Growing and Using Southernwood

Growing and Using Southernwood
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Southernwood, Artemisia abrotanum, is a hardy, easy to grow herb with many uses that makes it worth growing in your garden. Its feathery foliage is pretty in the flower bed or the herb garden. It grows to about 4 foot tall and 18 inches wide. The foliage is the ornamental feature of southernwood, as is the lemon-like aroma.
In the garden, southernwood is a good companion to cabbage because it helps to keep away the cabbage worm. It's attractive to bees, birds and butterflies too. It's hardy to Zone 4, and is happy in dry soil and full sun. Southernwood is drought tolerant and can grow in very poor soil. It's a woody perennial that grows each spring from its thick stems --wait until you can see new growth and then prune any dead parts. In cold climates it starts to green again in the early spring and flowers in the fall. Once southernwood is established feel free to cut it back by half in the spring if you want to keep it neater. Flowering isn't necessary because it's the foliage that's harvested and dried.

When buying southernwood as a plant be sure to crush and sniff a leaf if you want the traditional variety that smells lemon-like. Some of the newer varieties have a camphor smell instead and it's fairly intense. Harvest southernwood in August and September. Dry in bunches for later use. Richter's Herbs carries several varieties of Southernwood.

Southernwood has an odd assortment of past uses. It was named Lad's love, Old man, Old man's love and Maidens ruin at various times. It was used in bouquets by young women and probably in tussie mussies as well. It was also given by young men to their ladies. Most interesting, is that it was also used in the courtrooms to ward off diseases that the prisoners may have been carrying. Jails often used it in the same way. For some reason, perhaps because of its fresh aroma, in early times it was thought to prevent the spread of fever and disease.

Southernwood also has many pleasant uses including the practice of laying clean clothing on the plant to dry after washing so it would take on the aroma of the foliage. It has been widely thought of as a pest repellent, mostly moths and flies. Bundles can be hung in closets or placed in drawers. They can also hang in the kitchen to repel flies. Many people use southernwood with a combination of herbs to make drawer sachets. The following is an easy recipe to try:

You'll need:

1 cup dried southernwood

1 cup dried rosemary

1 cup dried lavender

Combine the herbs in a bowl to mix. Place the mixture in small muslin or cotton bags, tie and place in clothing drawers or chests.

Another combination has a few more ingredients but is used the same:

1 cup cedar shavings

1/4 cup each southernwood, peppermint, thyme and rosemary

1/8 cup each whole cloves and lemon peel

Another method is to place sprigs of rosemary, southernwood and lavender between sheets of tissue paper or muslin in your drawers or closets.

Southernwood also makes a wonderful addition to decorative baskets of herbs or herbal wreaths. It combines well with rosehip still on the stem, rosemary, lavender, woodruff, chamomile, oregano flowers or violets.

Lastly, southernwood can be used in a mixture for bath tea:

You'll need:

3 tbsp. rosemary

1 tsp.. southernwood

3 tbsp. dried calendula petals

Mix together in a glass jar. Use half for one bath. Mix half the contents with one quart of boiling water. Allow it to infuse for 15-20 minutes, strain and add to your bath water.


About The Author

Brenda Hyde is a freelance writer living on ten acres in rural Michigan with her husband and three kids. She is a mom, grandma, gardener, cook and writer. She blogs on all of these topics at


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