Saturday, April 30, 2016

Plant profile: Artemisia

Artemisia is a huge genus of plants with between 200 and 400 species belonging to the daisy family. Amusing common names for various species in the genus include mugwort, wormwood, and sagebrush. It's one of our dry garden stalwarts, and the leaves have a distinctive scent.

Latin name: Artemisia (pronounced "art-eh-MEES-ee-ah)
Common name: Wormwood
Originally from: Temperate climates of both hemispheres, usually in dry or semiarid habitats.
Blooms: The flowers aren't the point here - they're usually yellow and insignificant.
Light: Full sun!
Water: Drought tolerant and very tough
Drainage: Excellent
Height x width: 30"-60" x 3'-6'
USDA Zones: 5-9
Where to find in P. Garden: In the front bed, left bed, and many large clumps at PRG

In the garden, we use Artemisia plants as tough, drought tolerant border edging. The beautifully feathery "Powis Castle" edges a lot of PRG. We also have three Artemisia arborescens (Large Wormwood) just planted in the brights bed. They should reach 4-6' tall and wide - let''s see if they do well.

The aromatic leaves of some species are used for flavoring. Most species have an extremely bitter taste. A. dracunculus (tarragon) is widely used as a culinary herb, particularly important in French cuisine. Artemisia absinthium (absinth wormwood) was used to repel fleas and moths, and in brewing (wormwood beer, wormwood wine).

The aperitif vermouth (derived from the German word Wermut, "wormwood") is a wine flavored with aromatic herbs, but originally with wormwood. The awfully potent spirits absinthe and Malört (Swedish for wormwood) also contain nasty, bitter wormwood. It really doesn't taste good - even the people who make it say:

"Most first-time drinkers of Jeppson Malort reject our liquor. Its strong, sharp taste is not for everyone. Our liquor is rugged and unrelenting (even brutal) to the palate. During almost 60 years of American distribution, we found only 1 out of 49 men will drink Jeppson Malort after the first "shock-glass." During the lifetime of our founder, Carl Jeppson was apt to say, 'My Malort is produced for that unique group of drinkers who disdain light flavor or neutral spirits.'

It is not possible to forget our two-fisted liquor. The taste just lingers and lasts - seemingly forever. The first shot is hard to swallow! Perservere [sic]. Make it past two 'shock-glasses' and with the third you could be ours...forever" 

This plant grows quickly and tolerates relentless hot sun and parched soil quite happily. You can cut it back almost anytime and it will bounce back into lovely mounds of silver fronds.  And it's cheap and easily available - if your mound gets out of control or the middle starts looking scraggly, rip it out and throw a new one in there. No worries.

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