Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) is a woody, perennial herb with fragrant evergreen needle-like leaves. It is native to the Mediterranean region. It is a member of the mint family Lamiaceae, which also includes many other herbs.
The name rosemary has nothing to do with the rose or the name Mary, but derives from the Latin name rosmarinus, which is from "dew" (ros) and "sea" (marinus), or "dew of the sea" — apparently because it is frequently found growing near the sea.
Forms range from upright to trailing; the upright forms can reach 1.5 m (5 ft) tall, rarely 2 m (6 ft 7 in).
The leaves are evergreen, 2–4 cm (0.8–1.6 in) long and 2–5 mm broad, green above, and white below with dense short woolly hair.
Flowering, very common in a mature and healthy specimen, blooms in summer in the north; but can be everblooming in warm-winter climates and is variable in color, being white, pink, purple, or blue.
Since it is attractive and tolerates some degree of drought, it is also used in landscaping, especially in areas having a Mediterranean climate. It is considered easy to grow for beginner gardeners, and is pest-resistant.
Rosemary grows on friable loam soil with good drainage in an open sunny position, it will not withstand water logging and some varieties may be susceptible to frost. It grows best in neutral - alkaline conditions pH (pH 7-7.8) with average fertility.
Rosemary is easily pruned into shapes and has been used for topiary. When grown in pots, it is best kept trimmed to stop it getting straggly and unsightly, though when grown in a garden, rosemary can grow quite large and still be attractive. It can be propagated from an existing plant by clipping a shoot 10–15 cm (4–6 in) long, stripping a few leaves from the bottom, and planting it directly into soil.
Numerous cultivars have been selected for garden use. The following are frequently sold:
• Albus — white flowers
• Arp — leaves light green, lemon-scented
• Aureus — leaves speckled yellow
• Benenden Blue — leaves narrow, dark green
• Blue Boy — dwarf, small leaves
• Golden Rain — leaves green, with yellow streaks
• Gold Dust -dark green leaves, with golden streaks but stronger than Golden Rain
• Irene — lax, trailing
• Lockwood de Forest — procumbent selection from Tuscan Blue
• Ken Taylor — shrubby
• Majorica Pink — pink flowers
• Miss Jessop's Upright — tall, erect
• Pinkie — pink flowers
• Pyramidalis (a.k.a. Erectus) — pale blue flowers
• Roseus — pink flowers
• Salem — pale blue flowers, cold hardy similar to Arp
• Severn Sea — spreading, low-growing, with arching branches; flowers deep violet
• Tuscan Blue — upright
The fresh and dried leaves are used frequently in traditional Mediterranean cuisine; they have a bitter, astringent taste, which complements a wide variety of foods. A tisane can also be made from them. When burned they give off a distinct mustard smell, as well as a smell similar to that of burning which can be used to flavor foods while barbecuing.
Rosemary is extremely high in iron, calcium, and Vitamin B6.
Hungary Water was first prepared for the Queen of Hungary to "renovate vitality of paralyzed limbs" and to treat gout. It was used externally and prepared by mixing fresh rosemary tops into spirits of wine
Don Quixote (Chapter XVII, 1st volume) mixes it in his recipe of the miraculous balm of Fierabras with revolting results.
Rosemary has a very old reputation for improving memory, and has been used as a symbol for remembrance (during weddings, war commemorations and funerals) in Europe and Australia. Mourners would throw it into graves as a symbol of remembrance for the dead. In Shakespeare's Hamlet, Ophelia says, "There's rosemary, that's for remembrance." (Hamlet, iv. 5.) One modern study lends some credence to this reputation. When the smell of rosemary was pumped into cubicles where people were working, those people showed improved memory, though with slower recall.
In the Middle Ages, rosemary was associated with wedding ceremonies - the bride would wear a rosemary headpiece and the groom and wedding guests would all wear a sprig of rosemary, and from this association with weddings rosemary evolved into a love charm. Newly wed couples would plant a branch of rosemary on their wedding day. If the branch grew it was a good omen for the union and family. In ‘A Modern Herbal’, Mrs Grieves says “A rosemary branch, richly gilded and tied with silken ribands of all colours, was also presented to wedding guests, as a symbol of love and loyalty.” Another example of rosemary’s use as a love charm was that a young person would tap another with a rosemary sprig and if the sprig contained an open flower, it was said that the couple would fall in love. Rosemary was used as a divinatory herb-several types of herbs were grown in pots and assigned the name of a potential lover. Then they were left to grow and the plant that grew the strongest and fastest gave the answer. Rosemary was also stuffed into poppets (cloth dolls) in order to attract a lover or attract curative vibrations for illness. It was believed that placing a sprig of rosemary under a pillow before sleep would repel nightmares, and if placed outside the home it would repel witches. Somehow, the use of rosemary in the garden to repel witches turned into signification that the woman ruled the household in homes and gardens where rosemary grew abundantly. By the 16th century, this practise became a bone of contention; and men were known to rip up rosemary bushes to show that they, not their wives, ruled the roost.
The results of a study suggest that carnosic acid, found in rosemary, may shield the brain from free radicals, lowering the risk of strokes and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's and Lou Gehrig's
Rosemary contains a number of potentially biologically active compounds, including antioxidants such as carnosic acid and rosmarinic acid. Other bioactive compounds include camphor (up to 20% in dry rosemary leaves), caffeic acid, ursolic acid, betulinic acid, rosmaridiphenol, and rosmanol.
Potential side effects
When rosemary is harvested appropriately and used within recommended guidelines, side effects are minimal. A few instances of allergic skin reactions to topical preparations containing rosemary have been reported.
Recent European research has shown that rosemary interferes with the absorption of iron in the diet, which indicates that it should not be used internally by persons with iron deficiency anemia.
Health precautions and toxicology
Rosemary in culinary or therapeutic doses is generally safe. A toxicity studies of the plant on rats has shown hepatoprotective and antimutagenic activities[, however, precaution is necessary for those displaying allergic reaction or prone to epileptic seizures. Rosemary essential oil may have epileptogenic properties, as a handful of case reports over the past century have linked its use with seizures in otherwise healthy adults or children.. Rosemary essential oil is potentially toxic if ingested. Large quantities of rosemary leaves can cause adverse reactions, such as coma, spasm, vomiting, and pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs) that can be fatal. Avoid consuming large quantities of rosemary especially if pregnant or breastfeeding.