Years ago on a fair fall day, my sister-in-law and I wandered through a craft show in Grand Rapids with her first baby. Throughout the park, dappled light shone on vendors’ tents under old oaks and maples.
The spirit of geniality triggered “nothing could be finer than to be in Carolina in the morning.” Reruns of the Dick Van Dyke Show are prone to play in my mind in such ideal conditions.
Nancy stopped before a display of wreaths fashioned with summer’s harvest: grapevines, lavender, gourds, and plants I couldn’t identify. Plump wreaths of fernlike foliage and tiny yellow buds caught my eye. I leaned in for a whiff of a honeyed scent new to my nose.
“Just what I was looking for,” Nancy said.
“What is this plant? It smells wonderful.”
“Sweet Annie. I buy one every year because the fragrance fills the house.”
The selection of Sweet Annie wreaths was plentiful and decorated plainly compared to the others embellished with spiders, ghosts, and gourds. When a plant is that attractive and aromatic, a modest bow will do.
I bought one for my bare, new kitchen, took it home, and hung it on the wall under a cabinet close to the sink.
I’d inhale Sweet Annie and think of Nancy and our afternoon together, taking turns pushing Becka in her stroller. In sequence, Nancy brought another daughter and a son home where she grew vegetables and herbs.
My wreath had long since served its purpose when I threw the dusty thing into the fire pit.
Much later, while weeding the fragrant quadrant in the herb garden of Seven Ponds Nature Center, I found countless Sweet Annie seedlings and took one home for my backyard gardens.
Nothing could be finer than making my own wreath from Artemisia annua. However, the herb didn’t protect my roses from aphids as other gardeners testify.
Of the Asteraceae family, Sweet Annie is also known by other names, one being sweet wormwood, meaning it gained popularity for expelling worms when used as a tonic. However, most herbal sources state the use of wormwood’s absinthe, a toxic substance, “may produce convulsions in large doses and should not be taken.”
Another name for Sweet Annie is annual mugwort, Artemisia vulgaris. Now, this is enough to confuse an herbal student.
With great expectations, I planted my seedling in the shade and watched it grow to my height. Meanwhile, I learned Sweet Annie isn’t a good girl in the kitchen, so use French tarragon instead, Artemisia dracunculus.
With all this botanical multiplicity, no wonder Sweet Annie went berserk in my gardens. Thousands of seedlings sprung up in every crack and crevice the following spring.
My battle with Artemisia ensued three summers.
Dear Reader, whoever Sweet Annie is botanically, wormwood or mugwort, she may be pretty and smell good, but don’t be deceived. The girl’s trouble.
Nothing could be finer than to be rid of Artemisia in the morning.
I hope Nancy knows.
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