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What is Sweet Annie?

Sweet Annie is marinaded and eaten as a delicacy in the Hubei province of China.
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  • Written By: Niki Foster
  • Edited By: Sara Z. Potter
  • Last Modified Date: 25 March 2014
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Sweet Annie, also known as Sweet Wormwood, is a bushy herb that originated in Asia and Europe and now grows throughout the world. It is not commonly seen in gardens and is often considered a weed, as it is very hardy and easily spreads. Though this plant isn't very attractive, it is sometimes grown for its pleasant, heady scent. It has also been used for a number of medicinal applications since ancient times.

Sweet Annie has green, fern-like leaves and small yellow flowers. It has a single stem, and plants average 6 1/2 feet (2 meters) in height. It is sometimes dried for use in floral arrangements, in which it makes a good filler plant, or in wreaths. It also holds its green color and pleasant fragrance well when dried and makes a nice addition to sachets. People sometimes dye it to provide a colorful accent to dried floral arrangements.

Some people choose to grow Sweet Annie in their gardens, and it is quite easy to grow from seed if it is planted after any chance of a frost. It is an annual and will reappear every year without much effort on the part of the gardener. More effort is required to keep it in check than to make sure it flourishes. Some people can develop a rash from handling these plants, but spraying them with hairspray before harvesting can help.

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The use of Sweet Annie in medicine dates back to ancient China, where it was used to treat fever. In 1970, a 4th century CE text on medicinal plants discovered in a Chinese tomb led to the rediscovery of its pharmaceutical properties. A drug developed from the plant was used to treat malaria in Chinese soldiers stationed in Vietnam. Artemisinin, the anti-malarial present in Sweet Annie, was first extracted in 1972 and is still used throughout the world, though usually in combination with other anti-malarials.

Sweet Annie is also sometimes administered in tea form, though the efficacy of this method is debatable. In addition to treating malaria, it has recently shown promise against certain types of cancer, notably breast cancer, prostate cancer, and leukemia.

In China, particularly Hubei Province, people marinate this plant in rice vinegar and eat it as a salad-like delicacy. It is very prized and often costs more than meat.

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