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Remembering Rosemary

by Karyn Siegel-Maier


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 buriall grounds." -- Sir Thomas More (1478-1535)




This perennial evergreen gets its name from the Latin ros maris which translates to "dew of the sea" indicating the geographic preference of this Mediterranean native. It later came to be known as the Rose of Mary in honor of the Virgin Mother. The Spanish dubbed the shrubby plant Romero as they believed that Mary took shelter under a large rosemary bush while en route to Egypt. In France, the herb was sometimes referred to as Incensier since it was an economical alternative to incense and was often burned in ceremonial rituals.

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) was celebrated as the herb of the year for 2000 and is well worth remembering. This shouldn't be too difficult a task since the herb is recognized throughout the world as the symbol of remembrance. Rosemary signifies remembering the dead and the tradition of placing rosemary sprigs in tombs or on burial sites dates back to ancient Egypt. Shakespeare's Juliet was honored with rosemary at burial, and in Australia the custom of wearing rosemary on Anzac Day to remember deceased loved ones endures today.


Rosemary has always been popular at weddings, worn by brides to express their true love for their betrothed. Perhaps this custom was exercised to manifest more than an expression of love, since it was also said that "where rosemary flourished, the woman ruled" and as the Treasury of Botany maintains: "There is a vulgar belief in Gloucestershire and other counties, that Rosemary will not grow well unless where the mistress is "master"; and so touchy are some of the lords of creation upon this point, that we have more than once had reason to suspect them of privately injuring a growing rosemary in order to destroy this evidence of their want of authority." Whatever the case, adding rosemary sprigs to wedding florals and formal dress - and even adding it to the couple's wine - was thought to help them to remember their sacred vows for all time.


Rosemary has long been associated with improving memory and recall of past and present events. Shakespeare's Ophelia appeals to Hamlet with, "There's rosemary, that's for remembrance, pray you love, remember." Scholars and students of ancient Greece often wore bands of rosemary about their heads to help them retain their facts, especially while taking exams.


Rosemary was also an aid in warding off evil spirits. During the Middle Ages, it was a popular practice to place sprigs of rosemary under the head to keep nightmares at bay, and it was often burned to keep the black plague from gaining a foothold in the house. It is still used today in cleansing and purification rituals of various spiritual faiths. But, while rosemary had the power to ward off negativity, it could also inspire joy and prosperity. During the 16th century, wealthy merchants and homeowners would engage perfumers to scent their homes and business quarters with rosemary burned over coals. Rosemary was also welcomed in the market place, being sold as bouquets and arranged in floral sprays. And, as Beatrix Potter painted the domestic circumstances found in the Tale of Benjamin Bunny, "Old Mrs. Rabbit was a widow; she earned her living by knitting.... She also sold herbs and rosemary tea...


Medicinally, rosemary has been used to treat migraine, muscle aches, joint disorders, amenorrhea, exhaustion, poor memory and digestion and just about anything else that could affect the body. One of the first herbals (Banckes, 1525) gave significance to rosemary as a medicinal herb when he suggested that one "Take the flowers therof and boyle them in fayre water and drinke that water for it is much worthe against all manner of evils in the body." Queen Elizabeth of Hungary was reputedly cured of paralysis of the joints after a gnarly old hermit concocted a brew made from rosemary oil and alcohol, later dubbed as the infamous Hungary Water. Rosemary was also regularly administered to expectant mothers in late pregnancy since rosemary promotes uterine contractions. However, this practice is best left to the discretion of a physician or trained midwife since it can also induce miscarriage.


The essential oil of rosemary has an antibacterial and antiviral action and is useful in treating burns and wounds or when used in homemade household cleaning formulas. Added to pet shampoos or powders, the oil is also helpful in deterring fleas and in treating flea dermatitis. It is also an excellent remedy for dandruff in people. As a culinary herb, rosemary is a wonderful accompaniment to meats (especially poultry and ham), vegetables, soups and salads.



1,8-cineole, acetic acid, camphor, carnosol, carvacrol, carvone, caryophyllene, chlorogenic acid, geraniol, hesperidin, limonene, luteolin, rosmarinic acid, salicylates.


Parts Used

Dried leaf


Typical Preparations

Teas and tinctures, however it is most popularly used in cooking. The essential oil is used in aromatherapy but should not be taken internally.



Scientific research suggests that rosemary may be useful for:


  • Antioxidant, antiseptic, and antispasmodic - Rosemary is a key herb in European herbal medicine. For centuries, rosemary has been used to treat arthritis, baldness, headaches, stomach upset, pains, strains, cuts, scrapes, and bruises.


  • Alzheimer's disease- phytochemicals in rosemary may prevent the breakdown of acetylcholine, a chemical that allows neurons within the brain to communicate with each other.


  • Cancer- several laboratory studies suggest that rosemary contains compounds that prevent carcinogenic chemicals from binding to and inducing mutations in DNA.


  • Circulatory problems- the camphor content in finely chopped rosemary or essential oil of rosemary to bath water helps stimulate blood circulation the skin.


  • Eczema- increased circulation in the skin after application of rosemary may carry away inflammatory chemicals.


  • Indigestion. And rosemary can help prevent abdominal cramps.


  • Irritable bowel syndrome- Rosemary relieves intestinal cramps and spasms by stimulating the release of bile that helps digest fat. It also relieves bloating and gas.


  • Menstrual cramps- antioxidant compounds in rosemary prevent uterine spasms.


  • Yeast infection- Rosemary is not only fungicidal but also diuretic. It stops growth of yeast and helps remove yeast cells from the lining of the urinary tract.




  • An infusion are taken hot for colds, flu, rheumatic pains and indigestion and as a stimulating drink for fatigue and headaches.


  • Tinctures are taken as a stimulating tonic and combined with oats, skullcap, or vervain for depression.


  • Compresses soaked in hot infusion are used for sprains and alternating every two or three minutes with ice packs.


  • A hair rinse from infusions is used to treat dandruff.


  • Essential oil is added to a bath to soothe aching or arthritic limbs, or can act as a stimulant in nervous exhaustion. Extracts are commonly found in commercial shampoos.


  • Massage oil is made from diluted essential oil mixed with a neutral oil and massaged into aching joints and muscles or into the scalp to stimulate hair growth or on the temples for headaches


  • Essential oil is used to improve concentration by burning several drops in an oil burner.




Traditional Uses


  • Rosemary is safely ingested, inhaled, and applied externally as an ointment, shampoo, or soaking solution. Rosemary is also used to alleviate indigestion, upset stomach, and gas, as well as to speed the healing of bruises and skin wounds, and as an insect repellant.


  • It has also been used to treat epilepsy and vertigo and to raise low blood pressure. It is valuable for fainting or spells of weakness associated with deficient circulation.


  • The stems can be used on fires or barbecues to discourage insects.


  • Rosemary stimulates the flow of digestive juices. The tannins and essential oil act as diuretics.


  • As a circulatory tonic, rosemary is invaluable for all cases of poor circulation, as well as for aches and pains that come with a cold. Long-term use of rosemary tea will improve a whole range of symptoms in those with poor circulations.


  • The infused oil also has a reputation for strengthening the heart and calming palpitations. The official German Pharmacopoeia contains a recipe for rosemary massage oil to rub in over the region of the heart.


  • It is a nerve tonic relieving the pains of neuralgia; but since it is a stimulant, it should not be taken before bed.


  • The herb has a special affinity for the head. It eases headaches and migraines and can be combined with chamomile for headaches or with cardamom for depression. Used alone, it improves scalp conditions, strengthens hair growth by improving blood flow to the scalp, and prevents premature balding. For a dry scalp, rub rosemary infused oil well in and leave for thirty minutes before washing out with a gentle shampoo. For weak hair with a greasy scalp, use diluted rosemary vinegar to the final rinse water. It is a popular ingredient in shampoos and hair tonics. Its action as an emollient soothes the scalp, reducing the tendency of the dermis to flake and produce dandruff.


  • In parts of Central America, rosemary has been used for nervous disorders, to cleanse wounds and skin ulcers, to relieve headaches, and for washing hair. A poll of Mexicans found that the herb was among the top ones used, mainly for menstrual and digestive problems.


  • Aromatherapists recommend it as a stimulating bath solution, and massage therapists use it to increase peripheral circulation.


  • Oil of Rosemary can be massaged into joints to ease arthritic or rheumatic pain.




Women who have heavy periods should avoid excessive use of rosemary, since it stimulates menstrual flow. The herb should not be used medicinally during pregnancy. Small amounts of rosemary used in cooking, however, are safe for pregnant women and for women who have heavy periods.




Morning Biscuits with Rosemary


1 cup unbleached flour

1 cup whole wheat flour

1 tsp baking powder

½ tsp baking soda

dash of salt

½ tbsp sugar

¾ cup milk

2 tbsp butter

2 tsp crumbled, dried rosemary (or 2 tbsp fresh, chopped)


Excluding the rosemary, sift dry ingredients together in a large bowl. With a fork or pastry cutter, work the butter into the dry ingredients - some small lumps will remain. Add the rosemary and milk and mix well to form a soft dough.


Roll out the dough to ½ inch thickness on a lightly floured surface. Cut into 2 inch rounds and place on a greased and lightly floured baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes at 400° F. Makes about 1 1/2 dozen.




Chicken with Rosemary & Honey

Serves 2


Serve this sumptuous main dish with wild rice and mushrooms garnished with a fresh sprig of rosemary.


2 chicken breasts (6 to 8 ounces each)

2 sprigs of rosemary

1 lemon

2 teaspoons sugar

4 teaspoons honey of the maquis (or substitute another strong-flavored wild honey)

1 cup cooked wild rice

1⁄2 cup chanterelle mushrooms


Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Pierce the chicken breasts with a sharp knife and thread a sprig of rosemary through each. Cut the lemon in two and sprinkle a teaspoon of sugar on each half. Wrap each piece of chicken, with half the lemon, in aluminum foil. Bake the chicken and lemon for 10 minutes.


While baking, sauté the mushrooms and wild rice in extra-virgin olive oil until mushrooms are lightly cooked and rice is coated with oil. Set aside.


Remove the chicken from foil and pan fry until no longer pink. Use a brush to spread the honey on the chicken and return to the frying pan. Cook another 3 to 4 minutes on each side until done.


Recipe courtesy of Le Grand Café Napoleon.




Rosemary Tapioca Cream with Dates and Walnuts

Makes 6 to 8 generous servings


This adaptation for herb lovers is the ultimate comfort food. Serve it as a dessert.


1 egg white

6 tablespoons sugar, divided

3 tablespoons dry tapioca

2 cups milk

1 egg yolk, slightly beaten.

2 to 3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh rosemary

1 tablespoon finely grated orange zest, colored portion only

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 cup chopped dates

1 cup coarsely chopped or broken walnuts

1/2 pint whipped cream


In a medium bowl, beat egg white with electric mixture until frothy. Gradually add 3 tablespoons sugar and continue beating until soft peaks form; set aside.


Mix tapioca, remaining 3 tablespoons sugar, egg yolk and rosemary in a medium saucepan. Let stand for 5 minutes for tapioca to soften. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture comes to a full rolling boil. Remove pan from heat; quickly stir in egg white mixture until well blended. Stir in orange zest and vanilla extract. Mixture will thicken as it cools.


In a 2-quart bowl, preferably of clear glass, spread about a third of tapioca mixture, and top with almost half of dates and walnuts. Add another third of tapioca, top with most of remaining dates and walnuts. Add final layer of tapioca and remaining dates and walnuts. Serve warm or chilled, topped with a dollop of whipped cream.


Variations: Substitute apple, mango, orange or pineapple juice for milk. Compliment with different herbs and spices such as cinnamon, sweet or lemon basil, lemon verbena, orange mint, spearmint and lemon thyme. Add mild herbs such as basil after tapioca has cooled slightly to retain its flavor. Assemble tapioca mixture in bowl with fresh or canned fruit and chopped nuts.


Source: Herb Companion Magazine




Rosemary-Lavender Carpet Shampoo


This recipe makes enough for a 10' x 13' room.  If you can't find soap flakes, you can use 1/4 cup borax instead, but test the outcome of this substitution on a small area first.


2 cups baking soda          

1/2 cups soap flakes       

20 drops lavender essential oil    

8 drops rosemary essential oil     

1/2 cup vinegar

2 cups warm water         


1. Sweep carpet to be cleaned with a broom or carpet sweeper to loosen dirt, then vacuum the entire area.


2. Combine the baking soda and soap flakes in a plastic bowl.  Add the essential oils and mix well, breaking up any clumps with a fork.  Sprinkle the mixture on the carpet.


3.  Add the vinegar to the warm water in a bucket or pail.  Dip a clean sponge mop into the bucket and squeeze out as much excess liquid as you can.  Gently go over carpet with the sponge mop, working in sections.  Wait at least an hour and then vacuum again.


Excerpted from The Naturally Clean Home (c) Karyn Siegel-Maier (Storey Books)






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