Costmary is an "old-fashioned" herb which gardeners are beginning to re-discover. In the Victorian era, nearly every kitchen gardner 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.
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. It is a member of the Chrysanthemum family. Originating in the Orient, where it has been used for generations to give food a piquant flavor. It has also been used to clear, flavour and preserve beer. Fresh, young leaves may be added sparingly to salads, soups, bread and cold beverages. Costmary can be used like mint in beverages and iced soups. Use the leaves sparingly in carrot soup, green salads and fruit salads, with game, or in poultry stuffing and fruit cakes. It is delicious on peas and new potatoes.
Costmary plants are available in nurseries in the spring, summer, and fall. Seeds can also be sown in pots or trays for later transplanting, or sown directly in the garden soil. The plants grow 2 to 4 feet tall. The fragrant gray-green leaves have scalloped edges. Set the plants in full sun in dryish soil. They thrive in the same type of growing conditions as Rosemary and Thyme. When clipped, Costmary makes an attrctive, fragrant hedge in the herb harden.
If left untended for too long, Costmary plants tend to become weedy looking. Cut them back regularly to encourage a fresh crop of aromatic leaves.
Some folklore about Costmary:
The scented posy, or church bouquet, was often carried to church services or meetings. The posy may have consisted of Lavender, Mint, Costmary, Rosemary, Sage or any other fragrant herb that was in season. Carring a bouquet was believed to bring good luck, and helped church goers stay awake during long sermons. A leaf from the plant was also used as a bookmark in Bibles. Costmary was also believed to keep sickness and misfortune away.
An infusion makes a wonderful scented rinse water for hair or skin. A tea made from Costmary is good for colds, upset stomachs, cramps, and to ease childbirth. As a wash it is used on wounds and burns. A poultice of crushed leaves applied to cuts, grazes, bee stings and swellings will ease the pain and remove the sting of such injuries.
Costmary blooms from late summer until long into the fall. The daisy-like flowers are small and yellow and, like the leaves, have an exquisite fragrance.
This herb loves light and sunshine. Plants are quite hardy and survive cold winters. Watering may be required in dry periods. Feed the plants a few times through the growing season.
Costmary is a perennial that should be renewed by division every few years, since the old plant becomes bare at the center. Dig up small plants that pop up in the garden, or this plant could become a weedy pest.