Rosemary is a member of the mint family that is native to the Mediterranean region. The generic portion of its botanical name, Rosmarinus Officinalis, translates to “dew of the sea,” indicating its preference for warm sea breezes. The species portion tells us that the herb was cultivated in monastery gardens and stored in the officina, where medicinal herbs were kept.
Known as the herb of remembrance, rosemary has long been associated with memory. Fresh sprigs are left at burial sites in honor of the dead and brides carry rosemary to ensure that the couple will forever remember their commitment to each other. In ancient Greece, scholars wore garlands of rosemary around their heads to help them retain facts. Shakespeare's Ophelia applies to Hamlet with, "There's rosemary, that's for remembrance, pray you love, remember."
Potential Health Benefits of Rosemary
Rosemary contains several antioxidant compounds that block carcinogenic free radicals from binding to and inducing mutations in DNA. One compound, carnosic acid, demonstrates an anti-carcinogenic effect against prostate cancer cells.
According to a study published in the Journal of Phytotherapy Research, rosemary leaf extract inhibits 5α-reductase from triggering the conversion of testosterone to dihydrotestosterone and the permanent shut down of hair follicles. Carnosic acid derivatives also appear to block the binding of dihydrotestosterone to androgen receptors.
Phytochemicals in rosemary may help to prevent Alzheimer's disease by slowing down the degradation of acetylcholine, a brain hormone is that permits neurons to communicate with each other and is involved in the ability to form new memories.
How to Use Rosemary
Steeped in boiling water, fresh or dried rosemary makes an excellent tea that’s not only flavorful but also eases headache and congestion associated with cold and flu. Strong infusions may also be applied topically for bruises and sprains.
Added to bath water, the essential oil of rosemary promotes blood flow and soothes inflammatory skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis.
Incorporate rosemary infused oil, hot water infusions and/or the essential oil into shampoos and rinses to promote a healthy scalp and stimulate hair growth.
In the kitchen, rosemary is an unforgettable essential ingredient in Mediterranean cuisine. Add the chopped herb to herbal vinegars, salad dressings, soups and stews, tomato sauce and braised foods. A small amount sprinkled into a bowl of warm olive oil makes an excellent dip for breads.