Southernwood – Characteristics, cultivation, use and curative effect

Southernwood - by André Karwath aka Aka - Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5,

Southernwood is one of the aromatic and medicinal herbs that have fallen into oblivion over the years. Due to the very bitter taste and bitter aromatic fragrance, the plant is not as popular as aromatic or mild herbs such as dill, basil or oregano. It is ideal for seasoning hearty meat dishes. In naturopathy occasionally the digestive properties of the plant are needed.

Profile of Southernwood:

Scientific name: Artemisia abrotanum

Plant family: composite, asters

Other names: lad’s love, southern wormwood, old man, boy’s love, oldman wormwood, lover’s plant, appleringie, garderobe, Our Lord’s wood, maid’s ruin, garden sagebrush, European sage, sitherwood, lemon plant

Sowing time / Planting time: April – May

Flowering period: July – September

Harvest time: July – October

Location: full sun to sunny

Soil quality: loose, humus and calcareous soils

Use as a medicinal herb: stomach trouble, bilious complaint, liver complaints, malaria (supportive), menstruation, bladder weakness, common cold, cough

Use as spice herb: dish of wild game, meat, soft drinks

Plant characteristics and classification of Southernwood

Origin and distribution of Southernwood

Southernwood comes originally from the areas of former Yugoslavia (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia) and eastern Anatolia, where it still grows wild. Today, it is cultivated economically mainly in warm countries, such as Greece or Italy. It came to these lands already in antiquity, because above all the Greeks recognized the healing power of the plant at that time. In Northern, Central and Western Europe, it is grown primarily in allotment gardens.

Plant order of Southernwood

Southernwood (Artemisia abrotanum) belongs to the composites/asters (Asteraceae). In the narrower sense, the plant belongs to the genus Artemisia (Artemisia), which is with over 500 species very biodiverse. To this genus belong well-known herbs such as mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris), tarragon (Artemisia dranunculus) or wormwood (Artemisia absinthum).

Southernwood leaves
Southernwood leaves – by André Karwath aka Aka – Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5,

Look and characteristics of Southernwood


Southernwood is a hardy, perennial plant. It usually grows as a semi-shrub and can reach stature heights between 60 and 150 cm (24 and 60 inches). Mostly, however, it is much smaller. The whole plant emits a strong aromatic and pleasant smell due to the containing essential oils.


The plant forms feathered, gray-green and slightly slotted leaves, which are strikingly hairy on the underside. The leaves are alternate. The stem axis can lignify depending on the location and growing conditions (similar to the thyme). The stems are usually slightly hairy.


During the flowering period, which takes place between mid-July and the end of September, southernwood forms white to yellow flowers. Each plant forms numerous small flower heads. The up to 5mm (0.2 inches) large flowers are arranged in a spike-like grape. In relatively cold summers there is often a lack of flowering

Southernwood – cultivation and care

Location and soil

Southernwood has some claims to its location. It grow best in warm places with full sun. The soil should be loose, slightly calcareous and permeable, so that waterlogging is avoided. Sand, gravel and stones in the ground support the drainage. When planting in the herb garden, the admixture of aggregates such as pumice or zeolite is promising.


In terms of care, southernwoods are very undemanding; only in spring, some horn shavings or compost are incorporated into the soil, lime-poor soils are enriched with garden lime.


Watering the plant should be done sparingly.


Southernwood are among the light germs. When raising from seed, the seeds are only scattered loose on the ground and gently pressed without being covered with soil.


For the propagation of cuttings simply a long shoot with leaf tips is cut and stuck in the ground. Already a short time later, first root are formed. When the summer months are relatively cool, the plant does not produce flowers and thus no seeds. The cuttings propagation therefore appears the more effective way.


So that the plant does not get out of shape, pruning in spring is recommended. As the plant is prone to voluminous growth, it should be planted about half a meter (20 inches) away from other plants. The neighboring plants benefit at the same time by the presence of southernwood, since the scented essential oils keep unwanted pests away.

Southernwood - plant
Southernwood – plant by Raffi Kojian –, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Southernwood and its use

Southernwood is not only used as a spicy and beneficial herb, it also has a tradition in combating or preventing moths. For this, the dried herb is hung in cotton or organza sacks in the closet. The intense scent of the essential oils expels the cloth-destroying insects. Furthermore, southernwood – especially the lemon southernwood (also called lemon herb (Artemisia abrotanum ‘Citrina’)) is used as part of fragrant potpourris.

Southernwood in the kitchen

Southernwood is especially used in the seasoning of greasy dishes, especially goose and duck are spiced with it. When dosing, however, caution is necessary, because even small amounts of the aromatic plant are sufficient to aromatize the food vigorously and give it a spicy and slightly bitter taste.

The plant is offered in the trade in two flavors: as lemon southernwood (Artemisia abrotanum ‘Citrina’) with scent of citrus fruits and as camphor southernwood, which smelles like camphor and is called because of the sweet, cola-like fragrance also as cola-shrub.

Southernwood is used both dried and in the form of fresh leaves. Since the aroma is not lost when drying, you can dry the plant for storage, but also freeze.

Southernwood as a medicinal herb

In the Middle Ages southernwood, which was usually referred to as a sitherwood, was a very popular herb. It was not only given an aphrodisiac and invigorating effect, it was also taken to fix hair loss or to expel intestinal parasites such as worms. In some herbal books, the plant has been specifically used against worms, chest pain and for the treatment of tumors. An important use found it as an antidote. The herb was also used by mothers who gave birth. There cloths were soaked in a broth of southernwood and placed on the skin. Furthermore it was used at this time as a wine extract, as a tea, as wrap or pure. The herb was also mentioned in the pharmacology of Paracelsus.

Southernwood has some good antibacterial properties. Some studies could note high levels of activity against bacteria. It is also used in the treatment of malaria. However, the content of artemisin in the southernwood is quite low.

The herb also has anti-inflammatory, spasmolytic (anticonvulsant) and anti-oedematous properties. For this purpose, the flavonoids contained in the southernwood are responsible.

Of medical importance among the ingredients of the southernwood are mainly the tannins and bitter substances. These stimulate the production of digestive juices in the stomach, bile and liver and ensure good digestion, support the appetite and provide relief for stomach problems and cramps.

Preparation of southernwood tea

For this purpose, southernwood is either eaten as seasoning or drunk as tea, with the preparation of the brewing time depending on whether fresh or dried leaves are used.

  • 1 teaspoon of dried southernwood
  • dash with 250 to 300 ml (about 8 to 10 fl oz) of boiling water
  • allow to steep for 5 minutes, covered
  • if fresh leaves are used, the time of brewing should not exceed 10 minutes.

The anticonvulsant effect is also beneficial for women during menstruation. Pregnant women should therefore restrain from using southernwood to avoid premature labor. In addition, it promotes kidney and bladder activity, has a calming effect, is antibacterial and supports the perspiration, features which is why southernwood is used not only for stomach problems, but also for sleep problems and feverish colds and cough.

Tea infusions are also used for envelopes.


Ask your doctor or pharmacist. Visiting this page can not replace the visit to the doctor. For serious or unclear complaints, consult your doctor.

Buy Southernwood – What is there to pay attention to?

Southernwood is an extremely aromatic herb with the unmistakable scent of lemons or camphor or cola. When making a purchase, make sure that southernwood is not mistaken for the visually similar and related tarragon, mugwort or wormwood.

Seeds are rarely offered in the garden trade, which is justified by the fact that the plant does not always form seeds. It rather propagates via stolon or by cuttings. That’s why garden centers tend to prefer young plants rather than seeds. Seeds can occasionally be found in some online shops.


  1. Southernwood plant care is similar to that of most herbs hailing from the Mediterranean. These herbs like full to partial sun, well draining soil, and adequate moisture although they are tolerant of drought. Growing southernwood is usually cultivated for its essential oil, which contains absinthol and is used in herbal teas, potpourris or medicinally. The young shoots were used to add flavor to pastries and puddings, while branches were used to dye wool a deep yellow hue.

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