ROSEMARY (Rosmarinus officinalis): Origin: native to the Mediterranean region. Rosemary is considered the herb of friendship and memory. The name of this herb comes from the name Rosa Marina, after the Medieval myth of a girl born from a bush who could only emerge if watered with dragon’s blood. The term translates from the Latin – ros marinum – means sea dew. There is a record that the Egyptian King Ramesses III offered 125 measures of rosemary to the god Amon at Thebes. Rosemary is symbolic of fidelity and loyalty and also is linked with concepts of enduring love and improved memory. Rosemary is prominent in Christian mythology and linked with the flight out of Egypt when Mary washed the clothes of Christ and spread them over an “evil-smelling” bush to dry, whereupon, the plant took on its present, prominent scent. When mixed with curdled milk, beer, and honey, rosemary was considered by the ancients to be good for heart trouble. Ancient Greek students ate rosemary to improve their memory; students also wore rosemary garlands when studying for examinations. The Romans believed that the odor of rosemary preserved dead bodies, and the green color of the leaves symbolized eternity. Sprigs of rosemary commonly are carried at funerals by mourners, then cast into the grave during the lowering of the coffin. It also is planted on and nearby graves today throughout much of Europe.
The Gerarde herbal states: rosemary is proscribed for fluxes of the blood [i.e. bloody diarrhea] and the flowers are especially good for infirmities of the head and brain; rosemary dries the brain and quickens the senses and memory; when worn as a garland atop the head rosemary is a remedy against the brain being stuffed by cold humors; when boiled in water and drunk before exercising rosemary will cure jaundice; if rosemary flowers are distilled in water and drunk in the morning and evening this will taketh away stench of the mouth and breth, and maketh it very sweete. Rosemary comforts the brain improves memory, the inward senses, and restores speech in those who have been possessed and struck dumb. Rosemary opens stoppages of the liver and in cold climates like Germany rosemary boiled in wine is used to treat women suffering from the whites [i.e. leucorrhea] and as part of the treatment they must fast for three or four hours afterwards. When rosemary flowers are mixed with sugar this comforts the heart, makes the person mery, quickens the spirits, and makes the consumer livelier. Oil of rosemary comforts the cold, the week, and feeble brains in a most wonderful manner.
The Culpeper herbal contains considerable information: rosemary is much used for inward and outward diseases and helps all cold diseases of the head, stomach, liver, and belly. A decoction of rosemary in wine helps cold diseases of the head and brain and when applied to the temples reduces giddiness or swimmings [of the brain], dullness of the mind, and reduces stupidness, loss of speech, lethargy, and falling-sickness. Rosemary helps ease pain in the gums and teeth and removes stinking breath; helps a week memory and quickens the senses. When a decoction or powder of rosemary is mixed with wine it helps the retention of meat [food] and digestion.; If rosemary flowers are eaten with bread and salt in the morning this opens obstructions of the liver, helps improve dim eyes, and leads to clear eyesight. If one exercises and takes decoction of rosemary steeped in water this will cure the yellow jaundice. Rosemary brings glad comfort to the year and expels contagion of the pestilence; if the herb is burned inside houses and chambers, the air inside will be corrected. Rosemary flowers and leaves are profitable to women troubled with the whites [leucorrhea]. Dried, shredded rosemary leaves taken as a pipe [i.e. smoked] helps relieve cough and consumption [tuberculosis] by warming the thin distillations that cause such diseases. Bathing with rosemary leaves is helpful. Oil from rosemary leaves may be used to treat disease of the head and brain, and for the inward griefs – but with discretion – since Culpeper warns that since the action is quick and piercing, only a little must be taken at a time. He also writes that rosemary oil may be used to remove spots, marks, and scars on the skin.
During Medieval times, the French used rosemary to embalm the dead. Rosemary eaten on the eve of St. Agnes, reportedly, will ease the mind of a lovesick girl (or boy). Various 19th century American traditions held that: a spring of rosemary brings good luck and prevents witchcraft, or that it would make hair grow. Rosemary seen in dreams symbolizes a reunion. If rosemary grows near your house, no witch will harm you; by planting rosemary in your garden you always will have friends; rosemary is symbolic of friendship; where rosemary grows in the garden, the wife is master of the house; since the 18th century rosemary is used to decorate the tomb of Shakespeare on his birthday; to increase shine in one’s hair, use a rinse of hot water where rosemary has been steeped. During Medieval times it commonly was held that on Walpurgis Night (April 30th) witches reigned supreme. On the eve of May Day rural houses were “smoked” using torches prepared from bundles of black and red hemlock that also included sprigs of rosemary so that any witches who lurked inside would be forced to evacuate due to the special herb smoke. Medieval English traditions report that rosemary had special places at weddings, and the leaves sometimes were “gilded or dipped in scented waters”, then tied at different places inside the church. It is written that rosemary was carried by visitors to English prisons as a precaution against gaol fever (typhus). During plague years sprigs of Rosemary were inserted into the hollow heads of canes carried by physicians. Rosemary also is considered a primary herb used at funerals, where sprigs are given to mourners that then are thrown on the coffin as it is lowered. Rosemary also was used to provide pleasing scent in courtrooms, as it was thought the odor would “expel the contagion of the pestilence from which poor prisoners too often suffered.” It also was thought that the scent of rosemary would comfort the heart and help restore weake memory, and also applications would help reduce hair loss. Medieval English prepared a beverage of milk curdled with ale, and mixed with honey and rosemary that was used to “comfort the heart” and as a “nerve tonic.” An old English tradition holds that rosemary can be used by young girls to divine the future:
Dip sprigs of rosemary into a mixture of wine, rum, gin, vinegar, and water inside a glass bowl [must be glass]. On the eve of St. Magdalen meet with two other young girls each less than 21 years of age. The rosemary sprigs then are pinned to their tunics and each girl takes three sips of the rosemary-tonic, then rest in the same bed without speaking. The dreams that follow will be prophetic
Another English tradition holds that rosemary has the ability to transform the elderly back to a youthful appearance; the story relates to an old Queen who bathed in rosemary water three times/day, and her “old flesh” fell away so much so that she became “young and tender.” A 19th century tradition prominent in rural Alabama held that rosemary sprigs brought good luck and if worn, kept the person from being bewitched.
(Summarized from: Gerarde, 1597, pp. 1108-1111; Culpeper, 1653, pp. 155-156; Bergen, 1899, p. 102; Skinner, 1911, pp. 260-261; Hayes, 1961, pp. 89-90; Colin, 1962, pp. 73-74;Lehner and Lehner, 1962, p. 123; Jacob, 1965, p. 110 and 114; Northcote, 1971, pp. 128-134; Powell, 1977, p. 121; Priestley and Priestley, 1979, pp. 105-106; Vickery, 1995, pp. 318-319; Darby, Ghalioungui, and Grivetti, 1997, Vol. 2. P. 804; Grivetti, 2004, p. 99).