Our Pantry Profile: Rosemary

Rosemary {Rosmarinus officinalis}

The name Rosmarinus loosely translates to “dew of the sea,” given to rosemary because of its affinity for the wind-swept cliffs of the Mediterranean coast, where it originates. Beloved for centuries for its aroma and health benefits, this strongly aromatic member of the mint family is now cultivated worldwide.

Greek scholars wore garlands of rosemary to improve their memory and concentration, and many ancient herbalists recommended rosemary for failing mental acuity. During the Middle Ages, some would wear it around the neck to protect from the plague. Thirteenth-century Queen Elisabeth of Hungary claimed at 72 years of age, crippled with gout and rheumatism, that she had regained her beauty and strength by using “Hungary Water” {largely rosemary-infused}, compelling the King of Poland to propose marriage to her. Along with juniper, rosemary was frequently burned by the tub-full to disinfect the air from disease, from ancient times through World War II, where it was burned in French hospitals.

A symbol of love and remembrance, rosemary was traditionally woven into bridal hair wreaths and commonly part of funeral bouquets. Shakespeare’s Hamlet perhaps has the most notable mention of the herb, when Ophelia says, “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance: pray you, love, remember.” A man who was indifferent to the fragrance of rosemary was purportedly unable to remain true. Rosemary was also used to attract fairies and good energies. Both in Spain and Italy, the herb was employed as a safeguard against witches and evil influences. Placed under the pillow, rosemary would help you to remember your dreams and to keep away nightmares and unwanted entities.

One old saying, “Where rosemary flourishes, the woman rules,” supposedly held a little too much weight. Men of the past certainly had issues with it – up through the 19th century, it was common for husbands to privately sabotage their wive’s rosemary bushes to save face!

For the Body:

Rosemary contains valuable amounts of vitamin C, calcium, beta-carotene, iron, and magnesium. Its impressive content of powerful flavonoids, antioxidants, and phenols, particularly rosmarinic acid, reduce oxidative stress and lower systemic inflammation, making the herb an ideal remedy for arthritis and joint pain.

Of course, many of us associate rosemary with memory, and for good reason. To start, rosemary improves cerebral function by enhancing the uptake of oxygen-rich blood. Carnosic acid, an antioxidant in the herb, prevents the breakdown of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter responsible for reasoning and memory. It also shields the brain from free radicals, potentially lowering the risk of strokes and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and ALS. Within the last five years, several studies have confirmed the positive effect of carnosic acid on the nerve cells of the brain and recovery from traumatic brain injury. The most recent study, published in Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice in February of 2018, found that 500 mg of rosemary, given twice a day to university students, not only improved memory but reduced anxiety and depression and improved sleep quality.

An outstanding circulatory stimulant, rosemary not only improves brain function, but may also treat low blood pressure, poor circulation, and varicose veins. Some evidence shows that the flavonoid diosmin found in rosemary is more effective than rutin {the standard citrus-derivative supplement} in reducing capillary fragility, enhancing a stronger flow of blood. Because rosemary stimulates and improves circulation throughout the body, it also increases blood supply to the skin, restoring a youthful glow. Used externally, rosemary essential oil stimulates hair bulbs, encouraging hair growth.

Grow It:

Considered a hardy perennial in most Zones {6-9}, rosemary flourishes in warm climates but can be fussy in the Northeast. Because it’s difficult to start from seed, cuttings are recommended. Start in well-drained soil indoors about 8-10 weeks before the last frost. When transferring it outdoors plant in well-drained, loamy/sandy soil in full sun, 12-18 inches apart. Successful rosemary depends on balanced water {don’t over or under water}, plenty of air circulation, and lots of sun. Trim frequently to keep it full. Edible, periwinkle-blue flowers bloom from early spring to late summer and attract bees.

Overwintering rosemary is tricky and requires a bit of the Mediterranean climate indoors. Set rosemary in bright light with circulating air {use a fan if necessary}. Don’t let it dry out between watering. Mist the plant with diluted seawater weekly and brush it with your hands when walking by. When your rosemary thrives, you’ll know who rules the roost!

Keep It Fresh:

Rosemary is easy to dry and preserve. You can simply tie sprigs together and hang it upside-down in a well-ventilated place. It also does well in a dehydrator and on a parchment-lined cookie sheet in a warm oven. As with thyme, you can freeze rosemary: put sprigs into sealable plastic bag {press out the air} or add the needles to ice cube trays and fill with water or olive oil. Pop out when you need a dash of savory flavor.

Eat It:

The sweet pine flavor of rosemary lends itself well to roasted meat, poultry, vegetables, stews, and baked goods. When preparing the needle-like leaves, chop them well; they can become tough during cooking. Rosemary pairs nicely with other Mediterranean herbs like thyme, oregano, and marjoram, as well as with sweet syrups.

Rosemary Syrup

Simple syrup provides a wonderful way to savor rosemary’s unique character. Add it to cocktails, mocktails, sorbet, or drizzle it over baked goods.

  • 6 fresh rosemary sprigs, gently bruised
  • 1 cup organic cane sugar or raw {mild tasting} honey
  • 1 cup water

Over low heat, mix the sugar or honey with the water until combined. Remove from heat. Add herbs, and let sit at least 30 minutes to several hours. When done, gently warm and strain. Bottle and store in the fridge for 2-3 weeks.

Contraindications:

Do not take rosemary in therapeutic doses if you are pregnant, nursing, have seizure disorders, or inflammatory digestive issues.

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