Artemisia abrotanum: Southernwood

Family: Asteraceae
Common name: Southernwood, Lad’s love, Southern wormwood, Old man, Boy’s love, Appleringie, Garderobe, Our Lord’s wood, Oldman wormwood, Lover’s plant, Maid’s ruin, Garden sagebrush, European sage, Sitherwood

A simple, unassuming plant that grows easily in the garden without any fuss, Southernwood plants have so many uses in the kitchen and around the house. It grows to a height of 1 meter with heavily pinnate, feathery, dark green leaves on woody stems. The leaves have a faint citrusy, camphor-like aroma, which makes the plants effective pesticides when planted in gardens.

Sprays of dried leaves can be stored in kitchen cabinets and wardrobes for 6-12 months, to repel moths, cockroaches, and other insects. Hence the plant also has the French name ‘garderobe’ or guardian of clothes. Southernwood plants rarely produce tiny yellow-white flowers and seeds, which are quite inconspicuous.

These plants are very low maintenance, and drought-tolerant. They prefer well-drained, loamy soil and good sunlight, though they can thrive in filtered or indirect sunlight.

These small shrubs can be pruned to form low hedges or borders in between vegetables, especially cabbages and cauliflowers. The smell keeps small insects and pests at bay, making them good biological pesticides.

Southernwood plants are also used in apple and pear orchards to keep away fruit tree moths. But in most gardens, they are just grown as ornamental plants for their unique, feathery foliage.

Young leaves are used to flavor cakes, pastries, puddings, and salads. Southernwood is also used as a culinary herb in different cuisines and is also used to make herbal tea.

The leaves can be rubbed on the skin to deter mosquitoes; burnt in the kitchen to remove the odor; and also be used as a room freshener. The leaves are used to make a yellow dye which is mainly used to color wool. They are also used to make perfumes and added to potpourri.

Southernwood plants have many medicinal uses, in the treatment of stomach and intestinal ailments, rhinitis, jaundice, liver diseases, inflammations, tumors, worms, uterine and menstrual disorders, wounds, and skin diseases.

Southernwood plants are closely related to Wormwood plants or Artemisia absinthium, which is also characterized by pinnate leaves, that have a bitter taste.

Propagation is through seeds, stem cuttings or root division.