There is a long history of humanity’s fickle love affair with flowers. Plants that are all the rage one day, fall out of favor the next. I grow a plant that is a great example of this.
Costmary, or Tanacetum balsamita, is a plant that was first introduced in the United States around 1600. According to Nicholas Culpepper, at one time it was a part of just about every garden. Its common names tell the story of why it was so beloved.
Herbal Spotlight: Costmary
The leaves of costmary smell like a combination of lemon-mint and balsam. It’s a beautiful plant to place somewhere where you can pass by and brush it with your fingers.
It was called Sweet Mary and Bible Leaf due to its scent. The plant has a long history as being associated with and consecrated to Mary. The leaves were often pressed flat and used as a bookmark in the family Bible. Costmary has a reputation for repelling silverfish, the small bugs that can turn your library into a pile of shavings in no time flat. Some other writers suggest that the leaves were chewed during long sermons to help stay awake.
Alecost is another common name of this plant, given because of its importance in colonial times as a flavoring for beer. As a tonic, costmary was once used as a digestive. It was also used topically as a fix for bruising, blisters, and bug bites due to its astringency.
As costmary lost its following, both in Europe and in North America, it began to disappear from gardens. It is spread by taking slips of the plant and sharing with friends, but that soon fell out of favor. What a shame!
Making a DIY Potpourri Recipe With Your Garden Harvest
It is the time of year that I often think about drying the leaves and flowers I’ll use for the gift giving season coming up this winter. I can’t imagine doing this without a bed of costmary close at hand.
I first came upon costmary when reading about its use in potpourris. The beautiful scent stands up on its own in a blend, but it also tends to amplify the scent of other herbs used.
If you are also looking at your garden and thinking of how to preserve the scents and colors, try making a few DIY potpourri recipe blends. They are so much cheerier than dropping a bit of oil into a diffuser, and connect us to the riot of color and texture of the garden in the sparest part of winter.
I hope sharing one of my favorite winter recipes inspires you to give costmary a place in your garden net year!
DIY Potpourri Recipe from the Garden
- 3 cups dried rose petals (find them here)
- 2 cups dried cosmos and zinnia blossoms
- ¼ cup dried lavender (find it here)
- ¼ cup dried lemon balm (find it here)
- ¼ cup dried costmary (get costmary seeds here for growing next year)
- ¼ cup dried rosemary (find it here)
- 2 teaspoons orris root powder (find it here)
- 1 teaspoon cloves (find it here)
- ½ teaspoon star anise (find it here)
- 5-10 drops essential oil of your choice (find pure organic essential oils here)
Mix all ingredients together and store in an airtight container. Allow it to sit for 2-3 weeks before using.
Do you have a favorite DIY potpourri recipe? If so, what are your favorite things to include?