Rosemary has a rich history thatspans more than a millennium. It has been used in cooking for flavor and preservation, as a medicinal tea, as well as a token of loyalty, friendship, and remembrance.
Rosemary’s nomenclature, Rosmarinus officinalis, means “dew of the sea”, perhaps because it is often found growing near the oceans. The common name is derived from an association with the Virgin Mary. It’s said that on the family’s flight to Egypt, a rosemary bush sheltered and protected the family. When Mary laid her cloak upon the bush the white flowers turned blue and thus became the “rose of Mary”.
Most of you will probably identify this herb by its smell and taste: aromatic and spicy. Rosemary tends to be warming and drying and is often used for cold conditions.
As the herb of remembrance, Rosemary has been used to increase memory and brain power by scholars for thousands of years. Students can keep a fresh sprig of this herb to smell while they study and again if they are taking a test.
Scientific research has validated this traditional use by testing student performance with the aid of rosemary fragrances and without. Those smelling rosemary while being tested felt more alert and brighter and performed better than those who went without any fragrance.
You could call Rosemary the Queen of Anti-oxidants, as she boasts at being one of the strongest herbal anti-oxidants. In other research, scientists have pinpointed that Rosemary contains the constituent carnosic acid, which can prevent free radical damage in the brain. Carnosic acid has been shown to protect the brain from stroke, Alzheimer’s Disease, and other effects of aging on the brain. Furthermore, as a circulatory stimulant it can dilate blood vessels and increase blood flow to the brain.
As a nerve tonic, rosemary can gently give us a little boost when we need it. Not quite a relaxing nervine like lavender, nor a stimulating nervine like coffee, rosemary is somewhere in between, increasing our mental functions without too much overt stimulation. Its action on the circulatory system can release internal pressure and gently reduce tension. It has often been used for hypertension.
Rosemary has quite the affinity for the head. It has been used topically to stimulate hair growth, or to maintain healthy hair. To stimulate hair growth an essential oil of rosemary is used, while many people swear by vinegar infused with rosemary as hair rinses for vibrant and healthy hair.
Herbalist Gail Faith Edwards used an oil of rosemary on her children’s heads whenever lice were rampant at school. She reports that it would keep the lice away, but wouldn’t get rid of it if already infected.
In the 14th century, Queen Elizabeth of Hungary used rosemary infused in wine externally to successfully relieve pains from rheumatism and gout. Now called Queen of Hungary Water, it has been usedfor hundreds of years, not only to relieve pain, but also to embellish beauty.
Today, rosemary essential oil is added to another oil base and then rubbed on arthritic joints to increase blood circulation and decrease pain.
Like other culinary herbs in the mint family, a cup of rosemary tea can ease slow digestion that is causing gas, nausea, cramping, or bloating.
Rosemary blends really well with various meats. Before the widespread use of refrigerators, rosemary was rubbed into meats to prevent them from spoiling, indicating it has strong anti-bacterial properties. Modern research has shown that marinating meats with rosemary prevents the meat from forming carcinogenic compounds known as HCAs (heterocyclic amines) when meat is cooked at high temperatures.
Rosemary is a strong anti-bacterial herb. You can use the tea or diluted tincture as a wash for wounds or fungal infections.
Its astringent properties lend it well to a swollen sore throat. Simply sip on rosemary tea or infuse the fresh or dried herb into a honey and take it by the teaspoonful. Hot rosemary tea is also a warming or stimulating diaphoretic that is useful for the first stages of a fever when you feel cold and are shivering.
Rosemary is native to the Mediterranean and is cultivated in gardens around the world. With the right conditions this woody perennial shrub can grow as high as six feet and dense enough to form a hedge.
It boasts fragrant evergreen leaves that resemble needles you would find on an evergreen tree.
A member of the mint family, it has square stems and opposite leaves.
It readily flowers and depending on the climate may even flower all year round. Rosemary’s flowers can range from blue to white to pink depending on the variety. As a member of the mint family, they have “lipped” flowers.
For many years we bought a small potted rosemary tree during the holidays instead of the traditional cut tree. Growing up I always appreciated having a living tree to admire during the holidays. These rosemary trees can easily be found online if you don’t find them being sold near you, however I would suggest finding one that has not been grown with commercial pesticides and fertilizers if you plan on using the sprigs in cooking.
If you'd like to star incorporating rosemary into your life you can try sipping some rosemary tea or try a vinegar hair wash. Rosemary infused in white wine makes a fantastic beverage, or even a marinade for meats. It can also be used as a tincture, or infused into honey. Combine the two of those mixtures and you've got a spicy rosemary elixir.
I'd love to hear how you enjoy your rosemary.
Further resources on Rosemary