Costmary goes by many names, including mint geranium (although it is neither a mint nor a geranium). It is also called alecost and Bible leaf. Costmary belongs to the Asteraceae family like dandelions and chamomile.
According to some stories, costmary originated on the Indian subcontinent and made its way to the Mediterranean region. According to Theophrastus, Ancient Greeks used costmary in perfumes. It reached England in the 1500s. Botanist Nicholas Culpeper referred to it as the balsam herb. He said that it could purge phlegm gently and was able to heal ulcers. The herb became popular in Britain because of flavor it gave to ale and wine.
At around the same time, costmary was being widely used by cooks in France where it was added to soups and salads. The herb reached New World via European explorers and colonists. It was grown in gardens on the East Coast of the United States and then migrated westward with settlers.
The name costmary comes from costus, which is the Latin for fragrant root. The mary part comes from the name Mary in the Bible. The botanical name is hard to pin down. While costmary has long been known as Tanacetum balsamita, it is also sometimes referred to as Chrysanthemum balsamita and was once called Balsamita major.
For much of history, people have used costmary for its fragrance. It has been deemed useful for everything from washing linens to giving ale a sweet smell, which is how it got the name alecost. The nickname Bible leaf comes from the practice of churchgoers using leaves of the herb as Bible bookmarks. The herb was said to discourage silverfish. Supposedly, drowsy churchgoers would also sniff the leaf or chew it during long services and the strong smell/flavor kept them awake.
Costmary flavor profile
Costmary’s fragrance is similar to that of eucalyptus or camphor. Its flavor profile is comparable to a cross between mint and balsam.
Health benefits of costmary
While there is not a lot of published information on the nutritional value of costmary, some sources do report that it contains the following valuable compounds:
You can get a range of health benefits from flavonoids. The benefits include reducing the risk of inflammatory diseases and of death by heart disease and cancer.
- Minerals: Magnesium and sulfur are two of the minerals that costmary provides.
- Glycosides: The glycosides in costmary are believed to be beneficial for fighting diabetes and preventing certain infections.
Costmary has long been used to treat or prevent health conditions like:
- Bronchitis: The herb is an effective antispasmodic, which means that you can use it to provide relief from bouts of coughing associated with bronchitis.
- Water retention: Costmary is a diuretic, which means that you can use it to alleviate the bloating associated with water retention.
- Parasites: Costmary is a traditional treatment for intestinal worms.
- Birth pains: Some people believe that costmary is an effective pain reliever that can lower the pain experienced during childbirth.
Common usesSuggested uses for costmary leaves include as a mint alternative in iced tea and as a salad green. It also works in coleslaws and fruit salads. Costmary is good for seasoning fish, and you can use as a substitute for mint and sage when cooking beef and other meats. The flowers are sometimes used to flavor jams and preserves.