Southernwood

(Artemisia abrotanum) The smell of Southernwood is well enough known; like that of other members of the genus it is insect-repellent. Hence the French name Garderobe, for moths will not attack clothes in which Garderobe has been laid (Grieve. 1933). Bees do not like it either, and it is even claimed that southernwood, or wormwood for that matter, will keep adders from garden borders (M Baker. 1977). Roses do not mind the strong scent, apparently, for Cornish people claim that they grow best near southernwood (M Baker. 1977). The smell of the burning leaves will give a pleasant scent throughout the whole house, and it is enough to throw a pinch of the dried and powdered leaves on the stove or fire (Webster). The leaves used to be put between the pages of a Bible (Banks. 1937), like Tutsan; in fact, in Scotland, it was the tradition to carry it to church in a Bible (Aitken) ("in their hands they carried their Bibles along with sprigs of appleringie and peppermint") (Kennedy). It is also said that appleringie kept one awake in church, "however dreich the sermon" (Gibson. 1959). [Appleringie is a Scottish name for southernwood; apple is from the old word aplen, church, and ringie is Saint Rin's, of St Ninian's, wood (E Simpson). Appelez Ringan, pray to Ringan, became first Appleringan, and then appleringie (Aitken). Jamieson, though, gave another explanation. It is, he says, from French apile, strong, and auronne, southernwood, from abrotanum].

There is some symbolism attached to it. St Francis de Sales refers to sprigs of the herb being included in bouquets given to each other by lovers, the message being fidelity even in bitter circumstances (Brownlow) - this is presumably the same as the red rosebud surrounded by forget-me-nots and southernwood referred to by Webster. The general idea is conveyed by the very common name, Lad's Love. Bergen. 1899 reckoned, almost certainly incorrectly, that the origin of the name Lad's Love lay in some love divinations she recorded in Massachusetts. One said very simply that if a girl puts a piece of southernwood down her back, or tucks it in her shoe, she will marry the first boy she meets. Another requires a girl to put a bit under her pillow on going to bed, and then the first man she meets in the morning is the one she is to marry. The name probably come about because a few branches of southernwood were generally added to the nosegay that courting youths used to give the girls. But the girls used to carry it about, too - see the note in Elworthy. 1888 -"a very great favourite with the village belles. In the summer, nearly all carry a spray of it half wrapped in a white handkerchief, in the lane to church. In fact, a village church on a hot Sunday afternoon quite reeks with it". It was quite prominent in Fenland courting customs. A youth would cut some sprigs and put them in his buttonhole. He used to walk, sniffing ostentatiously at his buttonhole, through groups of girls. If the girls went by and took no notice, he knew he had no chance, but if they turned and walked slowly back towards him, then he knew they had noticed his Lad's Love. He would then take his buttonhole and give it to the girl of his choice. If she was willing, she would also smell the southernwood and the two would set together on their first country walk (Porter. 1969). Denham recorded the following southernwood rhymes in the north of England:

Lad's love, lasses's delight,

If t'lads doesn't come

The lasses'll flite.

Lad's Love is lasses' delight

And if the lads don't love

Lasses will flite [flite = scold].

It was also said in Gloucestershire that if Lad's Love were put in the shoe, you would come across our lover by chance (J Lewis). Another explanation of the origin of the name Lad's Love, is that the name comes from its use in an ointment that young men used to promote the growth of a beard (Leyel. 1937). Gerard among others, had something to say about southernwood's anti-baldness properties: "the ashes of burnt Southernwood, with some of oyle that is of thin parts ... cure the pilling of the hairs of the head, and make the beard to grow quickly". That is to be found too in the Gentleman's Magazine, where the correspondent is quoting a 1610 manuscript. "To remedye baldnes of the heade". After burning and powdering the herb, "mix it with oile of radishes and anoynte the balde place, and you shall see great experiences".

It seems to be an unlucky plant to have in the garden, at least in Devonshire. It was recounted that when a woman was ill, a neighbour came to see her and found a lot of Boy's Love in her garden. She pulled it all up, and the patient recovered (Devonshire Association. Report and Transactions. vol 103). A strange superstition is recorded from the Pennsylvania Germans. They used to say that a person who is subject to cramps should, immediately on getting up, and without saying a word to anyone, go and plant some southernwood (Fogel). This must have been an almost forgotten portion of a genuine, if one can call it that, remedy, for Gerard recommends it in his list of the virtues of the plant: "The tops, floures, or seed boyled, and stamped raw with water and drunke, helpe them that cannot take their breaths without holding their neckes straight up, and is a remedie for the cramp ...".

Most of the medical uses of southernwood derive entirely from ancient sources, very few being from folk tradition, and then usually an echo from these early herbals. However, carrying a piece of this herb (or tansy), stuck between the nose and upper lip, was an Orkney way of resisting infection, obviously because of the powerful smell (Leask). Rubbing the forehead with a handful of southernwood leaves used to be an Essex cure for a headache (Newman & Wilson). A 15th century leechdom has a remedy for "tingling in a man's ear", tinnitis in our terms. The remedy was to "take the juice of southernwood and put it in the ear: and stop the ear with leaves of the same herb, and drink the juice at even and at noon, and it shall stay the tingling. And the juice of wormwood doth the same" (Dawson). There are remedies, quite fantastic at first sight, "for those who speak in sleep", using southernwood (Dawson), and another from the Physicians of Myddfai "to cure one who talks in his sleep". It makes more sense when it is realised that it is insomnia they are trying to cure, not just talking in the sleep. A sort of candy was once made for sleeplessness, by pounding four ounces of very finely chopped fresh southernwood leaves with six ounces of white sugar, until the whole was a paste. A piece the size of a nut was to be taken three times a day" (Rohde).

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