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Mint Geranium Tanacetum balsamita

Previously known as:

  • Balsamita major
  • Chrysanthemum balsamita
  • Chrysanthemum balsamita var. tanacetoides
  • Pyrethrum majus
Phonetic Spelling
TAN-uh-SEE-tum bal-SAM-it-uh
Description

Costmary is an aromatic perennial herb with rhizomes and has been used for medicinal and culinary purposes. In the past, it was frequently grown in herb gardens. It currently appears to have grown out of favor. The herb grows erect, about 3-6 feet tall, and emits a mild balsamic scent. The flowers are yellow and button-like that typically bloom from September to October. Costmary is a member of the Asteraceae or Aster family.

The plant is native to Southern Europe and Western Asia. In Europe, between the 16-18th centuries, Costmary was used as a diuretic, laxative, and antipyretic. The herb was used in making potpourri and was tied in bundles with lavender to add fragrance to bedding. 

The genus name, Tanacetum, is derived from the Greek word, "Athanasia," which means "immortal." The species name, balasamita, is from the Latin word "balsamum," meaning "an aromatic resin used for healing wounds and soothing pain. The plant has a variety of common names. The name, Costmary, is derived from the Latin word, Costus, which is an Asian plant used as a spice and preserve. "Mary" references the Virgin Mary and may be related to the plant being used as an herb during Medieval Times to relieve pain during childbirth. It is also known as the Bible Leaf or Bible Plant. Reportedly, American colonists used the long balsam-scented leaves as bookmarks in their Bibles. The scented leaves were pressed in their Bibles to help keep parishioners awake during sermons. The name, Alecost, is derived from the English who used the herb to flavor their ales.

Costmary prefers full sun to partial shade. The plant will produce mostly leaves and no flowers if grown in the shade. It has a shallow root system, prefers well-drained soil,  moist to dry. The plant may become aggressive and crowd out other plants. Clipping or pruning is recommended to prevent it from becoming leggy and to increase foliage. The plant may be propagated by root cutting, stem cuttings, or division. It is not typically grown from seeds due to difficulty with germination.

The leaves are silvery green with a minty balsam scent. They measure 4-8 inches long and oval to elliptic with dentate margins. The flowers are small yellow button-like blossoms and appear in 3 or more corymbiform arrays. The fruit is a tiny achene with a pappus crown.

The plant is pollinated by insects.

Costmary may be used as a fragrant hedge in an herb or perennial garden or a container. The fresh leaves may be used to make tea or add flavor to salads. The leaves should be harvested as needed.  The plant will die back during the winter in colder climates and will resprout in the spring.

Quick ID Hints:

  • Leaves silvery green with a minty balsam scent
  • Small yellow button-like flowers blooming late summer to fall
  • Typically grows 3-6 feet tall and erect
  • Fruit is a tiny achene with a pappus crown

Diseases, Pest, and Other Plant Problems:

Costmary does not have any serious disease or pest problems.

 

See this plant in the following landscape:
Cultivars / Varieties:
Tags:
#yellow flowers#fragrant leaves#herb garden culinary#border planting#edible garden#edible leaves#problem for cats#problem for dogs#problem for horses
 
Cultivars / Varieties:
Tags:
#yellow flowers#fragrant leaves#herb garden culinary#border planting#edible garden#edible leaves#problem for cats#problem for dogs#problem for horses
  • Attributes:
    Genus:
    tanacetum
    Species:
    balsamita
    Family:
    Asteraceae
    Uses (Ethnobotany):
    In the 16th century in Europe, Costmary was used for culinary and medicinal purposes. Costmary was used to add a spicy flavoring to ale that resulted in another common name, Alecost. Bundles of costmary and lavender were tied together and placed in bedding for fragrance. The herb also has been used in the past for its astringent and antiseptic properties.
    Life Cycle:
    Perennial
    Recommended Propagation Strategy:
    Division
    Root Cutting
    Seed
    Stem Cutting
    Country Or Region Of Origin:
    Southern Europe and Western Asia
    Distribution:
    Native: Southern Europe and Western Asia; Introduced in Canada: Nova Scotia, Ontario, Quebec, and Saskatchewan; England; USA: CA, CO, CT, DE, ID, IL, IN, KS, ME, MD, MA, MI, MO, MT, NV, NH, NY, OH, OR, PA, RI, SD, UT, VT, WA, WI, WY
    Wildlife Value:
    Insects pollinate this herb.
    Play Value:
    Attracts Pollinators
    Fragrance
    Edibility:
    The herb has a bitter taste and balsamic scent. The leaves may be used fresh or dried to flavor salads, soups, meats, and English Ales. The flower petals may be used for conserves. In the past, Costmary was commonly found in herb gardens, but it has since fallen out of favor.
    Dimensions:
    Height: 0 ft. 8 in. - 6 ft. 0 in.
    Width: 1 ft. 4 in. - 3 ft. 6 in.
  • Whole Plant Traits:
    Plant Type:
    Edible
    Herb
    Perennial
    Habit/Form:
    Erect
    Growth Rate:
    Rapid
    Maintenance:
    Low
    Texture:
    Medium
  • Cultural Conditions:
    Light:
    Full sun (6 or more hours of direct sunlight a day)
    Partial Shade (Direct sunlight only part of the day, 2-6 hours)
    Soil Texture:
    Clay
    Loam (Silt)
    Sand
    Soil pH:
    Acid (<6.0)
    Neutral (6.0-8.0)
    Soil Drainage:
    Good Drainage
    Moist
    Occasionally Dry
    Available Space To Plant:
    3 feet-6 feet
    USDA Plant Hardiness Zone:
    5b, 5a, 6b, 6a, 7b, 7a
  • Fruit:
    Display/Harvest Time:
    Fall
    Fruit Type:
    Achene
    Fruit Length:
    < 1 inch
    Fruit Width:
    < 1 inch
    Fruit Description:
    The fruit is an achene measuring 5-10 mm and has a crown-like pappus measuring 0.2 to 0.4 mm.
  • Flowers:
    Flower Color:
    Gold/Yellow
    Flower Inflorescence:
    Corymb
    Flower Value To Gardener:
    Fragrant
    Flower Bloom Time:
    Fall
    Summer
    Flower Shape:
    Funnel
    Tubular
    Flower Size:
    < 1 inch
    Flower Description:
    Each flower head is yellow and disk or button-like. The disk flower is tube-shaped and widens to a funnel shape. The flower head width is up to 0.7 inches wide. The flower heads may be in 3 or more corymbiform arrays.
  • Leaves:
    Leaf Color:
    Gray/Silver
    Green
    Leaf Feel:
    Smooth
    Soft
    Leaf Value To Gardener:
    Edible
    Fragrant
    Leaf Type:
    Simple
    Leaf Arrangement:
    Alternate
    Leaf Shape:
    Elliptical
    Oblong
    Leaf Margin:
    Crenate
    Dentate
    Hairs Present:
    Yes
    Leaf Length:
    > 6 inches
    Leaf Width:
    1-3 inches
    Leaf Description:
    The leaves are basal and cauline. The leaf may be attached to the stem by a petiole, or the leaf blade may be attached directly to the stem. The leaf blades are green, elliptic to oblong, and measure 4-8 inches long and 0.7-3 inches wide. There may be 1-4 lateral lobes near the leaf base. The leaf margins are crenate. The leaf face usually has silvery short stiff or silky hairs when young and later becoming smooth.
  • Stem:
    Stem Color:
    Gray/Silver
    Green
    Stem Is Aromatic:
    No
    Stem Form:
    Straight
    Stem Surface:
    Hairy (pubescent)
    Stem Description:
    The stem's habit is erect and may be simple or branched. The surface may be smooth or covered with stiff, short hairs.
  • Landscape:
    Landscape Location:
    Container
    Landscape Theme:
    Cottage Garden
    Drought Tolerant Garden
    Edible Garden
    English Garden
    Pollinator Garden
    Design Feature:
    Border
    Hedge
    Mass Planting
    Attracts:
    Pollinators
    Problems:
    Problem for Cats
    Problem for Dogs
    Problem for Horses