Like many other herbs, rosemary has a rich and deep history that goes back thousands of years. It is said that the plants only produced white blossoms, until the Virgin Mary placed her cloak over a plant while resting on a journey. The flowers then turned blue and the plant was associated with the name “Rose of Mary” which eventually became shortened to the name that we know today.
The ancient Greeks believed that garlands of rosemary would improve memory and concentration, which is interesting because of scientific studies done today that point to this belief being true. The herb has been a cherished symbol and medicinal herb for centuries within a large variety of cultures. The Greeks believed that rosemary symbolized friendship, loyalty and remembrance, which is why it was a common part of ancient wedding ceremonies, with the bride wearing a wreath containing rosemary. This showed their love and fidelity and they believed that the herb was a gift from Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty. Wedding guests often received a sprig of rosemary if the couple could afford it and sprigs were often placed in the couple’s wine glasses to help them remember their sacred vows.
In the 13th century, Queen Elizabeth of Hungary, who suffered from devastating gout and rheumatism, claimed that consuming water infused with rosemary helped her regain both her beauty and strength. At the age of 72, she received a marriage proposal from the King of Poland, who was only 26 years old.
During the Middle Ages, rosemary was thought to have the power to prevent negativity from entering a household. It was often tucked under pillows to prevent nightmares and visits from evil spirits while one slept. It was also soaked in wine vinegar and made into a lotion that was used to wash the feet of thieves. It was believed to have the power to remove the urge to steal or engage in other crimes.
During the Great Plague of the 1665, rosemary was burned in sick chambers to help purify the air and prevent the spread of the infection. It was also carried and sniffed by healthy people in the streets to protect against contamination. The herb became so popular and grew in demand so quickly that the price increased from one shilling for an armful of branches to six shillings for only a handful. To give a greater understanding of the price increase, an entire pig could be purchased for only one shilling.
In the early 1800s in Spain, rosemary was used as a protection against witchcraft. This practice is mentioned in a book by George Borrow in 1843 that mentions hi meeting a traveler who had covered his hat with rosemary and later on a lady, who was so concerned for Borrow’s safety that she offered him rosemary to place on his own hat. He accepted it but was still the victim of a few misfortunes on his trip. He wrote in the book that he wanted to track down the lady to inform her of the herb’s failure but never did so.
If you look at recipes from early Colonial times in the United States, you will certainly notice rosemary, as it was brought to the area by its new inhabitants. But at the turn of the 20th century, the herb can be found in very few kitchens across the country. Its comeback can be credited to the World Wars. As soldiers returned home, they craved the foods and herbs that they had been introduced to overseas, including rosemary. The herb was also used during World War II in French hospitals. The nurses would burn the herb to prevent the spread of disease between injured soldiers.
Where Rosemary Plants Have Been Grown
Rosemary is native to the Mediterranean region but can be found all over the globe now. It typically grows near the ocean, which is why its Latin name equates to “dew of the sea”. Rosemary is a member of the mint family and is an evergreen shrub also related to basil, marjoram and oregano The plants can grow up to six feet tall but an average plant forms a bush that is about three feet tall. It has small green leaves with a hint of gray tone that resemble small pine needles. They have a bittersweet and lemony flavor. If allowed to blossom, small flowers ranging from white to different shades of blue usually present themselves in the late weeks of spring. Rosemary is also an easy herb to grow in home gardens and can be grown in pots to move indoors in climates with deep freezes.
Today, France, Spain and Tunisia grow the most rosemary for commercial purposes. France and Spain are said to produce the highest quality essential oil. Quality is incredibly important when using the oil to treat certain conditions. The United States is one of the largest exporters of the herb while other countries that grow a large amount include Italy, Portugal, Greece, North Africa, Turkey, Lebanon and Egypt.
Rosemary Oil Today
Rosemary and the oil that is made from its leaves is receiving a great deal of recognition in today’s society as people look for healthier and more natural ways to treat different conditions. Some of rosemary oil’s most popular uses today are for improving memory and regrowing hair. Scientific studies have found that the oil may help to delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease and when applied to the scalp has shown significant hair regrowth in many controlled study participants. The oil is also used in natural dental products, in household cleaners, as a digestive aid, a treatment for mild depression and as a natural pain reliever for headaches, sore joints and inflamed muscles. It is also a common ingredient in perfumes, lotions and other body care products. As more is learned about the oil through research and controlled studies, the oil will most certainly grow in popularity.