Notes from Herb Heaven


This bitter herb is indigenous to Italy and Spain and was introduced to England in 1548. It has a strong, aromatic scent and it was carried in church in order to keep the women awake during over-long sermons! Southernwood grows in a dryish soil and in full sun. Add some leaf mould or compost. Give the shrub some shelter from strong and stormy winds. Propagate by cuttings and division. Cuttings will root all year round. Place in wet sand and keep moist until rooted. Plant about 90 cm apart.

This shrub has feathery leaves and can grow to a metre or more. The bush benefits from being pruned and can be shaped quite easily. Burn a branch or two on a braai fire to keep away unwanted insects. Plant a hedge of southernwood around cabbages to repel aphids and other insects. Southernwood helps to keep away fruit flies and moths when planted around fruit trees. To combat ants, try putting a sprig of southernwood down ant holes, or sprinkle the herb dried and powdered in and around the area. Place a spray or two of southernwood among books to repel fish moths.

Branches and leaves of southernwood can be used to good effect as an insect repellent in linen cupboards. Southernwood is effective in pot-pourris. This a useful medicinal herb, often used in the past as a bitter digestive tonic and for ridding the body of worms, especially in children. Dry the herb and grind it. Mix a teaspoon of the powder with some molasses or treacle and administer this morning and evening Southernwood is also used to aid menstrual flow, as it is a uterine stimulant. Not to be used during pregnancy. It is said that a tea made from a quarter cup of leaves steeped in a cup of boiling water for 5 minutes and then strained and cooled, can be used as a hair rinse to combat dandruff.


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Artemisia abrotanum is not a herb you really want to cook with due to its rather overwhelming lemon odour and its bitterness, although in the past it was used with meats, especially fatty ones (pork, duck, goose, mutton). 

This unusual herb can enhance bland meats, such as veal and turkey. In any experimentation with food, I would urge you to be stingy rather than lavish when adding southernwood.

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