Strongly aromatic, shrubby perennial, growing to 3 ft (1 m). Has woody stems, feathery silver-green leaves, and yellow flowers.
Habitat & Cultivation
Native to southern Europe, this herb is rare in the wild but is cultivated for the perfume industry and, to a lesser extent, for herbal medicine. The aerial parts are harvested in late summer.
Southernwood contains a volatile oil, abrotanin, and tannins.
History & Folklore
Much prized during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, southernwood is now used infrequently in herbal medicine. The closely related wormwood (A. absinthium) is considered superior. Like wormwood, southernwood contains a strong volatile oil that repels insects, and the leaves are placed among clothes to repel moths. Mrs. Grieve (A Modern Herbal, 1931) reports that in England “even in the early part of the last century a bunch of southernwood and rue [Ruta graveolens] was placed next to the prisoner in the dock as a preventive from the contagion of jail fever.”
Medicinal Actions & Uses
Southernwood is a bitter tonic. It strengthens and supports digestive function by increasing secretions in the stomach and intestines. An infusion of southernwood has been given to children as a treatment for worms, but this is not recommended without professional supervision. Like other Artemisias, southernwood stimulates menstruation and is commonly taken to encourage the onset of irregular or absent periods.
Do not take during pregnancy. Not suitable for children under 12 unless prescribed professionally.