BALSAMINT (Tanacetum balsamita)

Introduced into Britain, and naturalized, as escapes from old physic gardens. In Elizabethan times it was used as a strewing herb for floors, shelves and closets. At one time it was taken as a symbol of impatience. The plant went out of fashion, and even at the beginning of the 19th century, the past tense had to be used when describing its virtues “for strengthening the stomach and curing headaches”. Gerard, among other conditions, recommended the seed, that “expelleth all manner of worms out of the belly”, or “wormes both small and great”, in Langham’s words. It is still occasionally used, mainly in making an ointment for burns, bruises and skin troubles; more immediately, bruising a leaf and putting it on a bee sting will give relief.

Costmary is another name for Balsamint. It is from costus, an aromatic plant used for making perfumes in the east. There is too a reference to French coste amere, Latin costus amarus. So the “mary” part of the name seems to be a simple mistake. Nevertheless it did not stop the plant being dedicated to the Virgin Mary in most west European countries, and receiving names like Herbe Sainte Marie in France, and Herb Mary or St Mary etc., in this country.