Southernwood, or Artemesia abrotanum, is known by many other names including Lad’s Love, Boy’s Love, Old Man, Southern Wormwood, Oldman Wormwood, Lover’s Plant, Appleringie, Garderobe, Our Lord’s Wood, Maid’s Ruin, Garden Sagebrush, European Sage, Sitherwood, Cola plant, Lemon Plant, maid’s love, maid’s passion, Sabbath day posy, slovenwood and sweet Benjamin. It belongs to the daisy (Asteraceae) family. The name ‘Southernwood’ has Old English roots and means “woody plant that comes from the south.” The genus name, Artemisia, is derived from the Greek word “abros,” which means delicate and stems from Artemis, the Goddess of chastity. Artemis was also known as Diana, the Mother of all Creatures and Goddess of the Herbalist, the Hunt and Wild things.
Southernwood is a highly aromatic, woody, perennial herb which needs full to partial sun and sufficient moisture although they are tolerant of drought. They succeed in most soils, preferring a well-drained one that is not too rich. The plant has woody, upright-branching stems. Leaves are small, grey-green, narrow and feathery. They are silky when young, but nearly smooth when mature.
Flower-heads are small and numerous, in long, slender, drooping racemes and the florets are yellow coloured. They normally bloom from August and September. This herb rarely flowers, so it is best propagated by root division or via cuttings. Fruits are small, inconspicuous brown nut. The bitter, lemony scent of the foliage is appreciated in herbal teas. It is pleasant in small doses, but can become overbearing in larger doses. The aroma will keep insects away as it acts as an insect repellent. Branches are hung with clothes to prevent moth or insect damage, in which case it’s called garderobe or ‘clothes protector’. The branches can provide a yellow dye that works well with wool.
- It is a strongly aromatic bitter herb that improves digestion and liver function by increasing secretions in the stomach and intestines.
- It stimulates the uterus and encourages menstrual flow, lowers fevers, relaxes spasms and destroys intestinal worms.
- The herb is also used externally in aromatic bathes and as a poultice to treat skin conditions.
- Fresh leaves were rubbed on the skin to ward off mosquito.
- Southernwood was used traditionally for cramps, urinary disorders, menstrual pain and cough as well as antidote against snake bites or other poisonous animals.
- It is used to treat various skin diseases and was thought to promote beard and hair growth.
- It was often placed in pillows to counteract insomnia.
- Young shoots have a bitter, lemony flavor and are used in small quantities as a flavoring in cakes, salads and vinegars.
- Tea is made from the young bitter shoots. The pungent, scented leaves and flowers are used in herbal teas.