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Southernwood (Artemisia abrotanum L.)


pharmaceuticalHerba Abrotani
AlbanianAborotoni, Aborotoni
BulgarianБожо дръвче, Катриника, Пелин градински
Bozho druvche, Katrinika, Pelin gradinski
CatalanAbròtan (mascle)
苦艾 [fú ngaai]
Fu ngaai
苦艾 [kǔ ài]
Ku ai
CroatianBožje drvce
CzechBrotan, Pelyněk brotan
DanishAmbra, Abrod
DutchCitroenkruid, Averoom, Limoenkruid, Krampkruid, Citroenalsem
EnglishLad’s Love, Maiden’s Ruin, Old Man
FinnishAaprottimaruna, Aaprotti
FrenchAurone (mâle), Garde-robe, Citronnelle
GaelicMeath chaltuinn
GermanEberraute, Eberries
Greek (Old)Ἁβρότονον
HungarianEbruta, Istenfű, Istenfa, Seprőruta
Seodeonudu, Sodonudu
धव स्वाँ
Dhava swang
PolishBylica boże drzewko
RomanianLemnul Domnului
RussianКустарниковая полынь, Полынь Божье дерево, Полынь лечебная
Kustarnikovaya polyn, Polyn Bozhe derevo, Polyn lechebnaya
SerbianБожје дрвце, Пелин божје дрвце, Мирисни пелин
Božje drvce, Pelin božje drvce, Mirisni pelin
SlovakPalina abrotská, Palina abrotanová
SpanishAbrótano macho
TurkishKarapelin otu, Kafuriye
VietnameseNgải chanh
Ngai chanh
Artemisia abrotanum: Southernwood leaves
Southernwood leaves: Left the camphor-scented, right the lemon-scented cultivar
Used plant part


Plant family

Asteraceae (sunflower family, also known as aster family), subfamily Asteroidae.

Sensory quality

There are two main cultivated strains of southernwood, both of which have a strong fragrance, which many people find disagreeable 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. A third type with particularly strong odour is sometimes marketed as coca-cola herb. The differences in fragrance between these three types are as strong as their names would imply.

Artemisia abrotanum: Southerwood sterile shoot
Southerwood shoot
Artemisia abrotanum: Flowering southernwood
Flowering southernwood (camphor-scented form)

Both main types are, despite their signi­ficant bitter­ness, well suited for culi­nary usage, al­though a pre­ference for the lemon type would seem natural. See zedoary on the topic of bitter spices and lemon myrtle about lemon scented spices.

Main constituents 

Southern­wood contains up to 1.4% essential oil. There are chemotypes whose oil is dominated by either thujone (up to 70%) or 1,8-cineol (up to 60%). Minor components are fenchene, sabinene, α-caryo­phyllene and β-caryo­phyllene. Further­more, oil of southern­wood is charac­terized by the hetero­cyclic sesqi­terpenoids davanol, davanone and hydroxy­davanone. See also mugwort on the toxicity of thujone.

Among the non-volatile constituents, an alkaloid abrotin and coumarins (iso­fraxidin, umbelli­feron), flavonoids glycosides (rutin) and free flavonol ethers (various isomeric quercetin dimethyl ethers) are reported. Al­though southern­wood contains bitter sesqui­terpene lactones of absinthin type, it is still less bitter than its close relative, wormwood.

Thujone is also found in southern­wood’s close relatives mugwort and particularly 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. See also mugwort on absinthe.


Probably Asia Minor or Europe (the plant today grows wild in the Western Mediterranean).

Artemisia abrotanum: Southernwood flowering branches
Flowering branches of camphor-scented (left) and lemon-scented (right) southernwood.
Artemisia abrotanum: Southerwood plant growing in Patan/Nepal
Southernwood young shoot (plant found in Nepal)

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 bor­rowed from Greek habrotonon [ἁβρότονον]; the latter’s origin is not known to me.

English southern­wood is a con­traction of southern worm­wood; indeed, southern­wood can be seen as 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 [Ἄρτεμις]. The classical Greek name artemisia [ἀρτεμισία] is recorded for a plant sacred to the goddess; its precise meaning might have been wormwood (A. absinthium, A. ponticum) or another closely related species.

Selected Links

Ilkas und Ullis Kochecke: Eberraute ( via Pflanzen des Capitulare de Villis: Eberraute (

Artemisia abrotanum: Flower of Southernwood
Flower of Southernwood
Artemisia abrotanum: Southernwood shrub
Southernwood plant (lemon fragrance type)
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 herbal liqueurs.

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