Southernwood is a highly aromatic, shrubby, perennial member of the Artemisia family. Its odor is something like a cross between lemon and camphor and is pleasant in small doses, but can become overbearing. This very attractive plant forms a bushy shrub with long, narrow, feathery leaves or a greyish green color. It reaches about three feet in height.
Southernwood is native to Southern Europe and we find much mention of it in Spain and Italy.
Southernwood may also be known as: Lad’s Love, Boy’s Love, Old Man, Southern Wormwood, Oldman Wormwood, Lover’s Plant, Appleringie, Garderobe, Our Lord’s Wood, Maid’s Ruin, Garden Sagebrush, European Sage, Sitherwood and Lemon Plant.
Southernwood in History and Folklore
Southernwood has historically been used as a strewing herb as its odor repels insects.
Southernwood and rue were worn to protect them from contagious diseases of the masses and were placed in prisons to prevent the spread of diseases there. It was also one of many herbs that were worn by church parishioners to help keep them alert during long sermons and prayer meetings.
Young men once used southernwood to help them grow beards. Apparently the herb was burned and the ashes rubbed into the skin where beard growth was desired.
Gardening with Southernwood
Southernwood is very easy to grow in poor soil and a sunny spot, though it tolerates some shade quite well. Southernwood grows very easily by cuttings. A branch touching the ground will grow into a new plant. You can also grow it from seed, but it can take several discouraging weeks to germinate.
Southernwood’s fragrance discourages insects of all sorts, including bees, so care should be taken when deciding where to put it. It is perhaps best to put it near areas where people will spend time than to use it as a companion for other plants who may desire the attention of pollinators. However, tall fruit trees may benefit from the presence of Southernwood, since it is short, it can discourage climbing insects but isn’t likely to interfere with flying bees. You can plant southernwood near cabbage and its relatives to ward off cabbage worm.
Southernwood is a nice, low-growing shrub that I like around paths and bordering social areas in the yard. It does not have an attractive flower but its silvery green leaves are very attractive and might make a nice addition to a moon garden. It is not bothered by many diseases and deer and rabbits tend to leave it alone.
Southernwood can get invasive. In the herb garden, it’s likely to crowd out its neighbors.
I do not recommend Southernwood as an indoor potted plant although it would probably do well because its fragrance, while pleasant enough outdoors, quickly becomes overbearing in enclosed spaces.
Harvesting and Preserving Southernwood
Southernwood is best harvested in mid to late summer
Southernwood Around the House
Use dried southernwood leaves in your closets to help protect stored clothing and linens from moths, in your cabinets to ward off ants, and around windows to head off flies. An herbal sachet of dried Southernwood, crushed cinnamon sticks and lavender buds can be quite attractive, pleasant-smelling and very functional. You can hang these from a pretty ribbon near whatever you wish to protect from insect damage.
You can also make a spray by steeping the leaves in vinegar or alcohol for a few weeks or add a few drops of essential oil to vinegar and water. Or add it to an oil base to apply to the skin.
A yellow dye can be extracted from the branches of the plant; it is especially useful for dying wool.
Southernwood added to hair washing products is said to help relieve dandruff.
Healing with Southernwood
Southernwood can be used to stimulate menstruation and so should not be used by pregnant women. It is also used to expel worms.
Southernwood is a stimulating digestive tonic. It is said to improve the function of the liver and to improve digestion in general.
The bruised leaves can be used to draw out splinters and stingers.
Southernwood for Magick
Southernwood is traditionally used to ward against disease and to draw love. It may be employed in a ritual bath to increase a man’s attractiveness, virility, and sexual skill. It can also be placed under a mattress to up a man’s game.
Southernwood is suitable for male rites of passage particularly manhood rites.
It is said that Southernwood tossed on your fire will keep snakes away.
Used as an incense, southernwood can help keep away trouble in general and it can be added to mixtures to drive away a streak of bad luck or to break a hex.
In the language of flowers, southernwood represents banter.
Southernwood’s Magickal Correspondences
Southernwood in the Kitchen
Southernwood is used as a culinary herb in Italy. Young shoots can be used to flavor cakes and puddings and the leaves are apparently good with fatty meats. (I have no personal experience with this, but I intend to begin experiments soon!)
Warnings and Toxicity Information for Southernwood
Southernwood should not be used by pregnant women.
Some people are allergic to Southernwood. People with hay fever may find its pollen bothersome and some experience contact dermatitis from the plant.