I don’t usually talk about the homeschooling part of our life and here I am mentioning another of our “field trips”. They’re just so interesting lately!
So this time we went to Stonehenge Aotearoa in Carterton for a guided tour with emphasis on Matariki. What a freakin’ cool place! Have you been there?
It’s not trying to be a replica of Stonehenge in Salisbury, England. It is our very own Stonehenge made to the specifications of our southern skies including sunrises and sunsets. Everything has been thought of, Kay Leather and Richard Hall have done a terrific job and have so much knowledge. Totally recommend going there and having a tour so you can get a full grasp of the amazing-ness of it all.
Any-hoo; why I am writing about this trip is because they have a beautiful statue of Artemis, which made me immediately think of Artemisia plants. plants which I’m just a little enamoured with at the moment. You know what’s funny though, is through doing some quick research, the plants associated with the Goddess Artemis are actually (according to Wikipedia) Amaranth and Asphodel, but amaranth comes from South America….hmmm, I dinnae know about that one. AND, that the Artemisia plants are actually named after this quite amazing woman from way ago called Artemisia ll of Caria whom was a botanist as well as an army commander and specialist in grieving for her husband/brother (yep, both one and the same). Here’s another article that is quite interesting about Artemis and Artemisia plants with a feminist bent. I think there’s a pretty valid reason why I love these plants!
What are these plants? There are approx 180 species and I’m not going to name them all even if I could. The most common ones here are Wormwood (A. absinthium), Southernwood (A. abrotanum), Mugwort (A. vulgaris), and French tarragon (A. dracunculus). There is also the annual Sweet Annie (A. annua) and Roman wormwood (A. pontica). All of which have some type of medicinal/household/culinary/spiritual use. There are many others that are just plain gorgeous; Marshwoods in Invercargill sells a few of these (the ornamentals).
I’ve only just acquired Wormwood and Mugwort this year. The more I learn about them the more excited I get about having them available to use and to sell. (Which unfortunately won’t be this season- they aren’t big enough to propagate from yet).
Wormwood is a bit dime o dozen, if you look for it you’ll see it at the front of driveways in its big blazing silver glory. I’ll bet in many gardens (not all!) little is known of its history and uses…
According to ethnobotanist Murdoch Riley (author of Maori Healing and Herbal) Wormwood was brought to Stewart Island (Rakiura, Aotearoa) from Australia in the 1860’s by a Scottish captain William Sherburd. “Captain Wormwood” as he was affectionally referred as, introduced it to The Neck solely for the relief of consumption (TB). All the families were given slips of Wormwood to grow with the recommendation of chewing a bit before every meal or to make the bitter tea (with the exception of Rue Ruta gravelons, wormwood is the bitterest of herbs).,
Wormwood slowly inched its way up New Zealand; a plant was recorded as being found in Canterbury by a botanist in 1871 and in Wellington in 1877.
Of course New Zealand is a young country and Wormwood has been used since way back when. In the 14th century it was recommended to be strewn in the chamber to keep the fleas away (you can still do this but perhaps the dog kennel or chicken coop would be more useful). It was also laid among “stuffs and furs” to keep away moths and insects. Seems most Artemisias can be used to keep moths away from stored linen etc.
Was also the herb to have on hand if biting sea dragons were a problem in your area… I believe they the Ancients are referring to the Weever fish which is still an issue today. Other poisons that Wormwood was reputed to counteract were/are; hemlock and toadstools.
The leaves and flowering tops of Wormwood are used medicinally. It’s primary use these days is that of a bitter, which has the effect of stimulating and invigorating the whole of the digestive process which in turn helps the whole body. Which is particularly relevant for todays diets which are more sweet and salty than bitter. Go here and here for more info as to why we need more bitters in our diet.
So as well as being a bitter tonic, Wormwoods other actions are; carminative, anthelemintic, anti-inflammatory, anti-bilious, anti-microbial, emmenagogue, heptatic, stimulant.
If you hadn’t guessed from Wormwoods botanical name… Artemisia absinthium was used to make absinthe and vermouth.
In the nineteenth century it was banned from alcoholic drinks due to all those crazy artists in Paris – nahh! Not just them, everybody else that drank loads of absinthe too.
The oil of Wormwood is a psychoactive and when mixed with alcohol it stimulates the cerebral cortex, causes havoc on the neural system and if taken in large doses can lead to coma and convulsions. Now that would bring a bummer to the party.
It was also used instead of hops in the making of beer but the Artemisia most well known for that purpose was Mugwort, Artemisia vulgare.
This post for some reason has taken me ages though so we shall continue with Mugwort in the next one…