to place leaves in socks for sweaty feet (Watt & Breyer-Brandwijk 1962). Artemisia afra has a very bitter taste and is usually sweetened with sugar or honey when drunk. The fresh leaves are often added to boiling water and the vapours inhaled.
The Afrikaans community knows Artemisia afra as Wilde-als. Wilde-als brandy is a popular folk medicine still made and sold today. Margaret Roberts (1990) lists many other interesting uses in her book, Indigenous Healing Plants that includes the use of Artemisia afra in natural insecticide sprays and as a moth repellent. She also mentions the painkilling and relaxing properties of Artemisia afra.
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.