Remembering Rosemary

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), is a woody, perennial herb with fragrant, evergreen, needle-like leaves. It is a member of the mint family, Lamiaceae, which includes basil, beebalm, giant hyssop, ground ivy, lavender, marjoram, oregano,  perilla, peppermint, sage, savory, skullcap, spearmintthyme, and wild bergamot. The family also (surprisingly) includes chia, and (even more surprisingly) coleus and teak. The name “rosemary” derives from the Latin for “dew” (ros) and “sea” (marinus), or “dew of the sea”. This is likely in reference to the herb’s preference for growing along the seashore of its indigenous domain.

Rosemary is native to the Mediterranean area. It is a universal symbol of remembrance used to honor the dead. The tradition of laying sprigs of rosemary across the coffin or upon a tombstone dates back to ancient Egypt.

By 500 B.C., rosemary was used as a culinary and medicinal herb by the ancient Greeks and Romans. Scholars of ancient Greece wore wreaths of rosemary on their heads to help improve recall while taking exams.

The association of rosemary with remembering the dead continued well into the medieval period and beyond. During this time, rosemary was thought to be capable of thwarting negativity. As such, it was tucked under pillows to dispel nightmares and visits from evil spirits. It was also burned in the house to keep the black plague from entering. Perhaps this association with protection is why rosemary is still a common ingredient in incense used to cleanse sacred spaces.

Rosemary oil was first extracted in the 14th century, after which it was used to make Queen of Hungary water, a very popular fragrance used at that time.

The reputation for improving recall earned rosemary a place among traditional wedding herbs in the bride’s bouquet, headpiece, and dress. Wedding guests are also given sprigs of rosemary to wear to help them remember the occasion. It was also common to add rosemary to the couple’s wine to help them remember their sacred vows to each other. At one time, it was customary for the bride and groom to plant rosemary near their threshold on their wedding day. However, the old saying “where rosemary flourished, the woman ruled,” prompted some husbands to destroy the plant lest anyone should think his wife was in charge. Perhaps this is why the practice fell out of favor by the late 15th century.

Rosemary was also thought to promote prosperity. In fact, 16th century merchants would often hire perfumers to infuse their shops with spirits of rosemary. The herb was also a popular addition to nosegays, wreaths, and other floral displays to encourage happiness of home and hearth. In one of the earliest herbals known to be printed in England (1525), Rycharde Banckes recommended that one gather leaves of rosemary and “…boyle them in fayre water and drinke that water for it is much worthe against all manner of evils in the body.” Rosemary was thought to be a cure for poor digestion, migraine, joint disorders, and muscle aches. In the 16th and 17th centuries, rosemary became popular as a digestive aid in apothecaries. Shakespeare’s Juliet (1597) was bestowed with rosemary upon her untimely death.

Shakespeare’s Ophelia (1603) petitioned Hamlet with, “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance, pray you love, remember.” In 1652, English herbalist Nicholas Culpeper wrote about rosemary: “Helps a weak memory and quickens the senses. The chymical [essential] oil drawn from the leaves and flowers, is a sovereign help…touch the temples and nostrils with two or three drops.”

In 1987, researchers at Rutgers University in New Jersey patented a food preservative derived from rosemary. The chemical, called rosmaridiphenol, is a very stable antioxidant useful in cosmetics and plastic food packaging.

Most commercially-used, dried rosemary comes to us from Spain, France, and Morocco. However, it is easy to grow your own in temperate climates. In Australia, where Anzac Day is celebrated in remembrance of one’s family ancestors, it is still customary to wear sprigs of rosemary today.

Rosemary can:

  1. Protect your vision. The vitamin A in rosemary promotes healthy vision. A major component of rosemary, carnosic acid, can significantly promote eye health, which could have clinical applications for diseases affecting the outer retina, such as age-related macular degeneration, the most common eye disease in the U.S.
  2. Fight free radicals. Rosemary to be rich in antioxidants, which play an important role in neutralizing harmful particles called free radicals. Manganese in rosemary is a co-factor for the antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase, which disarms free radicals produced within the mitochondria (the energy production factories within your cells). The vitamin C in rosemary functions as an antioxidant and prevents oxygen-based damage to your cells. Carnosol in rosemary is an antioxidant that also has cancer-fighting properties. Rosmarinic acid in rosemary prevents cell damage caused by free radicals, and can protect against cancer and atherosclerosis.
  3. Promote strong bodies. The vitamin A in rosemary promotes healthy skin and mucous membranes and bone and tooth growth. Manganese in rosemary facilitates protein and carbohydrate metabolism and formation of bone. The vitamin C in rosemary helps produce collagen, which supports strong bones, muscles, blood vessels, gums, mucous membranes, corneas, joints, and other supporting cells and tissues and helps you absorb iron and calcium. The carnosic acid in rosemary also helps protect your skin.
  4. Strengthen your immune system. The vitamin A in rosemary promotes  immune system health. Iron in rosemary is also required for immune system function. The vitamin C in rosemary supports your immune system, processes toxins for elimination, and acts as an antihistamine. Rosemary also contains antibacterial and antimicrobial agents, and is used by modern herbalists to treat a variety of skin disorders, including dandruff. Rosmarinic acid in rosemary can relieve allergies by killing off excess immune responder cells in the system that have been triggered by the allergen, has been used topically as an anti-inflammatory drug, is an antibacterial against several types of bacteria, and inhibits gingivitis and plaque formation on the teeth and gums. Luteolin in rosemary has possible anti-inflammatory, anticancer, and antiatherogenic activities.
  5. Improve digestion. The insoluble fiber in rosemary not only helps to increase stool bulk and prevent constipation, but also helps prevent digestive disorders like irritable bowel syndrome and diverticulosis. In Europe rosemary is often used to help treat indigestion, and Germany’s Commission E, the German equivalent of the Food and Drug Administration, has approved it for that purpose.
  6. Enhance cognitive performance. Blood levels of 1,8-cineole, a rosemary oil component, correlate with improved cognitive performance. Rosemary contains another ingredient, carnosic acid, that is able to fight off free radical damage in your brain, and may protect against neurodegeneration and significantly help prevent brain aging. Rosemary may also become useful in preventing and treating Alzheimer’s disease, because certain phytochemicals in the herb prevent the degradation of acetyl choline, an important brain chemical needed for normal neurotransmission. A deficiency of this chemical is commonly seen in Alzheimer’s patients.
  7. Fight cancer. Rosemary may be an effective herbal anti-tumor agent. The vitamin C in rosemaryhelps prevent cancer by neutralizing volatile oxygen free radical molecules and preventing damage to your DNA that can lead to cancer, and by destabilizing a tumor’s ability to grow under oxygen-starved conditions. Crude ethanolic rosemary extract has differential anti-proliferative effects on human leukemia and breast cancer cells. Rosemary compounds inhibit carcinogenic chemicals from binding to cellular DNA.
  8. Ease pain. Rosemary contains salicylic acid, the forerunner of aspirin, which may explain why massaging the oil of rosemary into joints effectively eases arthritic or rheumatic pain.

Nutrients in 10 grams of Fresh Rosemary

Nutrient

Amount

Daily Value

vitamin A

292.4 IU

5.8%

fiber

1.41 g

5.6%

manganese

0.1 mg

4.8%

iron

0.66 mg

3.7%

vitamin C

2.18 mg

3.6%

calcium

31.7 mg

3.2%

folate

10.9 µg

2.7%

magnesium

9.1 mg

2.3%

potassium

66.8 mg

1.9%

vitamin B6

0.03 mg

1.7%

copper

0.03 mg

1.5%

fat

0.59 g

0.9%

riboflavin

0.02 mg

0.9%

pantothenic acid

0.08 mg

0.8%

protein

0.33 g

0.7%

Calories

13.1

0.7%

carbohydrates

2.07 g

0.7%

zinc

0.09 mg

0.6%

niacin

0.09 mg

0.5%

thiamine

0.0036 mg

0.2%

sodium

2.6 mg

0.1%

cholesterol

0 mg

0.0%

Whenever possible, choose fresh rosemary over the dried form of the herb, because fresh is far superior in flavor. The springs of fresh rosemary should look vibrantly fresh. They should be deep sage green, and free from yellow or dark spots. Try to select organically grown herbs, because this will give you more assurance that the herbs contain no pesticide residues and have not been irradiated. Among other potential adverse effects, irradiating rosemary may lead to a significant decrease in its carotenoid content.

Fresh rosemary should be stored in the refrigerator either in its original packaging or wrapped in a slightly damp towel. You can also place the rosemary sprigs in ice cube trays covered with either water or stock that can be added when preparing soups or stews. Dried rosemary should be kept in a tightly sealed container in a cool, dark and dry place where it will keep fresh for about six months.

Quickly rinse fresh rosemary under cool running water and pat dry. Most recipes call for rosemary leaves, which you can easily remove from the stem. Alternatively, you can add the whole sprig to season soups, stews and meat dishes, then simply remove it before serving.

Serving ideas include:


This blog uses the latest nutritional data available from the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), and the FDA (United States Food and Drug Administration), as well as nutritional data provided by food growers and manufacturers about their products. We believe the information on this website to be accurate. However, we are not responsible for typographical or other errors. Nutrition information for recipes is calculated by Living Cookbook based on the ingredients in each recipe based on statistical averages. Nutrition may vary based on methods of preparation, origin and freshness of ingredients, and other factors.

This blog is not a substitute for the services of a trained health professional. Although we provide nutritional information, the information on this blog is for informational purposes only. No information offered by or through this blog shall be construed as or understood to be medical advice or care. None of the information on this blog should be used to diagnose or treat any health problem or disease. Consult with a health care provider before taking any product or using any information on this blog. Please discuss any concerns with your health care provider.

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