An Eco-sustainable World
HerbaceousSpecies Plant

Artemisia alba

Artemisia alba

White mugwort or white wormwood (Artemisia alba Turra, 1764) is a herbaceous species belonging to the Asteraceae family.

Systematics –
From a systematic point of view it belongs to:
Eukaryota domain,
Kingdom Plantae,
Spermatophyta superdivision,
Magnoliophyta division,
Class Magnoliopsida,
Subclass Asteridae,
Asterales Order,
Asteraceae family,
Subfamily Asteroideae,
Tribe Anthemideae,
Subtribe Artemisiinae,
Genus Artemisia,
Species A. alba.
The terms are synonyms:
– Abrotanum brachylobum Jord. & Fourr., 1868;
– Absinthium viridiflorum Besser;
– Absinthium viridiflorum var. viridiflorum;
– Artemisia abrotanum Savi, 1805;
– Artemisia alba subsp. canescens Priszter & Soó, 1966;
– Artemisia alba subsp. saxatilis (Willd.) P.Fourn., 1939;
– Artemisia alba var. alba;
– Artemisia alba var. mesatlantica Quézel;
– Artemisia alba Turra subsp. lobelii (All.) Hegi;
– Artemisia biasolettiana Vis.;
– Artemisia camphorata Vill.;
– Artemisia camphorata subsp. canescens (DC.) Arcang., 1882;
– Artemisia camphorata var. camphorata;
– Artemisia camphorata var. canescens DC.;
– Artemisia camphorata var. peduncularis (Jord. & Fourr.) Cariot & St.-Lag., 1889;
– Artemisia camphorata var. saxatilis (Waldst. & Kit. ex Willd.) DC., 1838;
– Artemisia fruticosa Asso, 1779;
– Artemisia garganica DC.;
– Artemisia humilis Wulfen, 1791;
– Artemisia incanescens Jord.;
– Artemisia incanescens var. incanescens;
– Artemisia lobelii Auct.;
– Artemisia lobelii var. canescens (DC.) Briq. & Cavill., 1916;
– Artemisia saxatilis Waldst. & Kit. ex Willd., 1803;
– Artemisia subcanescens Willd..
Within this species, the following subspecies and varieties are recognised:
– Artemisia alba subsp. alba;
– Artemisia alba subsp. chitachensis Maire;
– Artemisia alba subsp. glabrescens (Willk.) Valdés Berm.;
– Artemisia alba subsp. kabylica (Chabert) Greuter;
– Artemisia camphorata var. canescens Guss..

Etymology –
The term Artemisia comes from Ἄρτεμις Artemis Artemis, the Greek name of the goddess Diana, a genus already mentioned in Pliny; according to some authors, Artemisia II of Caria (Αρτεμισία Artemisía? -350 BC), sister and wife of Mausolus, who would have given her name to this plant.
The specific alba epithet comes from albus, white, a term referring to the flowers, leaves, bark or other parts of the plants.

Geographic Distribution and Habitat –
Artemisia alba is a species native to southern Europe and present in an area that includes Spain, France, Belgium, Italy, Sicily, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania and the Balkans.
In Italy it is present in all regions except in Sardinia and perhaps in Valle d’Aosta; however it is common in the north and center, while it is rarer in the south. In the Alps it is missing in some provinces (Sondrio), otherwise it is common. In the Alps, outside the Italian borders, it is found in the French departments of Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, Hautes-Alpes, Alpes-Maritimes, Drôme, Isère and Haute-Savoie; while in other European reliefs it is found in the Jura Massif, the Central Massif, the Pyrenees, the Dinaric Alps, the Balkan Mountains and the Carpathians.
Its typical habitat is the arid meadows and grasslands of the hilly and mountainous plains, but also the stony slopes and rock shelters. The preferred substrate is calcareous with a basic pH soil, low nutritional values and arid.
The altitudinal distribution reaches up to 1300 m a.s.l., even if in the south (in Sicily) it can reach an altitude of 1800 m a.s.l..

Description –
Artemisia alba is a perennial plant, woody at the base, whose height can reach up to 20 – 40 cm but being able to reach even one meter in height.
The plant survives in the period with overwintering buds placed at a height from the ground between 2 and 30 m.
The herbaceous portions dry up annually and only the woody parts remain alive. They also have a strong aromatic smell similar to camphor.
The roots are secondary from taproots.
The stems are woody at the base and branched, at the top they are simple, with an ascending habit and the surface is more or less pubescent.
The leaves are greenish to white-tomentose, with hairs of the twisted-hooked type. The leaves are petiolate and the petiole at the base is enlarged into two small ears. The leaves have the shape of a bi-pinnate or even tri-pinnate lamina. Second-order segments are integers in the form of strictly linear lacinias. The surface of the leaves is dotted with pinpoint glands sunk into the parenchyma. The cauline leaves are progressively smaller towards the inflorescence. The dimensions of the end segments are 0.3 – 0.5 mm in width and 5 – 8 mm in length.
The flowers are gathered in inflorescences in the form of linear, leafy, terminal panicles and formed by several (from 25 to 30) small sub-spherical and sub-sessile flower heads, whitish in color and slightly pendulous, composed only of tubular flowers.
In the flower heads, the peduncle supports a more or less cylindrical casing composed of various imbricate, woolly bracts/scales arranged in different orders which act as protection for the hairy receptacle on which central tubular flowers are inserted, with the peripheral ones being female and the central ones hermaphroditic. The diameter of the flower heads is 2 – 3 mm.
The flowers are actinomorphic, tetra-cyclic (i.e. formed by 4 whorls: calyx – corolla – androecium – gynoecium) and pentameric (calyx and corolla formed by 5 elements)[4]. Flower size: 3-6mm.
The sepals of the calyx are reduced to a crown of almost non-existent scales.
The petals of the corolla are 5 in the form of lacinias; in the lower part they are welded to a tube (corolla of the tubular type). The color of the corolla is white.
The androecium is composed of 5 stamens with free filaments but welded anthers which form a sort of sleeve enveloping the style.
In the gynoecium there are two carpels and they form a unilocular bicarpellar ovary. The ovary carries a single duck egg. The single style ends in a deeply bifid stigma.
The anthesis is from August to October.
The fruits are ellipsoid, compressed, 1,5 mm long, glabrous, pale brown achenes (cipsele). The pappus is absent.

Cultivation –
Artemisia alba is a very polymorphic plant both in terms of hairiness and smell, as well as in important morphological characters, a factor that has determined its wide synonymy.
It is also a plant that develops into a large gray-green cushion with silver reflections, with finely scented foliage, making it an excellent plant to include in an aromatic garden.
However, it is a species, like others of the same genus, often naturalised.
For its cultivation it is a plant that requires little maintenance from the point of view of weed removal: its allelopathic properties in fact inhibit the growth of weeds in the immediate vicinity.
Propagation can also take place by seed with spring sowing in the open field.

Customs and Traditions –
Artemisia alba is a plant whose leaves are locally used for the preparation of digestive liqueurs; like the other species congeners, it contains the toxic thujone, for which the marketing of absinthe was prohibited, for example, in France until recently.
The drug of the plant consists of both the roots and the aerial part; in particular, the tips of dry twigs are used.
These plants are latex-free but contain ethereal oils esquiterpene lactones.
The essential oil is rich in terpenes and thujoins; there are also flavonoids, bitter substances, hydroxycoumarins.
Among the properties of this species, common to other Artemisias, we recall that it is considered useful for promoting digestion and as an antispasmodic against menstrual pain. However, there is a lack of sufficient scientific data on its efficacy and safety.
Popular medicine and tradition describe artemisia as a diuretic, bitter-tonic, emmenagogue, antispasmodic, sudor, febrifuge, cholagogue, sedative, anthelmintic, anorectic and digestive plant.
In liquor, artemisia is used in the preparation of bitters.
Numerous properties are ascribed to artemisia which are mainly attributed to the essential oil and the aqueous extract obtained from the plant itself.
Among the various properties that this plant boasts, the digestive and antispasmodic ones are probably the ones that arouse the greatest interest.
The digestive activity of artemisia can be traced back to the bitter substances contained in it which act by stimulating gastric secretion.
As regards the antispasmodic activity, however, a study conducted on the raw artemisia extract showed that the latter has anticholinergic activity. It is precisely this mechanism of action that could be the basis of the spasmolytic activity attributed to the plant.
However, the scientific evidence currently available is not sufficient for the approval of the above-mentioned applications of artemisia in the therapeutic field.
In addition to the popular uses against gastrointestinal disorders, against persistent vomiting and even against epilepsy, the plant has been employed to reactivate the ceased menstruation, calming the pains that accompany them; moreover, in popular medicine, artemisia is also used as an anthelmintic and sedative remedy, as well as as a treatment for various psychiatric disorders, among which we find depression, irritability, states of anxiety and insomnia.
In the homeopathic field, however, artemisia is used as a remedy against convulsions, against dermatoses and other skin conditions, against the irregular or abundant menstrual cycle and as a muscle tonic.
Among the contraindications, it should be remembered that its intake can have side effects, such as: nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal cramps; allergic reactions have also been reported.
However, products containing artemisia and its extracts – if used according to the indications provided – appear to be well tolerated, even if artemisia and products containing it or which contain its extracts should be avoided during pregnancy due to the potential for miscarriage; other contraindications concern subjects with gastritis, peptic ulcer, epilepsy or known hypersensitivity to one or more components.

Method of Preparation –
Of Artemisia alba both the roots and the aerial part are used and, in particular, the tips of the dry twigs.
With these you can prepare infusions, decoctions and other extracts, as well as essential oils.
Artemisa extracts are also available in various food supplements and homeopathic preparations to be taken orally. However, we remind you that – even if of natural origin and freely purchasable – similar products are potentially able to cause undesirable effects and present contraindications; therefore, the doctor’s advice is always appropriate.

Guido Bissanti

– Acta Plantarum – Flora of the Italian Regions.
– Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
– GBIF, the Global Biodiversity Information Facility.
– Useful Tropical Plants Database.
– Conti F., Abbate G., Alessandrini A., Blasi C. (ed.), 2005. An annotated checklist of the Italian vascular flora, Palombi Editore.
– Pignatti S., 1982. Flora of Italy, Edagricole, Bologna.
– Treben M., 2000. Health from the Lord’s Pharmacy, Advice and experiences with medicinal herbs, Ennsthaler Editore.

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Attention: The pharmaceutical applications and alimurgical uses are indicated for informational purposes only, they do not in any way represent a medical prescription; we therefore decline all responsibility for their use for curative, aesthetic or food purposes.

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