Southernwood, lad's love, or southern wormwood, is a species of flowering plant in the sunflower family. It is native to Eurasia and Africa but naturalized in scattered locations in North America. The botanical name of southernwood is Artemisia abrotanum. The name ‘Southernwood’ has Old English roots and means “woody plant that comes from the south.” Other common names include: old man, boy's love, oldman wormwood, lover's plant, appleringie, garderobe, Our Lord's wood, maid's ruin, garden sagebrush, European sage, sitherwood and lemon plant. Despite its name, Southernwood isn’t a tree or woody at all. Instead, it’s a short-growing herb that produces tiny flowers. It’s usually identified by its strong camphor odor and its frilly foliage.

Southernwood is a highly aromatic, woody, perennial herb. The plant has woody, upright-branching stems. Leaves are small, grey-green, narrow and feathery. They 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. Flower-heads are small and numerous, in long, slender, drooping racemes and the florets are yellow colored. They normally bloom from August and September. This herb rarely flowers, so it is best propagated by root division or via cuttings. Fruits are small, inconspicuous brown nut. It is suitable for xeriscape gardening, dry rocky slopes, borders, paths or other dry areas where other plants are difficult to grow.

Table of Contents


2 - 4 feet

Width-Circumference (Avg)

2 - 3 feet

Approximate pH

6.3 - 7.6

Varieties of Southernwood

There are multiple varieties of southernwood, including:

  • Artemisia abrotanum ‘Cola’: This cultivar has foliage that really does smell like soda.

  • Artemisia abrotanum ‘Leprechaun’: This is a particularly hardy and compact cultivar.

  • Artemisia abrotanum ‘Silver’: This cultivar features soft silvery-green foliage.

Planting Southernwood

Location and soil

Southernwood has some claims to its location. It grow best in warm places with full sun. The soil should be loose, slightly calcareous and permeable, so that waterlogging is avoided. Sand, gravel and stones in the ground support the drainage. When planting in the herb garden, the admixture of aggregates such as pumice or zeolite is promising

Southernwood Care

Southernwood is a good choice for growing as a low hedge or border, and it is a common addition in herb gardens or containers. It will grow in dry, infertile soils where other plants struggle to survive, and it needs relatively little maintenance. It also doesn't typically have any serious issues with pests or diseases.

Your main care task will be to prune your southernwood plants to maintain healthy growth and to divide them when they become overgrown. Southernwood also occasionally might need supplemental watering and feeding.


Although southernwood prefers a spot with full sun, meaning at least six hours of direct sunlight on most days, it can still grow well in some shade. Growth just won't be as vigorous, and the plant's lemony scent won't be as apparent. Too much shade can also cause the foliage to become less compact and straggly in appearance.


Southernwood can grow in sandy, loamy, and clay soils of varying pH levels. The soil must be well-draining and never waterlogged, as the plant is susceptible to root rot.


Once it's established, southernwood is a drought-tolerant species that likes dry or moderately moist conditions. It doesn't like to be overwatered. During hot weather or a prolonged period of drought, water to prevent the soil from drying out. Otherwise, supplemental irrigation often isn't necessary.

Temperature and Humidity

Southernwood thrives in hot and dry regions, where it tends to live longer, be hardier, and produce a stronger aroma. Despite its name, it's not suited to the hot and humid climate of the Deep South. The plant can cope with colder temperatures, though it will benefit from mulching over the winter in the cooler parts of its growing zones. In hotter regions, the plant is more likely to flower. In the colder regions, the flowers won't usually appear at all.


Because southernwood can thrive in infertile soils, it might not need additional feeding with a fertilizer. However, the plant might benefit from feeding if it's losing its compact shape and the foliage is looking elongated and weak. Mix some compost into the soil in the spring for an organic nutrient boost.


  • Pick fresh leaves and flowers throughout the year.

  • The leaves and roots produce a yellow natural plant dye for textiles.

Pruning and Propagating Southernwood


Pruning southernwood is more important than it is with most other herbs. If you don't rigorously cut it back to the ground in the early spring, it can lose its compact shape and new growth can be limited. The foliage tends to become overly tall, weak, and loosely spread when left to its own devices.

Propagating Southernwood

Southernwood is easy to propagate from cuttings or root division. For cuttings, select a 4- to 6-inch portion of new woody growth in the summer, and trim it off. Remove the leaves from the lower half, apply rooting hormone to the cut end, and plant it in a soilless potting medium. Keep it warm and moist until roots form. Once you feel resistance when you tug on the stem, you will know it has developed roots. Then, it is ready to be planted outside.

Mature plants can be divided every three to four years. Simply dig up the clumps, gently pull apart the roots, and replant the smaller clumps wherever you wish. Even if you don't want new plants, it's still a good idea to divide large clumps every few years to maintain healthy growth.

Pests and Diseases

Plants are susceptible to rot in moist, poorly drained soils but otherwise are generally disease free.

Benefits of Southernwood

  • 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, 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 occasionally given to young children in order to expel parasitic worms and externally it is applied to small wounds in order to stop the bleeding and help them to heal.

  • The herb is also used externally in aromatic bathes and as a poultice to treat skin conditions.

  • Fresh leaves were rubbed on the skin to ward off mosquito.

  • Southernwood was used traditionally for cramps, urinary disorders, menstrual pain and cough as well as antidote against snake bites or other poisonous animals.

  • The herb was also used as a remedy against the plague and intestinal worms.

  • It is used to treat various skin diseases and was thought to promote beard and hair growth.

  • It was often placed in pillows to counteract insomnia.

  • Soak the leaves in warm water often combined with nettle, rosemary or sage and then rub the extract into the skin and scalp to prevent infection.

  • It strengthens the digestive system by increasing the production of the digestive juices.

  • It has also been used for diarrhea, urinary tract infections and for bronchitis and other upper respiratory infections.

  • It is used to regulate irregular menstruation.

  • It has been used by men to increase their virility.

  • In the past it was also used as an antidote to poison and to treat the bites of spiders and scorpions.


Culinary Uses

  • Young shoots have a bitter, lemony flavor and are used in small quantities as a flavoring in cakes, salads and vinegars.

  • Tea is made from the young bitter shoots.

  • The pungent, scented leaves and flowers are used in herbal teas.

  • It is used as a culinary herb in Italy.

  • It is also eaten in salads in Italy and cooked as a vegetable.

  • It was used as a smoldering bed of branches for roasting lamb and is mostly suited for meats to flavor aromatic and rather fat meat (pork, duck, goose, mutton) or to add to bland meat (veal).

  • Young bitter shoots and leaves are used in brewing of beer in Southern Europe.

Other Uses

  • 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.

  • They are also said to repel ants.

  • Shoots can be burnt in the fireplace to remove cooking odors from the house.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Its dried leaves are used to keep moths away from wardrobes.

  • Volatile oil in the leaves is responsible for the strong, sharp, scent which repels moths and other insects.

  • In many catholic churches the herb is still used as incense.

  • In Poland, Southernwood was placed in the shoe of a bride to protect her against any evil intent.

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