Lengana / Artemesia
This soft aromatic shrub is one of the most popular medicinal plants in South Africa. Easy to grow, Artemisia afra is an essential part of the herb garden, and with its silver-grey foliage it makes a striking display in any garden.
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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.
Artemisia afra is one of the oldest and best known medicinal plants, and is still used effectively today in South Africa by people of all cultures. The list of uses covers a wide range of ailments from coughs, colds, fever, loss of appetite, colic, headache, earache, intestinal worms to malaria. Artemisia is used in many different ways and one of the most common practices is to insert fresh leaves into the nostrils to clear blocked nasal passages (Van Wyk et al. 1997). Another maybe not so common use is to place leaves in socks for sweaty feet (Watt & Breyer-Brandwijk 1962). The roots, stems and leaves are used in many different ways and taken as enemas, poultices, infusions, body washes, lotions, smoked, snuffed or drunk as a tea. A. afra has a very bitter taste and is usually sweetened with sugar or honey when drunk. Wilde-als brandy is a very popular medicine still made and sold today. Margaret Roberts (1990) lists many other interesting uses in her book, Indigenous healing plants, which includes the use of A. afra in natural insecticidal sprays and as a moth repellent. She also mentions that wilde-als with its painkilling and relaxing properties could be of real value to today's stressful society.