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Southernwood (Artemisia abrotanum)

Common Name Latin Name Plant Family
Artemisia abrotanum

Insect repellent. The growing plant repels fruit tree moths when growing in an orchard[6, 14, 18, 20]. The fresh plant can also be rubbed onto the skin to deter insects[7]. The shoots can be dried for indoor use, they remain effective for 6 – 12 months[169]. They are also said to repel ants[201]. Shoots can be burnt in the fireplace to remove cooking odours from the house[201].

The leaves have a refreshing lemon-like fragrance and are used in pot-pourri[245].

An essential oil from the leaves and flowering shoots is used in perfumery in order to add certain subtle tones[7].

A yellow dye is obtained from the branches[14, 268].

Plants can be grown as a low hedge, they tolerate quite hard clipping[200, 201].

An infusion of the plant is used as a hair tonic or conditioner[201].

  • Medicinal Use

    Southernwood has a long history of domestic herbal use, though it is now used infrequently in herbal medicine[254]. 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[238, 254].

    The herb, and especially the young flowering shoots, is anthelmintic, antiseptic, cholagogue, deobstruent, emmenagogue, stomachic and tonic[4, 7, 165]. The main use of this herb is as an emmenagogue, though it is also a good stimulant tonic and has some nervine principle[4]. It is sometimes given to young children in order to expel parasitic worms and externally it is applied to small wounds in order to stop them bleeding and help them to heal[7]. The herb is also used externally in aromatic bathes and as a poultice to treat skin conditions[268]. Southernwood should be used internally with caution, see the notes above on toxicity. It should not be prescribed for pregnant women, especially in the first trimester of pregnancy, since it can encourage menstrual flow[238].

  • Edible Use

    The young shoots have a bitter, lemony flavour and are used in small quantities as a flavouring in cakes, salads and vinegars[1, 4, 7, 183, 244].

    A tea is made from the young bitter shoots[183].

  • Cautionary Notes

    Although no reports of toxicity have been seen for this species, skin contact with some members of this genus can cause dermatitis or other allergic reactions in some people[222].

Cultivation & Habitat

Seed – surface sow from late winter to early summer in a greenhouse. The seed usually germinates in 1 – 2 months at 15¡c[134]. When large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots. Once the seedlings are more than 15cm tall, plant them out into their permanent positions in late spring or summer. Cuttings of young wood 8cm long, May in a frame[169]. Cuttings of half-ripe wood with a heel, July/August in a frame[1].
Succeeds in most soils, preferring a well-drained one that is not too rich[1, 11]. Easily grown in a well-drained circumneutral or slightly alkaline loamy soil, preferring a sunny position[1, 200]. Plants are longer lived, more hardy and more aromatic when they are grown in a poor dry soil[245]. Tolerates a pH in the range 6.3 to 7.6. Established plants are drought tolerant. Plants succeed in maritime gardens[233]. Southernwood is often grown in the herb garden, the leaves are very aromatic[182]. It is best to cut the plant back fairly hard every spring in order to keep it compact and encourage plenty of new growth[233, 268]. The plant rarely produces flowers in British gardens[11]. A good companion plant for cabbages[14, 18, 20]. It is also a good plant to grow in the orchard, where it can help to reduce insect pests[201]. Plants in this genus are notably resistant to honey fungus[200]. Members of this genus are rarely if ever troubled by browsing deer[233].
S. Europe? The original habitat is obscure.

Become ungovernable, break the chains of the matrix; grow and forage your own food and medicine.

*None of the information on this website qualifies as professional medical advice. Take only what resonates with your heart and use your own personal responsibility for what’s best for you. For more information [brackets] [000], see bibliography.