"There's rosemary, that's for remembrance."
-- Shakespeare's Hamlet to Ophelia
Rosemary is an attractive evergreen shrub with pine needle-like leaves. It's trusses of blue flowers last through spring and summer in a warm, humid environment. It will grow to a height of between 3 and 5 feet.
Propagate from cuttings of the twisted wood of non-flowering branches in early summer, or layer established branches. Rosemary can also be grown from seed. Choose a sheltered position and well-drained soil, and allow the plant lots of sun. The thick shrub tolerates clipping so that the size can be kept in check. In hot weather it will appreciate a good hosing down. In a warm climate it can remain in the same location for up to 30 years, but in climates where freezing temperatures are expected it is best grown in pots so that it can be brought indoors in winter.
History and Tradition
The botanical name Rosmarinus is derived form the old Latin for 'dew of the sea', a reference to its pale blue dew-like flowers and the fact that it is often grown near the sea. It is a symbol or remembrance and friendship, and is often carried by wedding couples as a sign of love and fidelity.
Tradition says that rosemary will grow for thirty-three years, until it reaches the height of Christ when he was crucified, then it will die. Sprigs of rosemary were placed under pillows at night to ward off evil spirits and bad dreams. The wood was used to make lutes and other musical instruments.
We continue to use rosemary in many of the same ways that our ancestors did: in potpourris to freshen the air, and in cosmetics, disinfectants and shampoos.
'[Rosemary] comforteth the cold, weak and feeble brain in a
most wonderful manner.' --Gerard
'Make thee a box of the wood of rosemary and smell to it and it
shall preserve thy youth.' --Banckes' Herbal
Rosemary for Remembrance
Scientists at the University of Cincinnati say that the scent of rosemary is an effective memory stimulant. This might make a nice potted plant for your desk at work, or where the kids do their homework!
The leaves can be harvested any time. Harvest no more than you can use fresh, as they loose most of their flavor when dried.
Cancer Prevention Properties
Several studies done in the last several years show that oil from the leaves of the very plant sold as a spice for flavoring can help prevent the development of cancerous tumors in laboratory animals. One study, led by Chi-Tang Ho, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Food Science at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, showed that applying rosemary oil to the skin of experimental animals reduced their risk of cancer to half that found in animals that did not receive the application of oil. In other studies by the same research team, animals whose diets contained some rosemary oil had about half the incidence of colon cancer or lung cancer compared with animals not eating rosemary. And researchers at the University of Illinois in Urbana found that rosemary cut by half the incidence of breast cancer in animals at high risk for developing the disease. Future studies will demonstrate whether these properties extend to humans as well.
Though these experiments have used rosemary oil to test the effectiveness in preventing cancer, the oil should not be taken internally. Even small doses can cause stomach, kidney and intestinal problems, and large amounts may be poisonous. Use a tea instead. Pregnant women should not use the herb medicinally, although it's okay to use it as a seasoning.
Other Medicinal Properties
Rosemary helps to relax muscles, including the smooth muscles of the digestive tract and uterus. Because of this property it can be used to soothe digestive upsets and relieve menstrual cramps. When used in large amounts it can have the opposite effect, causing irritation of the intestines and cramps. A tea made form the leaves is also taken as a tonic for calming nerves and used as an antiseptic.
Rosemary makes a pleasant-tasting tea. Use one teaspoon of crushed dried leaves in a cup of boiling water and steep for ten minutes.
Use an infusion as a rinse to lighten blond hair, and to condition and tone all hair. Try mixing an infusion half and half with shampoo to strengthen hair.
An infusion can also be used as an invigorating toner and astringent. Rosemary added to a bath strengthens and refreshes, especially when used following an illness.
Rosemary and lamb go well together. Make slits in lamb for roasting and tuck in sprigs of the herb. Place larger sprigs over chops for grilling and use chopped leaves sparingly in soups and stews. Use rosemary in bouquets garnis and sparingly with fish and in rice dishes.
Use the dried leaves as potpourri and in sachets to scent clothes and linen and deter moths.
Rosmary is grown as a companion plant for cabbage, beans carrots and sage. It helps to deter cabbage moths, bean beetles and carrot flies.