Plant of the Week
White Sagebrush (Artemisia ludoviciana Nutt.)
By Forest Jay Gauna, Modoc National Forest
Artemisia ludoviciana is a widespread plant of the Asteraceae (Composite family). The generic name honours the Greek goddess Artemis, known to the Romans as Diana. She was patroness of hunting and goddess of the Moon, twin sister as she was to Apollo, the god of the Sun. She was tall, beautiful, and utterly merciless towards peeping Toms. She was also patroness of the Greek city of Ephesus in the Roman provice of Asia. Her temple there was a wonder of the world, and her worship employed a great number of silversmiths who are famous for discouraging early Christianity in that city, as it was bad for their business. The specific epithet ludoviciana refers to Louisiana, one of the many places where this plant grows. This plant is blessed with many common names, including mugwort, cudweed, silver wormwood, white sage, and Mexican sagewort, among many others; many of these common names are also associated with other members of the genus Artemisia. It is one of the plants known by the Spanish name estafiate.
A. ludoviciana encompasses several subspecies, but is generally a silver, woolly plant with erect stems, rhizomes, and a strong scent of sagebrush. It prefers dry areas with sandy or rocky soils, and appears in the company of oaks or conifers. If you are interested in finding this herb, you may look in your local botany manual or flora and see which subspecies lives in your area. Like many composites, it enjoys disturbed grounds like roadsides.
This species belongs to a genus of famously medicinal plants, and is highly regarded as a medicinal itself. A relative is Sagebrush (A. tridentata), which covers most of Nevada and the margins of surrounding states. An Old World relative, wormwood (A. vulgaris) features in European medicine as well as Jewish and Christian scriptures, where its bitter taste is used metaphorically. Native Americans use it as well as other species of Artemisia extensively in medicine (headache, fever, cough, cold, and flu, for example) and religious rites. Mexicans use it to cure various digestive and other internal ailments. In many places, it is grown as a medicinal and ornamental potherb. It may also be used as a spice in cooking.
Remember, wild plants should never be used except with the aid of a knowledgeable person: like other healing herbs, this plant is toxic in excessive doses, and should especially be avoided during pregnancy. This information is provided for purely for interest.