Herb to Know: White Mugwort

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Genus:Artemisia lactiflora

• Hardy to Zone 3

White mugwort, the only perennial artemisia grown for its flowers, was discovered in China in the late 19th century by the great plant collector Ernest Wilson. Mine was a gift from America’s great herb authority Gertrude Foster, and I soon realized its value as a garden plant and source of dried flowers for bouquets and potpourri. A perennial of shrublike proportions to 5 feet, it bears masses of tiny creamy white perfumed flowers in late summer in loosely panicled plumes at the end of sprawling reddish stems covered with deeply toothed green leaves. The leaves of ‘Guizhou’, on dark purple stems, appear nearly black at the base of the plant. The flowers’ aroma is something like grape with camphorous, resinous overtones.

This relatively unknown member of the large Artemisia genus is easy to grow and, unlike its invasive cousin mugwort (A. vulgaris), it does not make a pest of itself. Plants reach their maximum height in rich, moist but well-drained soil in sun or partial shade. For a shorter, bushier plant, cut back white mugwort when it is about 2 feet tall, or plant it in drier soil and full sun. Since flowers are sterile, plants only can be grown by cuttings and root divisions. Grow this as a background plant for echinaceas (Echinacea spp.) and garlic chives (Allium tuberosum), which bloom at the same time.

Used in Asian cooking — it is called yomogi-na in Japan and junn jui in China — white mugwort is regarded as a potherb and a flavoring for rice cakes. In the West, where it is unknown as an herb, its uses are confined to flower arrangements and dried flower crafts. For fresh and dried flowers, cut stems when flowers are freshly opened.

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