Rosemary is one of the most common herbs and is a woody, evergreen plant with needle-like leaves and white, pink, purple, or blue flowers. This fragrant herb is native to the Mediterranean region and is a member of the mint family. The name “rosemary” derives from the Latin for “dew” (ros) and “sea” (marinus), or “dew of the sea”, because in many locations, it needs no water other than the humidity carried by the sea breeze to live.
The plant is also sometimes called ‘anthos’, from the ancient Greek word meaning “flower”. Rosemary can often be seen growing wild on the hills in many Mediterranean countries. It can withstand droughts, surviving a severe lack of water for lengthy periods and is considered easy to grow and pest-resistant. Rosemary can grow quite large and remain an attractive plant for many years in open sunny areas. It can be pruned into formal shapes and low hedges, and has been used for topiary. It is easily grown in pots, which prevents it from becoming invasive, as the groundcover cultivars spread widely.
Rosemary flowers in spring and summer in temperate climates, but the plants can be in constant bloom in warm climates. It is used as a decorative plant in gardens and has many culinary and medical uses. The leaves are used to flavour various foods, such as stuffing and roast meats, especially in Mediterranean cuisine. The leaves have a bitter, astringent taste, which is highly aromatic, complimenting a wide variety of foods. Rosemary is high in iron, calcium and Vitamin B6.
According to legend, Rosemary was draped around the Greek goddess Aphrodite when she rose from the sea, born of Ouranos’s semen. The Virgin Mary is said to have spread her blue cloak over a white-blossomed rosemary bush when she was resting, and the flowers turned blue. The shrub then became known as the ‘Rose of Mary’.
Rosemary oil is used in fragrant bodily perfumes or to emit an aroma into a room. It is also burnt as incense and used in shampoos and cleaning products. Rosemary has a very old reputation for improving memory and has been used as a symbol for remembrance during weddings, war commemorations and funerals. Newlywed 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. If a young person tapped another with a Rosemary sprig and if the sprig contained an open flower, it was said that the couple would fall in love. Mourners would throw Rosemary into graves as a symbol of remembrance for the dead. It was also 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. In Australia, sprigs of Rosemary are worn on ANZAC Day and sometimes Remembrance Day to signify remembrance.