The Medicinal Plant Garden

of Birmingham-Southern College

  • Artemisia abrotanum
  • Artemisia abrotanum

Common Name

Southernwood, Lad’s Love, Old man, Appleringie, Boy’s Love, Maid’s Ruin, Old Man’s Tree, Maiden’s Ruin, wormwood

Geographic Distribution and Habitat

The plant is present in the Eastern United States but in the Inter-Mountain range it exists only in areas it has been planted. Viable seeds and seedlings are rarely produced or found but the USDA-ARS High Plains Research Station in Wyoming has maintained two other ecotypes of the species. A higher frequency of viable seeds have been produced when these ecotypes have been grown in close proximity to the original suggesting that outcrossing facilitates seed production (MacArthur 2004). It can survive in many soil types ranging from raw sagebrush to raw subalpine soils. It can tolerate mildly alkaline and mildly acidic soils. It tolerates elevations from 5,000 to 10,500 ft. and precipitation from 12 to 50 inches. The plant is also sensitive to heavy metals and other mine waste (MacArthur 2004)


Artemisia is a shrubby perennial plant. The root is fibrous and woody and the stems are branched and have an ash-grey bark. The plant can grow up to 4 ft. tall. The species has pale or sage-green leaves that are pinnate and finely divided. The leaflets are very narrow, linear, entire and concave on the upper and lower surfaces. Flowers are very rarely seen but are pale yellow; they are found at the extremities of branches and are small and numerous. The species also has an aromatic fragrance.

Portion of the Plant Used

Dried leaves and blooming stem parts are used medicinally and as a culinary herb.

Traditional Uses

The Artemisia genus of plants has been used throughout history. Ancient Greek writings talking of its use for women’s health suggest that the name “Artemisia” comes from Artemis, the Greek goddess of women. Artemisia plants have been used by the ancient Greeks, Chinese, Japanese and Aztecs for uses such as moxibustion and colic and stomach disorder treatment (Kay 1996). Southernwood, A. abrotanum, is native to southern Europe, Syria and China (Stephenson 1831, Garland 2004). It was introduced to Britain in the 16th century and brought over to North America by early colonists.

Artemisia has reputed to stimulate menstrual flow in women while secondarily acting on the liver. As an herbal bitter (a preparation with hot water that stimulates appetite) it forms a brownish yellow solution with antimicrobial, carminative (gas prevention), and promotes bile production.It has also been used to treat worms in the digestive system. The  bitterness repels worms and dissipates the slime where the worms lodge themselves. The antiseptic oil absinthol present in the plant has been used as a disinfectant.

Externally it has been used in baths and fermentations to treat tumors and inflammations. A. abrotanum’s name “Lad’s love” comes from a preparation made with the ashes of the herb that young men would apply to their skin to try growing a beard/hair, its success in this regard is doubtful.

The plant’s strong aroma and its repellent qualities have caused people to hang its dried herbs among clothes to repel moths. It has been planted near chicken houses to prevent chicken lice, with cabbages to prevent cabbage white butterfly pests and near fruit trees to prevent moths (Garland 2004). Its deep, extensive root system also makes it useful in preventing soil erosion and stabilizing subsoil sites. The plant is also barely palatable to deer and other grazers and is a last resort food source, as such whether it has been eaten or not in a particular habitat is a good indicator of the availability of other food source plants and the health of the ecosystem in general.


The plant contains essential oil, tannin, umbelliferone, uric acid, chlorogenic acid, guanine, isofraxidin, rutin, scopoletin, scopolin, caffeic acid and choline (D’Amelio 1998). Some genotypes contain the toxic compound thujon.

It’s coumarins, scopoletin, isofraxidin and umbelliferone are responsible for its choleretic activity. Its flavonols such as caticin and quercetin possess weak spasmolytic activity that can be used to treat bronchial disease. A bisabolol oxide derivative and isofraxidin present in the plant have also been shown to have antimalarial properties in vitro. The alkaloid abrotine has also been shown to have stimulant and antipyretic properties (Wright 2003).

Tunon et al. found coumarin and thujyl alcohol from an extract from A. abrotanum proved to be a potent repellent against Ixodes ricinus ticks and yellow fever mosquitoes. Mendiola et al. also found that Extracts of A. abrotanum and A. absinthium inhibit growth of Naegleria fowleri, the brain eating amoeba in vitro.

Remberg et al. also found a preparation from A. abrotanum was clinically useful and suitable for use as a nasal spray for allergic rhinitis. They used a mixture of essential oils and flavonols (no thujone) which possess anti-inflammatory, spasmolytic, expectorant, antiseptic and antimicrobial activities.

Brodin et al. found the davanone from A. abrotanum essential oil, and to a less extent 1,8-cineol effective against fungi Malassezia Spp., Candida albicans and bacteria Staphylococcus aureus in vitro.