Artemisia vulgaris | ‘Mugwort’, ‘Riverside Wormwood’, ‘Sailor’s Tobacco’ | ~1,000 seeds
Artemisia vulgaris (syn. Absinthium spicatum, Artemisia affinis, Artemisia coarctata, Artemisia officinalis) is an herbaceous plant native to Africa, Alaska, Asia and Europe. A member of the genus Artemisia and the Asteraceae family, it’s one of several species in the genus which are known by the informal name ‘Mugwort’, although is the one most commonly referred to under that alias. Vulgaris is also known as ‘Chrysanthemum Weed’, ‘Common Wormwood’, ‘Felon Herb’, ‘Naughty Man’, ‘Old Man’, ‘Old Uncle Henry’, ‘Riverside Wormwood’, ‘Sailor’s Tobacco’, ‘St. John’s Plant’ and ‘Wild Wormwood’.
A prolific perennial species which reaches up to roughly two and a half metres in height, Artemisia vulgaris is erect in habit, with slightly-grooved, purple-red stems. A rich green in colour, with silvery tones on the underside, vulgaris’ pinnate (the leaflets are arranged in opposite pairs on either side of its stem) leaves are slightly hairy and up to approximately twenty centimetres in length. Fragrantly attractive to bees and other creatures, clusters of small, radially symmetrical flowers are yellow to red in colour, hermaphroditic and (predominantly) wind-pollinated, appearing from early summer to early autumn.
Common throughout USDA Hardiness Zones 3-9, vulgaris is a hardy plant that primarily prefers to grow in hedgerows, meadows, roadsides, wasteland and (shaded) woodland. Its roots secrete chemicals which inhibits the growth of nearby, rival species and the species is considered an invasive weed in some areas. We should note too that some people might experience skin irritation or other allergic reaction from coming into contact with any part of Artemisia vulgaris. Furthermore, it can prove toxic if ingested in too large amounts and should definitely never be consumed by pregnant women!
In the kitchen, ‘Mugwort’ is used as a colouring, condiment, culinary herb and flavouring agent. The plant is also an important food source for several butterfly and moth species. The species was historically thought to possess magical properties and certainly makes for a great insecticide – as well as a good source of tinder for kindling fires. Interestingly, vulgaris is also known to inhibit the growth of bacteria including Bacillus dysenteriae, Bacillus typhi, E. coli, Staphylococcus aureus, Streptococci and others. With a long history of medicinal use, it’s also been used to treat conditions such as asthma, brain disease, cramps and spasms, fever, menstrual problems, nervous disorder, pain, sore feet, sterility and worms.
Propagated by cutting, rhizome division and seed, it’s quite easy to grow. Sow in a well-drained, neutral to alkaline soil. Sandy or loamy is probably preferable, but it can often handle clay-type earths too. Keep the soil moist but not soaked, pricking out the young plants into individual pots as they become sturdy enough to do so. Once they are ready, move the plants to a position in full sun to partial shade, spacing them at least ninety centimetres or so apart (so they have sufficient room to grow big!). Although established, more mature plants are fairly drought tolerant, make sure to water them whenever you notice the top few centimetres of soil have become totally dry to the touch. Grower’s tip: Apparently these plants are hardier, more aromatic and longer-lived should they be “hard-grown”, in poorly-nutritious, relatively parched soil…
All the seed sold by Arkham’s Botanical was freshly and ethically sourced