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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.