You may know Artemisia annua as sweet Annie, sweet wormwood, Chinese wormwood, absinthium or Qing Hao. By any name, the towering, pungent herb is famous for its hedgelike growth habit and its many uses, including medicinal tea and crafting material. Whether you grow sweet Annie for making wreaths or simply to enjoy its striking dark green color and pyramid shape, sweet Annie makes an unusual, fragrant addition to the herb garden.
A member of the Artemisia family, sweet Annie is related to wormwood, mugwort, southernwood, dusty miller and tarragon. Named for the Greek moon goddess Artemis, artemisias share a delicate silhouette, pungent scent and intricate foliage.
Looking something like a cross between a giant fern and a small pine tree, sweet Annie towers up to 6 feet tall, with dark filigreed foliage branching from a single stem. In late summer to early fall the branches bristle with bright yellow, buttonlike flowers.
Although sweet Annie is one of the few annual types of artemisias, it self-seeds with abandon. It's unlikely you'll need to replant this tall herb from year to year. (The seeds may not land exactly where you want the plants, however, making sweet Annie less well-suited for permanent hedging than lavender or southernwood.) Choose a sunny spot for the herb to grow. Sweet Annie tolerates a variety of soil conditions.
Sow the seeds in spring, a few weeks before the last frost date. Notoriously slow to germinate, sweet Annie seeds take up to a month to emerge from the ground. When they do, thin the seedlings to at least 3 feet apart. Alternatively, start the seeds indoors about two months before the last frost date and set them 3 to 4 feet apart. According to Herb Companion magazine, transplanted sweet Annie plants do not grow as tall as direct-sown plants.
Avoid pruning or harvesting sweet Annie until after the herb flowers in late summer. Once the branches blossom with tiny yellow flowers, cut them for making wreaths and potpourri. Hang branches to dry in bundles in a dry, warm place, or twist them into wreath shapes and hang to dry. To ensure a new crop of sweet Annie next year, leave a few flowering branches on the plant when you harvest the foliage.
An ancient Chinese treatment for malaria, sweet Annie also shows promise as a cancer treatment, according to Sloan Kettering. Although the herb enters the bloodstream more readily as an infused tea than in capsule form, the number of side effects and drug interactions possible from sweet Annie make it imperative to consult a physician before attempting self treatment. Sweet Annie has been used to treat fever, headache and external skin irritation.
Its pliable branches make sweet Annie an ideal botanical for wreaths and other dried floral arrangements. In the garden, the tall herb makes a dramatic statement in the back of a border, or as a temporary hedge. Exploit its camphorlike scent as a moth and insect repellant by putting the dried herb in potpourris and sachets.