Costmary – A loved and treasured herb
Costmary is an “old fashioned” herb which gardeners are beginning to rediscover. In the Victorian era, nearly every kitchen gardener grew this sweetly scented plant. The many different names given to the herb all relate to its fragrance: Scented Salvia, Farmers’ Salvia, Balm Leaf, or Fragrant Leaf. In Europe, this plant is called simply Balm.
Like other members of the Chrysanthemum family, Costmary originated in the Orient, where it has been used for generations to give food a piquant flavor.
Not a sage
The reference to Sage or Salvia should be regarded as a mark of respect for the plant, not an indication that it belongs to the Salvia family.
Costmary–an easy to grow herb
Costmary plants are available in nurseries in the spring, summer, and fall. Seeds can also be sown in pots or trays for later transplantation, or sown directly in garden soil. The plants grow 2 to 4 feet tall; the fragrant gray-green leaves have scalloped margins. Set plants in full sun in dryish soil; they thrive in the same type of growing conditions as other herbs, like Rosemary and Thyme. While clipped, Costmary makes an attractive, fragrant hedge in the herb garden or perennial border.
If left untended for too long, Costmary plants tend to become weedy looking. Cut plants back regularly to encourage a fresh crop of aromatic leaves.
The folklore of Costmary
The scented posy, or church bouquet, was often carried to church services or meetings. The posy might consist of Lavender, Mint, Costmary, Rosemary, Sage or any other fragrant herb that was in season. The posies were often mixed with flowers. Carrying a bouquet was believed to bring good luck, and the fragrance certainly helped churchgoers stay awake during long sermons.
Costmary also had some medicinal applications. A poultice of leaves was often applied to cuts and grazes, bee stings, and swellings. It has many healing properties and was therefore an extremely useful plant to have. But, above all, the lovely fragrance has been enjoyed and used for many hundreds of years, with the belief that it kept sickness and misfortune away.
Like many other aromatic herbs, this is not very prone to insects and diseases.
Since Costmary spreads in ever-widening circles through runners that grow from the roots, plants often die out in the center. It is wise to renew the plant by division every 3-4 years and plant the new ones where desired. It is easy to dig up the old plant, divide it and replant the most vigorous parts again.
Buy either seed in spring or young plants from the herb selection in nurseries or garden centers.
Lifespan: A perennial outdoor herb that should be renewed by division every few years.
Season: Plants are sold in spring and flower from summer until fall.
Difficulty quotient: Easy
Also Called: Costmary, or Chrysanthemum balsamita, is known by many botanic, as well as common names. It may be sold as Balsamita major, Balsamita vulgaris, or Tanacetum balsamita.
Size and growth rate
Costmary is a perennial herb which can reach a height of 2 to 4 feet. The leaves feel soft to the touch. The plant branches out as it grows taller but leaves near the base remain large. Higher up on the stems, the leaves become smaller and more sparse.
Flowering and fragrance
Costmary blooms from late summer until long into the fall. The daisy-like flowers are small and yellow and have an exquisite fragrance, as does the entire plant.
Light and temperature
A plant which loves light and sunshine out in the garden. Plants are quite hardy, and survive cold winters.
Watering and feeding
Watering may be required in dry periods. Feed plants a few times through the growing season with a general-purpose fertilizer.
Soil and transplanting
Regular garden soil enriched with organic amendments in the fall or chemical fertilizer in the spring is best. Divide and replant Costmary every 3 or 4 years, saving only the most vigorous new divisions. Discard old plant portions.
It is not normal to prune Costmary but it can be cut back, to obtain new, fresh leaves. Dig up small plants that pop up in the garden, or this plant could become a weedy pest.
Costmary can be increased with seed or by division. Sow seed in the spring or take up older plants and divide them. Division is necessary every third year or so, since the old plant becomes bare at the center.
Costmary merits a spot in any herb garden but it is also attractive in a flower bed. The plant’s green leaves make a restful background for the riotous colors of summer flowers. When most plants have finished blooming, Costmary is still flowering–long into fall.