Artemisia abrotanum

Family: Asteraceae
Genus: Artmesia
Species: A. abrotanum

Synonyms and Common names: Lad's love, Boy's love, Old man, Appleringie.

Description and Habitat: The Southernwood is the southern Wormwood, i.e. the foreign, as distinguished from the native plant, being a native of the South of Europe, found indigenous in Spain and Italy. It is a familiar and favourite plant in our gardens, although it rarely if ever flowers in this country. It has finely-divided, greyish-green leaves. It was introduced into this country in 1548.

The plant prefers light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils, requires well-drained soil and can grow in nutritionally poor soil. The plant prefers acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It requires dry or moist soil and can tolerate drought.

Parts used: Aerial parts.

Harvesting: Because Southernwood rarely flowers and sets seeds it is propagated by cutting. Do not prune or harvest after midsummer to ensure that new growth has time to harden before winter. Harvest by cutting off branches in Spring and Summer and drying them in bunches or paper bags. The feathery leaves yield only a small amount of dried material but the aroma is strong.

Constituents: Volatile oil with bitter sesquiterpene lactones.

Actions: Bitter digestive tonic, emmenagogue, anthelmintic, antiseptic, uterine stimulant, chronotropic.

Indications: Delayed menstruation, threadworms in children.

Therapeutics and Pharmacology: Southernwood encourages menstruation (Culpeper 1653), is antiseptic and kills intestinal worms. It was used to treat liver, spleen and stomach problems. It is seldom used medicinally today, except in Germany, where poultices are placed on wounds, splinters and skin conditions and it is employed occasionally to treat frostbite. Its constituents have been shown to stimulate the gallbladder and bile, which improves digestion and liver functions. The leaves are mixed with other herbs in aromatic baths and are said to counter sleepiness. An infusion of the leaves is said to work as a natural insect repellent when applied to the skin or if used as a hair rinse is said to combat dandruff.

Contraindications: Should be avoided during pregnancy due to its stimulating action on the uterine muscles.

Preparation and Dosage: Infusion: pour a cup of boiling water onto 1 - 2 teaspoonfuls of the dried herb and leave to infuse for 10 - 15 minutes in a closed container. This should be drunk three times a day.
Tincture: take 1 - 4 ml of the tincture three times a day.

2 cups dried lavender buds
1 cup dried rose leaves
1 cup dried southernwood
2 drops of oil of roses
Crush all the ingredients together, cover, and cure in a small crock for 4 weeks. Shake up the contents every day or two. Divide among small muslin bags, tie the bags, and place them among the woollens.

Additional Comments & Folklore: The scent of Southernwood repellent to insects, and the French call it garden robe because when it is laid among clothes it repels moths. It was traditionally believed to ward off infection and, up until the early part of last century, a bunch of southernwood and rue was placed at the side of a prisoner in the dock to prevent the contagion of jail fever. Women used to carry sprigs of the herb for its pungent odour, which they hoped might keep them awake during church services. The foliage is used in aromatic vinegars, floral waters and incense.

The Romans believed it protected men from impotence. It is also said that young men in areas like Spain and Italy rubbed fresh southernwood leaves (which were lemon-scented) on their faces to promote the growth of a beard.

In rural areas, where southernwood was known as Lad's Love and Maid's Ruin, the herb acquired a reputation for increasing young men's virility. It was popularly employed in love potions and adolescent boys rubbed an ointment on their cheeks to speed up the growth of facial hair. It is associated with sexual appeal and has been used by males to increase their virility. Southernwood was put under mattresses in Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome for its aphrodisiacal properties to rouse lust in its occupants. Its common nickname, Lad's Love, refers to the habit of including a spray of the plant in country bouquets presented by lovers to their lasses in order to seduce them.