Herb: Southernwood

Latin name: Artemisia abrotanum

Family: Compositae

Medicinal use of Southernwood:

Southernwood has a long history of domestic herbal use, though it is now used infrequently in herbal medicine. 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. The herb, and especially the young flowering shoots, is anthelmintic, antiseptic, cholagogue, deobstruent, emmenagogue, stomachic and tonic. The main use of this herb is as an emmenagogue, though it is also a good stimulant tonic and has some nervine principle. 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. The herb is also used externally in aromatic bathes and as a poultice to treat skin conditions. 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.

Description of the plant:


120 cm
(4 feet)

to October


Habitat of the herb:

Not known in a truly wild situation.

Edible parts of Southernwood:

The young shoots have a bitter, lemony flavour and are used in small quantities as a flavouring in cakes, salads and vinegars. A tea is made from the young bitter shoots.

Other uses of the herb:

Insect repellent. The growing plant repels fruit tree moths when growing in an orchard. The fresh plant can also be rubbed onto the skin to deter insects. The shoots can be dried for indoor use, they remain effective for 6 - 12 months. They are also said to repel ants. Shoots can be burnt in the fireplace to remove cooking odours from the house. The leaves have a refreshing lemon-like fragrance and are used in pot-pourri. An essential oil from the leaves and flowering shoots is used in perfumery in order to add certain subtle tones. A yellow dye is obtained from the branches. Plants can be grown as a low hedge, they tolerate quite hard clipping. An infusion of the plant is used as a hair tonic or conditioner.

Propagation of Southernwood:

Seed - surface sow from late winter to early summer in a greenhouse. The seed usually germinates in 1 - 2 months at 15C. 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. Cuttings of half-ripe wood with a heel, July/August in a frame.

Cultivation of the herb:

Not known in a truly wild situation.

Known hazards of Artemisia abrotanum:

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.

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.