Tanacetum balsamita Aromatic Costmary

If you’d like to try a new fragrance herb, try costmary. Its minty-spicy scent makes it good in scented mixtures. Costmary blends well with rosemary, bay leaves, sage, and other strong scents. It serves to intensify other aromas. Historically it was steeped with lavender to make a sweet washing water. It was also used as a strewing herb.

Costmary (Tanacetum balsamita) grows from rhizomes that form clumps. It is a hardy perennial growing to three feet. The leaves are 6-8 inches long, slightly toothed on the edges, and mint scented with just a hint of spiciness. Costmary is sometimes confused with the camphor plant or lesser costmary (Balsamita minor). Lesser costmary has white rays on the flowers and a distinct camphor not mint scent.

Buying young costmary plants or getting a start from a friend is the best way to add this fragrant herb to your garden. Propagating costmary by seed can be frustrating. The seeds require hot weather to ripen properly on the plant. Costmary seed gathered in cool climates may not be viable. The seed also needs warm conditions to germinate. If you are sure you have good seed, try using warming mats under the seedling trays to increase your yield.

This herb has several interesting names attached to it. Costmary is a blend of cost and mary. Cost comes from a Sanskrit work meaning aromatic or spicy plant. Mary was added to honor Mary Magdalene. Another name for this plant is Bible leaf. The large flat leaves were used as bookmarks in the Bibles of Puritan worshippers. The third name of alecost memorializes its use in ale and beer making to clarify and flavor the brews.

In addition to its several names, costmary had several uses. It has traditionally been used as a tea to aid childbirth. When added to wine it made a tonic for colds or upset stomach. In Renaissance time fresh leaves were made into a sugary conserve and eaten to warm and dry the brain, and [open] the stoppings of the same. Although costmary has gone out of fashion as an additive to beer it is still used in making some liqueurs.