Years ago bunches of the strong-smelling southern wood were carried through evil-smelling streets before the days of proper drainage. It was believed to be a protection against infection for the bearer.
Southernwood, artemisia abrotanum, is an attractive, ornamental garden shrub with soft, feathery, greyish-green leaves and a refreshing lemony scent. The yellowy-white flowers are small and inconspicuous and only bloom in warm climates, The shrub grows quite tall but becomes rather ragged and needs to be trimmed to keep a good shape. It is a very popular background plant to have in the border.
In the home southernwood is a useful herb as a moth deterrent. Small bags filled with dried southern- wood can be hung in cupboards (closets) and drawers amongst linen and woollens. The little bags should be refilled every year. The herb loses its fresh lemony scent and it is not so effective.
Grow southernwood in ordinary garden soil in a sunny position. It is propagated by long cuttings taken in April. All the leaves from the lower half of the cutting should be removed and the cuttings set into sandy soil, burying half the stem. They will be ready for planting in their permanent position the following spring.
Southernwood will dry easily and retain its strong scent. Cut down the stems in July and August for drying and remove the lower part of the stems. Tie the stems together in loose bunches and hang them upside down in a warm cupboard. As soon as the leaves crackle when touched strip them off the stems and store the leaves in the usual way.
Southernwood, with its strong but refreshing scent, can be added to the bath water for a relaxing soothing bath after a tiring day.
* To make a herbal bath: Fill a muslin or cheesecloth bag full of southernwood and tie it to the hot water tap (faucet) so that the water passes through it.
Southernwood makes a good dry shampoo for oily hair where continual washing does not help.
* To make a dry shampoo: Mix finely-powdered dried southern wood with an equal quantity of arrowroot powder. Sprinkle lightly over the hair, and massage it into the scalp. Leave it for 5-10 minutes then brush the hair well to remove all the shampoo.
* A concentrated infusion of southernwood can be added to a strong soapwort solution and used as a wet shampoo.
A hair rinse made with a mixture of southernwood, rosemary, parsley and yarrow will prevent oily hair.
* To make a hair rinse: Mix equal quantities of the herbs together. Pour 2 cupfuls of boiling water over 2 tablespoons of dried herbs. Leave for about an hour, then strain into a screwtop bottle. Use regularly.