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Rosmarinus officinalis L. 1753
pronounced: rose-ma-REE-nus off-ick-in-AH-liss
(Lamiaceae – the lavender family)
Common name: Rosemary
Rosmarinus is derived from two Latin words, ros, dew, and marinus, of the sea; officinalis is from officina, a workshop or laboratory. The Virgin Mary is said to have draped her blue cloak over a white-blossomed rosemary bush when she was resting, and the flowers turned blue. The shrub then became known as rose of Mary.
Rosemary has been cultivated from ancient times, grown for the aromatic oil distilled from the shoots and leaves, and for use as a culinary herb. It has also been credited with many other properties: the ancient Greeks believed that its invigorating aroma improved memory, and modern aromatherapy practitioners still use it for this purpose. The plant is also dried and used in potpourri, and the oil can be found in many perfumes and cosmetics.
There are upright and trailing forms of rosemary. Upright forms can reach about 150 cm tall, and occasionally 200 cm. The leaves are evergreen, 2 – 4 cm long by 2 – 5 mm wide, green on the upper surface and white below, with dense short woolly hairs. In temperate climes the plant flowers in spring and summer, but in warmer times it can flower at any time of the year, and is often found in constant bloom. The flowers may be white, pink, purple, or deep blue.
Rosemary is often used as a decorative plant in gardens, where it is believed to have pest-repellant effects. Plants can retain their attractiveness for many years, and can even be pruned into formal shapes and low hedges. It is easily grown in pots, and there are cultivars that are used for ground cover; these can spread widely, with a dense texture.
The plant likes an open, sunny position, and will not stand waterlogging. It can easily be propagated from an existing plant by clipping a shoot from soft new growth, stripping a few leaves from the bottom, and planting it directly into the soil.
Fresh or dried leaves are much used in Italian cuisine. They have a bitter, astringent taste and a characteristic aroma. A herbal tea is also made from the leaves, and drunk to treat headaches, colic, colds and nervous diseases. When the plant is roasted with meat or vegetables, it gives a mustard-like aroma, and a slight burnt wood fragrance rather like that of a barbecue.
In the middle ages, rosemary was used in wedding ceremonies. The bride would wear a headpiece made from the plant, and the groom and the wedding guests would each wear a sprig. It was also associated with funerals, thrown into the grave by the mourners as a symbol of remembrance for the dead. In Australia, sprigs of rosemary are often worn on Anzac Day – the plant grows wild on the Gallipoli Peninsula.
Hungary Water, prepared by mixing fresh rosemary tops in full flower into spirits of wine, allowing it to stand for four days, and then distilling it, was first prepared for Queen Elizabeth of Hungary for external application to renovate paralyzed limbs. She is said to have been completely cured by it, and there is preserved in Vienna a formula for making the water, dated 1235, and said to be in the Queen’s hand.
Information about medicinal qualities of plants, or about their use as medicines, is for interest only, and is not intended to be used as a guide for the treatment of medical conditions.
Photographs taken in Picnic Bay 2015
Page last updated 18th February 2018