Rosemary (rosmarinus officinalis) is a Latin name meaning dew-of-the-sea. It is a small evergreen shrub found growing in Portugal, Mediterranean areas like Morocco, Spain, Tunisia, and in France. It is a wood-like plant with rigid branches and a fissured bark. The leaves are needle-like and dark green. It has pale blue flowers that contain volatile oil. Rosemary thrives best in dry, warm soil with lots of light. Leaves are leathery and contain numerous oil glands.
Why does rosemary have blue flowers? Legend tell us that when Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus fled into Egypt, a weary Mary spread her cloak on a white flowered rosemary bush. The flowers miraculously changed to the blue of Mary’s cloak. The Spanish call it romero, meaning ‘pilgrims plant,’ taken from this legend.
After reading the multitude of applications of the herb, one wonders if it is not a miracle drug! Rosemary is most famous for its claim to improve the brain. It is used to treat Alzheimer’s and superstitious people believe a sprig of rosemary placed in a buttonhole will bring good luck and improve memory. Actually rosemary has a long history of use as a memory-enhancing herb, the ‘herb (or spice) of remembrance’ as it is called. In fact, rosemary leaf contains dozens of powerful antioxidant compounds and several compounds that are reported to prevent the breakdown of acetylcholine in the brain. A favorite blend to improve cognitive impairment, and visual and speech difficulties associated with brain inflammation is rosemary with St. John’s wart and ginkgo. It has similar structural and chemical properties to ginger.
Rosemary can be used both internally and externally to increase blood flow. It has both antispasmodic and diuretic properties to increase urine production and can stimulate menstrual blood flow. Rosemary leaf tea was traditionally used as a medicine for stimulating the appetite, as well as for treating gastric-juice deficiency and to aid digestion. One study says rosemary leaf tea is good for treating poor digestion due to insufficient bile flow through the action of its bitter substances and essential oil.
When applied as a salve, rosemary can assist in healing wounds, neuralgia, mild spasms, eczema, muscle pain, sciatica, rheumatism, as well as treating parasites. Rosemary was used in Roman burial rites. Even into the middle ages, people lay branches of rosemary on the coffin at funerals. Rosemary oil taken from the flowers and leaves has for centuries been mixed with almond or olive oil to massage the scalp, keep hair lush and healthy, and to prevent baldness.
Some recommend rosemary be used for preventing and fighting cataracts, claiming it contains at least four known anti-cataract compounds. Rosemary is recommended as an anti-aging herb, particularly for those with bone and joint conditions. It contains aromatic compounds that have a sedative effect and relieve depression. Rosemary has also been used to treat menstrual disorders, flatulence, dyspepsia, influenza, dropsy, and nervous exhaustion.
Rosemary leaf can be taken as a tea with the recommended dosage of a moderately hot cup of tea taken three times a day half an hour before meals. Other suggestions from internet articles include these: place a fresh bough in a room to cool the air. Boil a handful of rosemary in two cups of water for 10 minutes to yield an antiseptic solution for washing the bathroom and kitchen.
The flowers can be tossed into salads, and crystallized for a garnish. The leaf can be added sparingly to a wide range of foods including breads and beans or pasta dishes. Use rosemary to flavor baked potatoes and to make herb butter for vegetables. When stripped of leaves, rosemary stems can be burned on a fire or barbecued for a lovely aroma.