Check Out These AMAZING Facts About Rosemary!
A magnificent plant with a long history; in fact, it is one of the oldest recorded herbs in history. References to rosemary were found written in cuneiform on stone tablets dating from the 5th millennium B.C.
Ancient Greeks and Romans knew this shrub well. In their world, it enjoyed a reputation for improving memory and rejuvenating the spirits. Dioscorides, the 1st century Greek physician, recommended it for its “warming faculty”. Greek scholars wore garlands of rosemary during examinations in order to improve their memory and concentration.
The Latin name, “Rosmarinus,” means “dew of the sea”; it was so called because it grew around the Mediterranean and became associated in ancient Rome with Venus, the goddess of love who was supposed to have sprung from the sea foam. Because of that legend, it became the symbol of fidelity in love and was used at weddings and funerals.
This ancient perennial’s romantic legend grew in the 14th century, when 72-year-old Queen Elizabeth of Hungary used rosemary as a medicine for her rheumatism and gout. Her potion of rosemary and lavender supposedly so enhanced her health and beauty that it fanned the passions of the 26-year-old King of Poland, who requested her hand in marriage. The potion became known as Budapest or Hungary water and was the beauty aide of choice for women for hundreds of years.
Christians called rosemary the “Holy Herb” and associated it with Mary, who, according to Spanish legend, draped her cloak over a rosemary bush on the Holy Family’s flight to Egypt, turning the color of the blossoms from white to blue.
Rosemary—along with juniper and thyme—was burned in medieval hospitals as an antiseptic. It was widely grown in kitchen gardens in England at that time; an old folk saying was that “Where rosemary flourishes, the woman rules.”
Down through the ages, it retained the reputation for aiding memory. In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Ophelia says, “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance…”
Rosemary was brought to America by the early colonists and was highly prized in the first settlements because the plants had to be carefully stored inside during the cold New England winters.
Today, we think of rosemary primarily as a kitchen herb. It is outstanding with lamb or chicken, great with baked potato spears, and makes a refreshing summer drink. Rosemary has other uses as well. As a Christmas decoration, potpourri, a moth repellent ingredient, or in aromatherapy (its scent is thought to be stimulating.) More about these other uses later!
There are many varieties of rosemary from which to choose, but let’s first look at two basic types. Both are great for cooking.
The most common out of about 2 dozen UPRIGHT – Rosmarinis officinalis varieties include:
Miss Jessup – One of the most vertical varieties and it has larger leaves than most others. It has excellent blue flowers.
Tuscan Blue – Smaller leaves than Miss Jessup. (Something you might want to consider if you chop a lot of Rosemary.) Beautiful Blue flowers.
Benenden Blue – Also has small leaves and blue flowers.
The White and Pink varieties are interesting for their unusual flowers.
And, out of about a dozen CREEPING R. officinalis prostratis varieties, this one is most common…
Collingwood Ingram (also sold simply as Ingram) – One of the most interesting of the prostrate rosemary. It is a vigorous grower and it has exquisite almost purple flowers. It usually flowers in August and is an excellent plant for a hanging basket or rock gardens.
How to care for your Rosemary
Rosemary is a very easy to grow evergreen perennial herb.
Height: 36-48 in.
USDA Zone 7a: to -17.7 °C (0 °F)
USDA Zone 7b: to -14.9 °C (5 °F)
- They prefer full sun to partial shade. They will do well in almost any soil. If your soil is heavy clay, mix in a shovel full or two of sand before you plant your rosemary to improve drainage.
- They tolerate dry soil conditions and drought. They should not require water during droughts, but add water if they appear to wilt.
- Less hardy varieties can be over-wintered indoors. However, it can sometimes be difficult. In this area bring in those plants inside in early December and thin them out to let light into the center and to allow good air circulation. (Most plants kept indoors benefit from moving air. If you can, place a small fan near them.) Rosemary wants all the light it can get, so be sure to put it in a south window. Put your Rosemary back outside in early March.
- In March, these plants should be trimmed back by about one third and shaped. Give them a little balanced fertilizer and watch them grow! Once your Rosemary reaches a couple of feet, don’t hesitate to bring out the shears and shape it. Be creative if you dare!
- Do not over water!
- Harvesting can be done year round. As with most herbs, rosemary thrives from frequent “haircuts,” but be careful not to remove more than about 20% of the plant in any one clipping session. The leaves can be dried by hanging in bunches or by layering on paper towels in a shady well-ventilated area. However, because rosemary is an evergreen perennial, there’s little motivation for preserving the leaves for later use.
Rosemary is believed to aid in memory retention. I’m personally going to give this a try. Now, if I can only remember where I stored my Rosemary……
For medicinal purposes, the dried leaves and flowers are used, as well as the essential oil, which is obtained by steam distillation.
Components: Rosemary contains large amounts of an essential oil, whose primary constituents are cineole, borneol, thymol, camphor and pinene. The oil is an effective disinfectant and antispasmodic. It also stimulates circulation by increasing blood flow to invigorate the whole body. The needlelike leaves contain bitters, tannins, flavanoids and nicotinic acid as well.
Indications: Rosemary is used internally for problems of the digestive tract, particularly bloating and cramps; the herb’s antispasmodic properties come into play here. In addition, by increasing production of stomach juices, it stimulates the appetite and promotes digestion. Wine made with rosemary is considered to be a fortifying remedy for nervous agitation, low blood pressure and heart and circulatory weakness; it is especially helpful during convalescence. Rosemary oil applied topically increases blood flow and relieves sore, aching muscles. Rosemary oil used in an aromatherapy lamp or ring has a strong stimulating and anti-inflammatory effect. The substances contained in rosemary oil activate the circulation and the nervous systems.
Methods of Administration:
Tea Infusion: Pour 1 cup of boiling water over 1 tsp. of rosemary leaves and strain after 15 minutes. You can drink 1 cup 2-3 times a day.
Rosemary Wine: Add about 1-3/4 oz. of rosemary leaves to 1 qt. of white wine or liqueur. Let the wine and leaves stand for 5 days; then filter. Take 1 tbsp. after meals 2-3 times a day. This is an especially effective, centuries-old treatment for poor circulation, low blood pressure and the headaches brought on by these conditions.
A bath: Bring to a boil 1 3/4 oz. of dried leaves or 2 1/2 oz. of fresh leaves in 1 qt. of water. Cover and let it stand for 15-30 minutes; add to warm bathwater.
Dandruff Rinse: A hair rinse with rosemary adds life to dull hair and combats dry, flaking scalp. Pour 4 cups of boiling water over 1/2 up of rosemary leaves and 1 tsp. of borax. Steep for 2 hours; then strain. Apply 1/2 to 1 cup after shampooing and conditioning; don’t rinse out. Use the rinse within 10 days.
For grooming and general well-being: Because rosemary oil has a strong warming effect, a body oil containing the extract retains heat after a bath and energizes the circulatory system. The skin absorbs essential oils particularly well after baths or showers.
Have fun playing with your Rosemary!
I know I will!