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Tuesday, August 9, 2011


Sweet wormwood is a close relative of wormwood, (Artemisia absinthum), mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris), southernwood, (A. abrotanum) and tarragon (A. dracunculus) to name but a few in the genus. They are all Asteraceae or in the daisy family of plants. Apuleius, who was a Berber living in what is now Algeria in the 2nd century AD wrote that this genus of Artemisia got its name from the goddess of hunting, Artemis in Greek, Diana in Latin. He describes how she gave these herbs to Chiron the centaur who practised medicine, for the benefit of the human race. The herb centaury is named after Chiron.
  Sweet wormwood can grow to as high as 9 feet or 3 metres and rapidly grows as wide as 1 metre. It flowers in late summer and leaves should be harvested before these appear, to be dried for later use. It is native to south-eastern Europe and Asia and has been used for thousands of years in Chinese medicine. It can cause dermatitis, so if you go to gather it wear gloves. Its pollen is highly allergenic too so if you are susceptible to hay fever don’t go near it when it is in flower. Its essential oil has been used in the perfume industry but could be utilized more. It is not, as its name suggests as bitter as wormwood, but if you make a tisane of the leaves, you may want to add some honey or stevia leaves to it.
  It is naturalized in the US where it has been used in wreaths for its perfume, and n Europe it is cultivated both for its medicinal uses and to flavour vermouth.
  A poultice of the hot leaves can be used to staunch a nosebleed, as well as to stop bleeding from scratched rashes, and to help boils and abscesses to heal. You can make a tisane of the leaves 1 ounce of fresh leaves to 1 cup of boiling water and allow this to steep for 10 minutes before straining and drinking. This can be used for diarrhoea, colds, flu digestive problems and fevers. It can also be used as a wash on skin eruptions and cuts.
  The Chinese had been using Artemisia annua for 400 years to cure malaria, before research was undertaken to discover how this worked. The plant contains a substance named artemisinin and derivatives of it are artemether and artesurate which were also studied, and these have been found to work to cure malaria, out-performing drugs to which the parasitical bacteria which causes malaria has become resistant. In clinical trials 90% of malaria cases were cured by this means.
  Then scientists began to consider the possibilities of sweet wormwood and artemisinin as anti-cancer agents, and their hunches seem to be right, as in vitro it has killed off breast cancer cells and those of leukaemia. This ancient remedy was known to the ancient Chinese, but lost in time until in the 1970s and archaeological dig uncovered old herbal remedies among which was how to remove artemisinin from sweet wormwood to help cure cancer. It never ceases to amaze me how much we have forgotten.

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