artemisia abrotanum, L
was loaned from Greek habrotonon
English: Field Southernwood
leaves and young shoots
Plantae; Spermatophyta, Angiospermae – Flowering Plants; Dicotyledonae; Asteridae / Synandrae; Asterales; Compositae / Asteraceae – Composites / Daisy or Sunflower Family
Allen’s Encyclop. Mat. Med. Vol I, 558; Cyclop. Drug, Path. Vol. I.
Description of the substance
Field Southernwood is common in most parts of Europe, but rare in
Britain, occurring only on sandy heaths in Norfolk and Suffolk. It is
perennial, like the other species of Artemisia with a rather thick,
tapering root, but uniike them, its foliage is not aromatic. The
slender, grooved stems, until flowering, are prostrate; the leaves are
silky when young, but nearly smooth when mature, the segments few in
number, but very slender, 1/4 to 1/2 inch long, terminating in a point
with their margins recurved. The flower-heads are small and numerous, in
long, slender, drooping racemes, the florets yellow and are in bloom in
August and September.
—Medicinal Action and Uses—Dr. John Hill says of Field Southernwood that it is of a:
‘warm, fine, pleasant, aromatic taste, with a little bitterness, not enough to be disagreeable. It wants but to be more common and more known to be very highly valued . . . and one thing it is in particular, it is a composer; and always disposes the person to sleep. Opiates weaken the stomach and must not be given often where we wish for their assistance; this possesses the soothing quality without the mischief.’
This species of Artemisia has the same qualities, in a lesser degree, as the garden Southernwood, and Linnaeus recommended an infusion of it as of use in pleurisy.
There are two different cultivated strains of southernwood, both of which have a strong fragrance, which many people find unpleasant even in mediocre amounts. The traditional type vaguely reminds of lemon, and the more recently bred type (“camphor southernwood”) has an even more intense and dominant smell.
Both types are, despite their significant bitterness, well suited for culinary usage. See zedoary on the topic of bitter spices and lemon myrtle about lemon scented spices).
Somewhere in the late 1500’s or so, Southernwood was introduced to the British. Because it was native to Southern Europe and, because the British were already familiar with their native Wormwood, it became the Southern Wormwood.
Eventually, this was shortened to just
Southernwood. Lads were already including the pungent Wormwood in
bouquets to lovely lassies, no doubt to mask less-than-desirable
personal odors, so it was no surprise that they began to include the
pungent clean-smelling Southernwood also. Consequently, two common names
are Lad’s Love and Maiden’s Ruin.
The French, who have wonderful names for everything, have called Southernwood Garderobe (closet), referring to its reputation to guard your robes from moths.
This pungent aroma makes it difficult to perceive of Southernwood as a culinary herb, but it has been used as such in the past. Reputed to have been used with fatty meats, the result must have been extremely bitter (no doubt the reason its use was discontinued).
There are records that indicate the Shakers were dealing with Southernwood as a medicinal herb as early as 1830. It was reported for use in obstructions and in treating children for threadworms.
Today, Southernwood is most
appreciated for its contribution to the landscape both in appearance and
for fragrance. Growing to about two feet, it is best mixed with other
blooming plants, since it rarely flowers, of the same height.
When it does flower, they are like those of most Artemisias: disappointing. They are small yellow buttons that turn a most disagreeable brownish cream. Fortunately, shearing the plants to between 18 inches and two feet produces not only sturdy growth, but eliminates the odd flower stalk.
Like Powis Castle, Southernwood has to be one of the all-time great fragrances. Not quite as sweet as Powis Castle, it has a touch of camphor and a touch of citrus. It would make a great aftershave. Indeed, it is used in the perfume industry today.
The Southernwood is
the southern Wormwood, i.e. the foreign, as distinguished from the
native plant, being a native of the South of Europe, found indigenous in
Spain and Italy. It is a familiar and favourite plant in our gardens,
although it rarely if ever flowers in this country. An ointment made
with its ashes is used by country lads to promote the growth of a beard.
St. Francis de Sales says: ‘To love in the midst of sweets, little children could do that, but to love in the bitterness of Wormwood is a sure sign of our affectionate fidelity.’ This refers to the habit of including a spray of the plant in country bouquets presented by lovers to their lasses.
It used to be the custom for women to carry to church large bunches of this plant and Balm, that the keen, aromatic scent might prevent all feeling of drowsiness. Southernwood in common with Wormwood was thought to ward off infection. Even in the early part of last century, a bunch of Southernwood and Rue was placed at the side of the prisoner in the dock as a preventive from the contagion of jail fever.
Southernwood, a more-than-slightly old-fashioned culinary herb, is hardly ever used today. Given the strong and rather unpleasant lemon odour and its well-developed bitterness, it is truly hard to find a reasonable field of application. In any way, careful dosage is essential.
Southernwood is mostly suited for meats. Similar to mugwort, to which southernwood is far superior, it is a good choice to flavour aromatic and rather fat meat (pork, duck, goose, mutton), the bitter constituents improving digestibility and stimulating the appetite. On the other hand, southernwood can also be used for rather bland meat (veal, turkey), thus adding an interesting taste sensation to an otherwise insipid dish. This half-forgotten herb truly rewards experiments; for example, it can be used for an unusual bouquet garni (see parsley).
Allegedly, southernwood is used to flavour cakes in Italy, but I have never found any recipes demonstrating this usage. Furthermore, extracts of the plant are sometimes found in stomachic medicines or liqueurs.
—Medicinal Action and Uses—Tonic, emmenagogue, anthelmintic, antiseptic and deobstruent.
The chief use of Southernwood is as an emmenagogue. It is a good stimulant tonic and possesses some nervine principle. It is given in infusion of 1 OZ. of the herb to 1 pint of boiling water, prepared in a covered vessel, the escape of steam impairing its value. This infusion or tea is agreeable, but a decoction is distasteful, having lost much of the aroma.
Fluid extract, 1/2 to 1 drachm.
Considerable success has also attended its use as an anthelmintic, being chiefly used against the worms of children, teaspoonful doses of the powdered herb being given in treacle morning and evening.
The branches are said to dye wool a deep yellow.
‘Dioscorides saith that the seed bruised, heated in warm water and drunk helpeth those that are troubled in the cramps or convulsions of the sinews or the sciatica. The same taken in wine is an antidote and driveth away serpents and other venomous creatures, as also the smell of the herb being burnt doth the same. The oil thereof annointed on the backbone before the fits of agues come, preventeth them: it taketh away inflammation of the eyes, if it be put with some part of a wasted quince or boiled in a few crumbs of bread, and applied. Boiled in barley meal it taketh away pimples . . . that rise in the face or other parts of the body. The seed as well as the dried herb is often given to kill worms in children. The herb bruised helpeth to draw forth splinters and thorns out of the flesh. The ashes thereof dry up and heal old ulcers that are without inflammation, although by the sharpness thereof, it makes them smart. The ashes mingled with old salad oil helps those that have their hair fallen and are bald, causing the hair to grow again, either on the head or beard. A strong decoction of the leaves is a good worm medicine, but is disagreeable and nauseous. The leaves are a good ingredient in fomentation for easing pain, dispersing swellings or stopping the progress of gangrenes. The distilled water of the herb is said to helpe. . . diseases of the spleen. The Germans commend it for a singular wound herb. . . . Wormwood has thrown it into disrepute.’
Artemisia abrotanum is used to aid menstrual flow. It is specifically indicated in amenorrhoea associated with neurosis (for example in anorexia nervosa) and will act to initiate delayed menstruation. It is also a valuable bitter tonic, strengthening and supporting digestive function by increasing digestive secretions. Its bitter stimulation will help remove threadworm from children. Topically, it may be used as an insect repellent.
Combinations: With Chamaelirium for delayed menstruation.
The Latin name of the plant, abrotonum, is not related to Latin aper “boar” (as might be suggested by the German name Eberraute, which could be misinterpreted as “boar-rue”, but is in fact a distortion of the Latin name), but was loaned from Greek habrotonon ; the latter’s origin is not known to me.
English southernwood is a contraction of southern wormwood; indeed, southernwood can be seen als a Southern (Mediterranean) variant of wormwood, which is grown in West and Central Europe only since the Middle Ages (see also lovage). The British name old man also was given in contrast to wormwood, which is known as old woman in some parts of Britain.
The Estonian name
sidrunpuju contains sidrun “lemon” and puju “mugwort”; thus, the plant
is perceived a lemon-scented variety of mugwort. For a similar example
of a rather controversial fragrance associated with lemon in a North
European name, see epazote.
French garde-robe “Guard of robes” refers to the plant’s power to repel moths and other insects; yet lavender is more common for this purpose.
The botanical genus name Artemisia refers to the Greek goddess of hunting, Artemis. The classical Greek name artemisia is recordeed for a plant sacred to the goddess; its precise meaning might have been wormwood (A. absinthium, A. ponticum) or another closely related species
Artemis in Greek Mythology
goddess Artemis played an intriguing role in Greek mythology and
religion. She was known as the “Mistress of Animals” and the protectress
of children, but she was also a huntress and the goddess who could
bring death with her arrows. Myths such as the one about Niobe show
Artemis as a strong willed and powerful goddess, a female who could
punish injustices against the gods with ferocious and deadly accuracy.
Artemis was the daughter of Leto and Zeus (the ruler of the Greek gods). Together with her twin brother Apollo she enjoyed the status and privileges of an Olympian. And as an Olympian goddess, Artemis was free to pursue her interests, and was often found frolicking in the forests, accompanied by a band of nymphs.
Myths of the Maiden Goddess
and legends show that the goddess Artemis was aloof and free-spirited,
and not constrained by husband or hearth. Her independent nature is
further reinforced in a very important way, for in mythology and
religion, the goddess remained eternally a virgin. Indeed, those who in
some way compromised her strict requirements for chastity were severely
punished by the maiden goddess.
There are several tales that describe the swift and terrible retribution of Artemis. One of the most revealing of these stories involves the youth Actaeon. In addition, Artemis was also responsible for punishing the nymph Callisto. In myth, Callisto was at one point a follower of the virgin goddess, but when she became involved in an affair with the god Zeus, Artemis had her revenge on the unfortunate nymph.
The Moon Goddess
Artemis is sometimes identified with Selene, the Greek goddess of the
moon. Indeed, this association between Artemis and the moon is revealed
in one of the epithets used to describe the goddess – Phoebe (“the
The goddess Artemis was known as Diana in Roman mythology.
paint pag3, n1
Artemisia drinking the Ashes of Mausolus
1671 – 1749
L884. On loan from the collection of Sir Denis Mahon CH CBE FBA since 1999.
This painting was long known as ‘Sophonisba taking Poison’ because it was thought to show the suicide of Sophonisba, wife of the Numidian King Massinissa, as recounted by Livy. In fact Creti based his composition on a painting of Artemisia by the Bolognese painter Giovan Gioseffo dal Sole (1654 – 1719). Queen Artemisia drank the ashes of her dead husband Mausolus in order to become his living tomb. She built a great funerary monument (mausoleum) at Halicarnassus to his memory, which became one of the wonders of the ancient world.
The composition of the essential oil (0.2%) is reported differently in various sources: Some claim absinthol (a mixture of isomeric thujones also appearing in the related wormwood) as main component; other sources report the heterocyclic sesquiterpenes davanol and davanone besides carlinene. At another place, I have read about 1,8-cineol as the main component.
Among the non-volatile constituents, an alkaloid abrotin and coumarines are reported. Although southernwood contains significant amounts of bitter sesquiterpene lactones (absinthin) and the glycosid rutin, it is still less bitter than its close relative, wormwood.
Flowering branches of camphor-scented (left) and lemon-scented (right) southernwood.
Thujone is also found in southernwood’s close relatives mugwort and particularily wormwood, and in unrelated species like thuja or sage. It is rather poisonous and generally held responsible for the toxicity of alcoholics containing wormwood extracts
Phytomedicine. 2004 Jan;11(1):36-42. Related Articles, Links
Characteristics, clinical effect profile and tolerability of a nasal spray preparation of Artemisia abrotanum L. for allergic rhinitis.
Remberg P, Bjork L, Hedner T, Sterner O.
Department of Organic and Bioorganic Chemistry, Lund University, Lund, Sweden.
A nasal spray formulation containing an extract of Artemisia abrotanum L. was developed for therapeutic use in patients with allergic rhinitis and other upper airway disorders. The nasal spray preparation used contains a mixture of essential oils (4 mg/ml) and flavonols (2.5 microg/ml), of which some components have been shown to possess antiinflammatory, expectorant, spasmolytic as well as antiseptic and antimicrobial activities. The most important constituents in the essential oil fraction of the preparation are 1,8-cineole, linalool and davanone, while the flavonol fraction contains centauredin, casticin and quercetin dimethyl-ethers. No trace of thujon was observed in the essential oil of the Artemisia abrotanum L. genotype “Tycho” used for the manufacture of the nasal spray preparation. In 12 patients with diagnoses of allergic rhinitis, allergic conjunctivitis and/or bronchial obstructive disease, the nasal spray was given immediately after the appearance of characteristic allergic nasal symptoms. In 10 of the 12 patients, allergic rhinitis with nasal congestion, sneezing and rhinorrhea was dominant. After administration of the nasal spray, all patients experienced a rapid and significant symptom relief of nasal symptoms, comparable to the effect of antihistamine and chromoglicate preparations which several of the patients had used previously. The effect was present within 5 minutes after the administration and lasted for several hours. In 7 of the 10 rhinitis patients with concomitant symptoms of allergic conjunctivitis, a significant subjective relief of eye symptoms was also experienced. In 3 of the 6 patients who had a history of characteristic symptoms of endogenous, exogenous or exercise induced bronchial obstructive disease, there was a bronchial symptom relief by the nasal spray preparation which was experienced as rapid and clinically significant. It is concluded from the present proof of concept study, that a nasal spray formulation containing an extract characterised by a mixture of essential oils and flavonols from the Artemisia abrotanum L. genotype “Tycho”, appears to be clinically useful and suitable for the prophylactic and therapeutic management of patients with allergic rhinitis and adjuvant symptoms.
Planta Med. 1995 Aug;61(4):370-1.
Spasmolytic flavonols from Artemisia abrotanum.
Bergendorff O, Sterner O.
Four flavonols with spasmolytic activity have been isolated from a methanol extract of Artemisia abrotanum L. (Asteraceae), as the principles primarily responsible for the smooth muscle relaxing activity of this plant. The flavonols show a dose-dependent relaxing effect on the carbacholine-induced contraction of guinea-pig trachea, the EC50 values for compounds 1-3 are 20-30 mumol/l while compound 4 is less active
Complement Ther Nurs Midwifery. 2000 Nov;6(4):176-9.
Moxibustion for breech presentation.
Midwifery Sister/Acupuncturist, Maternity Unit, Derriford Hospital, Plymouth, Devon, UK. firstname.lastname@example.org
Breech presentation at term is considered a possible obstetric complication, and the management before and during labour remains controversial. A technique called ‘moxibustion’ is used in traditional Chinese medicine to encourage version of the fetus in breech presentation. It has been used in the maternity unit in Plymouth for 11 years. The results would seem to suggest it may have a positive effect and play a part in reducing the number of breech presentations at term and therefore also a reduction in the number of caesarean sections which are so often advocated in breech presentation. This article describes the technique in greater detail and discusses the potential for the future.
Clinical information, Abrotanum artemisia:
— bitter tonic, strengthens and supports digestive functions (see traditional use)
— the bitter stimulation helps remove threadworms (and ascarides as well) (see traditional use)
— amenorrhoea associated with neurosis (for example annorexia nervosa, see traditional use)
— Marasmus from malnutrition, especially marasmus of the legs (Nash)
— Ravenous hunger but losing flesh while eating well (Allens Keynotes)
Bartram, T. 1995 Encyclopaedia of Herbal Medicine, 1st edn.,Grace Publishers, Bournemouth.
Bremness, L. 1994 Herbs, Dorling Kindersley Eyewitness Handbook, London.
BHMA 1983 British Herbal Pharmacopoeia, BHMA, Bournemouth.
Chevallier, A. 1996 The Encyclopaedia of Medicinal Plants, Dorling Kindersley, London.
Grieve, M. 1931 A Modern Herbal, (ed. C.F. Leyel 1985), London.
Hoffmann, D. 1990 The New Holistic Herbal, Second Edition, Element, Shaftesbury.
Lust, J. 1990 The Herb Book, Bantam, London.
Mills, S.Y. 1993 The A-Z of Modern Herbalism, Diamond Books, London.
Ody, P. 1993 The Herb Society’s Complete Medicinal Herbal, Dorling Kindersley, London.
Polunin, M. and Robbins, C. 1992 The Natural Pharmacy, Dorling Kindersley, London.
Weiss, R.F. 1991 Herbal Medicine, Beaconsfield Arcanum, Beaconsfield.
Proved by Gatchell on two women. Also proved by Stockebrand in 1927 on 13 persons, by Imhäuser on 5 children, and in 1984 by Dr. F.Swoboda, Austria, on 8 persons
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