by Barbara Moore, founding member Seed Library of Galiano
This plant first floated into my awareness in 2012 while browsing Dan Jason’s Salt Spring Seeds catalogue. Our daughter had just survived a pretty intense bout of malaria after working in Cameroon. And now, here, I learned, was a locally available plant I could grow as a preventive and curative.
Artemisia annua, or Sweet Annie as it is affectionately known, is part of a large genus of plants which includes many potent and well-known medicinals, some of the most notable ones being A. absinthium (wormwood) and A. vulgaris (mugwort). In fact, the healing properties of this family are so vast and remarkable that in Spanish, wormwood is often referred to as the “Hierba Maestra,” or “Master Herb.”
Artemisia avnnua has been used extensively by the Chinese (known locally as ginghao) since 340 CE mainly to treat fevers. Yet it was not until the 1970’s that the essential Artemisinin component was identified and isolated as a treatment for Malaria. However, extensive recent research has shown the plant itself to be even more effective in treating and preventing malaria than the isolated pharmaceutical compound, because of what is known as the “synergy” between many active compounds within the plant. Our daughter and son-in-law have used it in subsequent stays in West Africa with repeated and remarkable success (in their words, “miraculous”). Amazingly, in contrast to the pharmaceutical treatments, the plant both cleanses the malaria parasites entirely from the blood, and also effectively treats strains of the disease which have become resistant to conventional treatment.
Even though malaria does not touch us in this part of the world, these findings speak to the incredible properties of the plant. For example, it has recently been featured as a possible preventive and cure for Covid-19. Though the verdict is still out on this use, the plant is currently being studied in major scientific research centres such as the Max Planck Society in Germany, who, after months of analysis, announced this past June that the extracts of dried Artemisia annua have been shown in the laboratory to be effective against the Covid-19 virus.
With all this in mind, I was curious to try to grow it. Dan Jason generously offered me a couple of packets of seeds which I successfully started and transplanted this spring. It’s always exciting to try a new plant and I was delighted to watch the tiny seedlings planted in late March sprout in our indoor growing area. Then they went to the greenhouse and finally into the garden in mid May. We left a couple of plants in the greenhouse with excellent results. The largest was a towering 8 or 9 feet. Most of the outdoor plants also did well and as luck would have it, our daughter and son-in-law were here in August at the opportune time to harvest them. The goal became to grow enough for tea throughout the winter. We dried and saved about one and a half kilos to supply tea two to three times a week for two people.
Sweet Annie is a stately delicate leaved annual, with a strong, arresting aroma, pungent yet sweetly aromatic. As a tea it is equally potent tasting! The flowers are tiny and inconspicuous, announcing that harvest is due just before they flower.
So this was a most intriguing plant to grow this year especially, and it really brought home reminders of plants’ abundantly generous properties to care for us – if we are open and aware and willing to work with them.
As is often the case, the pharmaceutical companies may discredit the ‘natural properties’ as opposed to the extracted essences which they have identified as superior. This big discussion often reveals the repeated themes of profitmaking control over locally trusted autonomy.
Certainly, this plant seems potent enough to be a useful part of a local herbal pharmacopeia. There are many, many articles and resources online. I’m also happy to talk to anyone about our experience with this newly loved member of our garden.
Now time to brew some Sweet Annie tea!