Sweet Annie (Artemisia annua) is also known as sweet wormwood, which provokes a confusion with wormwood (Artemisia absinthium). While both varieties of artemisia have similar properties, especially medicinal uses, they are also different. In this article I will focus on how to grow sweet Annie, but you can also learn how to grow wormwood and mugwort.
Native to Asia and parts of Europe, this plant is very low maintenance once established. It is an annual variety, so it only lives about six months. But no need to worry since it reseeds its self quite fast so it will keep on growing. This plant has a silver green foliage that produces a sweet scent. This smell keeps pests away and makes it deer resistant.
Sweet Annie Growing Conditions
This type of artemisia grows well in full sun. Plants in areas that have partial sunlight will produce lower yields since the flowering will probably reduce. Flowers and smell are the main reason why people grow this plant, other than the medicinal properties of artemisia annua.
Thankfully this plant is not picky with soil and can tolerate in many soil conditions, even poor soil that is low in nutrients. For this reason, fertilizer is not needed other than once a year in the spring to encourage growth. This plant does best in soils with neutral or alkaline pH. The only requisite is that the soil can drain since it can suffer from root rot if there is too much moisture. Do not water this plant frequently; allow the topsoil to dry before giving it more water.
Sweet Annie can live between USDA zones 5 to 9. It likes moderate temperatures and humidity levels. Many people plant this herb in containers to prevent its natural spread. It is best to pick a large container that has good drainage to avoid root rot.
How to Reproduce Sweet Annie
Starting seeds indoors should be done five to six weeks before the last frost. Plant them in well drained soil and gently cover the seeds with soil. Mist to keep the soil moist. Be patient since the seeds are slow to germinate, sometimes taking up to a month. You can move the seedlings to a container once two sets of true leaves appear. Harden your plants by taking them out for a few hours per day until they get used to the weather. Leave them outdoors once the threat of frost is over.
It is also possible to sow sweet Annie seeds outdoors after there is no chance of frost. Do not scatter seeds since these plants grow quite large. Place seeds a few inches apart and cover them with a little soil. Thin them so they are 3 to 4 feet apart once they emerge.
How to Harvest Sweet Annie
It is time to harvest this plant when the first flower buds start to open and the flowers start turning yellow. Each feathery branch is covered with thousands of small, yellow flowers that produce a sweet fragrance, just like its name suggests. Blooms are not big or striking, but they are still quite beautiful.
Bees will be quite happy if you let flowers open. Just make sure to cut the flowers after they are spent so they don’t self sow with dropped seeds. This plant stalks get quite thick and woody, so you will need to have a pruning saw or strong looping shears. Since the branches produce a lot of dust, it is a good idea to wear gloves (and even protective eye gear) when harvesting. This plant can irritate your lungs and cause allergic reactions or hay fever.
It is best to cut stems early in the morning or in the evening when the growth slows during late summer. Cut 2 or 3 feet off the top of the plant, while leaving at least two branches attached to the main stem of the plant for it to grow again next year. This plant can reach up to 6 feet in height and is a fast grower.
Tie a few branches together with a rubber band or twine and hang them to dry in a warm, dry and dark room for about two weeks. Foliage and flower buds go from medium green to a soft brown.
How to Use Sweet Annie
Most people use sweet Annie ornamentally as a filler for cut flower bouquets or as a wreath base. It is also used in dried flower arrangements. Use liquid glycerin (buy at pharmacies) and citric acid (known as sour salt in grocery stores) to preserve the plant when drying. It is possible to include dye to the mix to give the plant the color your prefer.
Sweet Annie’s medicinal properties continue to amaze scientists around the world. This medicinal herb is anti cancer and anti malaria. Ancient Chinese medicine has been using Qing hao (Chinese name for this herb) to treat fever for hundreds of years. Recently studies showed it can even be a cure for Covid-19 because of its artemisinin component.
It is also used as a pest deterrent and air freshener because of its sweet smell. Some people like to hang branches in the bathroom, since the humidity releases more fragrance.