Artemisia afra

African wormwood


wild wormwood, African wormwood (Eng.); wilde-als (Afr.); umhlonyane (isiXhosa); mhlonyane (isiZulu); lengana (Tswana); zengana (Southern Sotho)


Derivation of name and historical aspects

The genus name Artemisia honours Artemis, the Greek goddess of hunting (Jackson 1990). 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. She was also a famous botanical and medical researcher (Bremness 1988). The species name afra means from Africa.

Plant parts used

Leaves and sometimes roots used.

Medicinal Uses / Ethnopharmacological uses

One of the most widely used traditional medicines in SA. Main uses cough, colds, influenza, but also fever, loss of appetite, colic, headache, earache, malaria, intestinal worms and more. Most common practice is to insert fresh leaves into nostrils to clear blocked nasal passages. The roots, known as “inyathelo” are used to treat colds and fever.
In the cape it is used as a bitter tonic and appetite stimulant.

Health benefits


Not endemic to South Africa.

Eastern Cape, Free State, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, North West, Western Cape

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. In the wild it grows at altitudes between 20-2 440 m on damp slopes, along streamsides and forest margins. A. afra is the only indigenous species in this genus. A. vulgaris is naturalized in the Eastern Cape. It is an annual, indigenous to Europe, Iran, Siberia and North Africa, is commonly known as mugwort, and is described by Huxley et al. (1992) as ‘a condiment with supposed magical properties’.

World-wide there are about 400 species of Artemisia, mainly from the northern hemisphere. Many of the other Artemisia species are aromatic perennials and are used medicinally. Lesley Bremness (1988) in The complete book of herbs, mentions that wormwood is included for its internal worm-expelling properties in the ancient Greek text of Dioscorides; Indians from New Mexico use similar varieties to treat bronchitis and colds; and the Chinese still use wormwood rolled up in the nostril to stop nosebleeds.



Botanical Description

Artemisia afra grows in thick, bushy, slightly untidy clumps, usually with tall stems up to 2 m high, but sometimes as low as 0.6 m. The stems are thick and woody at the base, becoming thinner and softer towards the top. Many smaller side branches shoot from the main stems. The stems are ribbed with strong swollen lines that run all the way up. The soft leaves are finely divided, almost fern-like. The upper surface of the leaves is dark green whereas the undersides and the stems are covered with small white hairs, which give the shrub the characteristic overall grey colour. Very typical of A. afra is the strong, sticky sweet smell that it exudes when touched or cut.

Preparation and Dosage

In view of the potentially harmful effects of thujone, recommended a maximum daily dose of 3g dry herb per day.

Active Ingredients

It is exceptionally variable in its essential oil, depending on the geographical origin as well as the chemotypes (subspecies of plant that have the same form and structure but chemical properties differ). The main compounds of the oil are usually 1,8cineole (eucalyptol), α-thujone, β-thujone, camphor and borneol. With some sesquiterpenoids such as chrysanthenyl acetate. Non-valitle constituents also include triterpenes (α-amryin, β-amryin and friedelin) and alkenes (ceryl cerotinate and N-nonacosane) as well as surface flavonoids (methyl ethers of luteolin).

Pharmacological Effects

Recent in vitro and some in vivo studies have shown that the plant has the following activities: Antimicrobial, antioxidant, antimalarial, anti-nematodal, cardiovascular (hypotensive), cytotoxic and sedative.


Least concern 2005



Medicinal Plants of Southern Africa. Ben-Eric van Wyk, Bosch van Oudtshoorn, Nigel Gericke.
African Herbal Pharmacopoeia. AAMPS (Association for African Medicinal Plants Standard). Brendler,T; Eloff J.N.; Gurib-Fakim, A; Phillips,L.D.


Subscribe and receive 15% discount on your first order!