This highly aromatic perennial has had a variety of uses, ranging from aphrodisiac (hence its common name, “lover’s plant”) to a deworming medication. People even carried the sharply scented herb with them to church to help them stay awake during sermons! A close relative of wormwood, southern-wood is native to Italy and Spain.
Common Names: Garderobe, Lad’s Love, Lover’s Plant, Southernwood
Description: Branched; 2 to 4 feet tall; perennial with finely divided, downy gray-green leaves; inconspicuous yellow-white flowers; highly aromatic
Hardiness: To Zone 4
Flowering: Midsummer to late summer
Parts Used: Leaves
Range/Habitat: Native of Italy and Spain, naturalized in the United States
Southernwood contains eucalyptol and camphor, chemical compounds that contribute to its strong scent. Herbalists consider this species a “bitter” and use it to treat digestive problems. An extract of the leaf can be applied to small wounds to stop bleeding and promote healing. A homeopathic formulation produced from the young flowering leaves and twigs is sometimes given to livestock.
Caution: This plant should not be ingested during pregnancy.
Southernwood’s foliage—fine and feathery in texture, silvery in hue—is an excellent foil for brightly colored flowering plants in beds, borders, and bouquets. Attaining a height of up to 4 feet, southern-wood generally works best at the back of a border. Or plant it as a low-growing hedge along a walkway or other location to enjoy its aroma as you brush against its leaves.
Southernwood is sometimes used as an insect repellent, rubbed directly on the skin or used in closets and in drawer sachets. In crafts, southern-wood can be used in wreaths and dried arrangements. The branches make a yellow dye for wool.
How to grow it
Plant southernwood divisions or cuttings 2 feet apart in average, well-drained soil and full sun. The plants are drought tolerant and easy to care for. In early spring, prune the plants back and remove older, woodier growth from the center. In midsummer to late summer, harvest the leafy branches, cutting back to the woody stems. Dry the branches in bunches, hanging them in a warm, shady location. To propagate, take root cuttings in summer or divide plants in early spring or fall.