This is a herb rarely used today, not least because it is dangerously toxic if used in excessive quantities.
Dried southernwood leaves
Probably Southern Asia or Europe.
Today the plant grows wild across the Western Mediterranean region.
Asteraceae (daisy family).
There are two different cultivated strains of southernwood, both of which have a strong fragrance, which many people find unpleasant even in small quantities. The traditional type is vaguely reminiscent of lemon but the more recent cultivar "camphor southernwood" has an even more intense and dominant camphorus odour. Both types are well suited for culinary use, despite significant bitterness.
The Latin species name of the plant, abrotonum, is not related to Latin aper "boar" as suggested by the German name eberraute (phonetically "boar-rue"), but was loaned from Greek habrotonon, a name of unknown origin. The English name "southernwood" is a contraction of "southern wormwood" and southernwood can be seen as a Mediterranean variant of wormwood, which has been grown in Western and Central Europe since the Middle Ages, when it was grown in accordance with Charlemagne's Capitulare de Villis.
The British name "old man" was given in order to contrast southernwood with wormwood, which is known as "old woman" in some parts of Britain. Confusingly, "old man" also applies to the similarly leaf-shaped rosemary. The Estonian name sidrunpuju contains sidrun (lemon) and puju "mugwort", describing the plant as a lemon-scented variety of mugwort. French garde-robe (literally "robe guard") refers to the plant's power to repel moths and other insects, rather than comparing the odour of the spice to that of a medieval toilet (garderobe).
The botanical genus name artemisia refers to the Greek goddess of forests and hunting, Artemis. The classical Greek name artemisia is recorded for a plant sacred to the goddess, which may have been wormwood (a. absinthium or a. ponticum) or another closely related species.
Southernwood is an old-fashioned culinary herb hardly ever used today. Given its strong and somewhat unpleasant lemon odour and its pronounced bitterness it is hard to find a reasonable field of application in modern cuisine. In any event careful dosage is essential as the plant contains toxins.
Southernwood is mostly suited for meats. Similar to the herb mugwort (to which southernwood is far superior), it is a good choice for flavouring aromatic and fat meat (pork, duck, goose and mutton), the bitter constituents of southernwood improving digestibility and stimulating the appetite. Southernwood can also be used for more bland meat (veal or turkey), adding an interesting taste sensation to an otherwise insipid dish.
This largely forgotten herb can reward experiments, such as using it to make an unusual bouquet garni. Southernwood has been employed to flavour cakes in Italy and extracts of the plant are sometimes found in stomach medicines and in liqueurs.