As for Rosmarine, I lett it runne all over my garden walls, not onlie because my bees love it, but because it is the herb sacred to remembrance, and, therefore, to friendship; whence a sprig of it hath a dumb language that maketh it the chosen emblem of our funeral wakes and in our burial grounds.” — Sir Thomas More (1478-1535)
Rosemary is one of my favorite herbs. I use it in my cooking multiple times weekly when in season, which around here is March through November. I plant it in several places around my garden as a pest confuser. the strong scent keeps them away from my valuable vegetables. It takes its name from the Latin ros maris, which means “dew of the sea.” It is also associated with enhancing memory and recall. Shakespeare’s Ophelia petitions Hamlet with, “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance, pray you love, remember.” Scholars of ancient Greece wore wreaths of rosemary about the brow to help improve recall while taking exams. This reputation has earned the herb a place among traditional wedding herbs used to grace the bride’s bouquet, headpiece, and dress. Wedding guests are also given sprigs of rosemary to wear to help them remember the occasion. It was also once common to add rosemary to the couple’s wine to help them remember their sacred vows to each other. At one time, it was customary for the bride and groom to plant rosemary near the marital threshold on their day of matrimony. However, the old saying “where rosemary flourished, the woman ruled,” prompted some husbands to pluck the plant from the ground lest anyone should think he wasn’t fit to rule the roost. Perhaps this is why the practice fell out of favor by the late 15th century.
Medicinally, rosemary has a wealth of uses, both old and new. In one of the earliest herbals known to be printed in England, Rycharde Banckes recommended that one gather leaves of rosemary and “…boyle them in fayre water and drinke that water for it is much worthe against all manner of evils in the body.” Indeed, rosemary was once thought to be a cure for poor digestion, migraine, joint disorders, and muscle aches. In fact, Queen Elizabeth of Hungary was reputedly cured of semi-paralysis when she sipped a concoction of rosemary to ease her painful joints. Hence, this formula came to be known as the infamous Hungary Water.
Today, rosemary is recognized as possessing several medicinal properties. The plant contains salicylic acid, among others, the forerunner of aspirin. This may explain why massaging the oil of rosemary into joints effectively eases arthritic or rheumatic pain. It also contains antibacterial and antimicrobial agents, and is used by modern herbalists to treat a variety of skin disorders, including dandruff. Rosemary is also being studied for its potential anti-cancer effects since initial studies indicate that its compounds inhibit carcinogenic chemicals from binding to cellular DNA. Rosemary may also become useful in preventing and treating Alzheimer’s disease in the near future. Researchers have discovered that certain phytochemicals in the herb prevent the degradation of acetylcholine, an important brain chemical needed for normal neurotransmission. A deficiency of this chemical is commonly seen in Alzheimer’s patients.
Take the time to do your research on Rosemary, you will be glad you did! And more importantly, chop a sprig of it up on your next salad!