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Common Names:Costmary, alecost, balsam herb, bible leaf, or mint geranium.
Habitat : Costmary is a native of the Orient, but has now become naturalized in many parts of southern Europe and was formerly to be found in almost every garden in this country, having been introduced into England in the sixteenth century – Lyte, writing in 1578, said it was then ‘very common in all gardens.’ Gerard, twenty years later, says ‘it groweth everywhere in gardens,’ and Parkinson mentions it among other sweet herbs in his garden, but it has now so completely gone out of favour as to have become a rarity, though it may still occasionally be found in old gardens, especially in Lincolnshire, where it is known as ‘Mace.’
The plant seems to have originated in the Mediterranean. It is unclear whether the plant called “balsamita” described by Columella in 70 AD is the same. According to Heinrich Marzell, it was first mentioned in 812 in a plant catalogue. Costmary was widely grown since the medieval times in herb gardens until the late 19th and early centuries for medical purposes. Nowadays it has mostly disappeared in Europe, but is still widely used in southwest Asia. It was used in medieval times as a place marker in bibles.
It is an introduced weed of roadsides in eastern N. America.
The costmary is a perennial herb with oval serrated leaves and can grow up to 2 meters high. In distinction to the feathery leaves of its near relative, the Tansy, the somewhat long and broad leaves of Costmary are entire, their margins only finely toothed. The stems rise 2 to 3 feet from the creeping roots and bear in August, at their summit, heads of insignificant yellowish flowers in loose clusters, which do not set seed in this country.
The plant will thrive in almost every soil or situation, but will do best on dry land.
Propagation is effected by division of the roots in early spring, or in autumn, planting 2 feet apart, in a dry, warm situation. As the roots creep freely, the plants will probably spread over the intervening spaces in a couple of years and need dividing and transplanting every second or third year.
Grown in the shade, Costmary goes strongly to leaf, but will not flower.
Edible Parts: Leaves.
Edible Uses: Condiment; Tea.
Leaves – raw or used as a flavouring in soups, beer etc. They can be chopped and added sparingly to salads. They have a very pleasant aroma, but can be overpowering in the food if you are not careful. The leaves were at one time widely used in brewing beer, before being superseded by hops (Humulus lupulus). The whole leaves can be laid in cake trays to flavour the cake whilst it is baking. The flower petals are used for conserves. A delicious tea is made from the dried leaves
Part Used: Leaves.
Alecost is seldom used in herbal medicine, though it does have a beneficial effect upon the digestive system. Early writers suggested the leaves to relieve headaches and gout pain, to increase menstruation, and as a diuretic. It was also used for conditions of excessive coldness. Costmary is slightly astringent and antiseptic on wounds and burns and was also used with other herbs in ointments for dry, itch skin and skin parasites. Infuse the leaf as a tonic tea for colds, catarrh, upset stomachs and cramps, and to ease childbirth. Add to a salve for burns and stings. It was at one time employed medicinally in this country, having somewhat astringent and antiseptic properties, and had a place in our Pharmacopceia until 1788, chiefly as an aperient, its use in dysentery being especially indicated. An ointment made by boiling the herb in olive oil with Adder’s Tongue and thickening the strained liquid with wax and resin and turpentine was considered to be very valuable for application to sores and ulcers. The leaves are antiseptic, astringent, digestive and laxative. They have been used internally as an aperient in the treatment of dysentery, and as a remedy for liver and gall bladder complaints. Externally, they have been used as a salve to treat burns and insect stings. They are considered to be virtually obsolete in modern herbalism.
Other Uses:…Insecticide; Pot-pourri; Strewing……….The plant was traditionally used for its insecticidal properties. The dried leaves retain their fragrance well and so are used in pot-pourri, they are also used as a strewing herb
The plant is known from ancient herbals and was widely grown in Elizabethan knot gardens.
The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplements, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider