Friday, August 28, 2009

A Good Friend

When I began making my herb garden, I purchased a starter pack of tiny plug plants called the "Perfumed Garden" from Barwinnock herbs.

I diligently planted them out and labelled them and nurtured them.. and the majority were munched by rabbits! However, this plant survived.... without a label. So for a long time I have pretty much ignored it, although when it grew to 4 feet high by 6 feet wide, I started to get a bit concerned! What if it was poisonous?

This week I decided I need to know what it was...because if it is "useful" I ought to be using it. After a great deal of web-scouring, I have deduced it is Costmary, or Alecost.

Here is what Culpepper says about it:

Names. Called also alecost, or balsam herb.

This is so frequently known to be an inhabitant in almost every garden, that I suppose it needless to write a description thereof.

Time. It flowereth in June and July.

Government and virtues. It is under the dominion of Jupiter. The ordinary costmary, as well as maudlin, provoketh urine abundantly, and moisteneth the hardness of the mother; it gently purgeth choler and phlegm, extenuating that which is gross, and cutting that which is tough and glutinous, cleanseth that which is foul, and hindereth putrefaction and corruption; it dissolveth without attraction, openeth obstructions, and healeth their evil effects, and is a wonderful help to all sorts of dry agues. It is astringent to the stomach, and strengtheneth the liver, and all the other inward parts, and if taken in whey worketh the more effectually. Taken fasting in the morning, it is very profitable for pains of the head that are continual; and to stay, dry up, and consume, all thin rheums, or distillations from the head into the stomach, and helpeth much to digest raw humours that are gathered therein. It is very profitable for those that are fallen into a continual evil disposition of the body called cachexia, being taken, especially in the beginning of the disease. It is a good friend and helps to evil, weak, and cold livers. The seed is familiarly given to children for the worms, and so is the infusion of the flowers in white wine, given them to the quantity of two ounces at a time: it maketh an excellent salve to cleanse and heal old ulcers, being boiled with olive oil, and adder's tongue with it; and after it is strained, to put in a little wax, rosin, and turpentine, to bring it to a convenient consistence.

Women used to carry it in their "church posy" along with lavender, sage and rosemary - burying their face in the scent helped keep them awake during long sermons! I have also read that it was used as a bookmark in Bibles, to provide a little "natural high" to nibble on mid-morning. My son was intrigued and had a taste - but he wasn't impressed! It was believed to keep sickness and misfortune at bay.

Apparently, I can mix it with Lavender, Tansy and Wormwood to repel moths, ants and silverfish. I don't actually have any Tansy or Wormwood (or do I?), but I definitely have plenty of Lavender! So this weekend I am having my own little harvest festival and will fill the house with bunches of drying herbs, ready to make into stash-protecting sachets. Exciting!

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