Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) is a woody, perennial herb with
fragrant, evergreen, needle-like leaves. It is native to the
Mediterranean region. It is a member of the mint family Lamiaceae,
which also includes many other herbs.
The name rosemary derives from the Latin name rosmarinus, which
is from "dew" (ros) and "sea" (marinus), or "dew of the sea" because
in many locations it needs no other water than the humidity carried
by the sea breeze to live. The plant has also sometimes been
referred to as Anthos, from the ancient Greek word "ἄνθος", simply
Rosmarinus officinalis is one of only two species in the genus
Rosmarinus. The other species is the closely related but less
commercially viable Rosmarinus eriocalyx, of the Maghreb of Africa
Named by the 18th century naturalist and founding taxonomist
Carolus Linnaeus, it has not undergone much taxonomical change
Forms range from upright to trailing; the upright forms can reach
1.5 m (5 ft) tall, rarely 2 m (6 ft 7 in).
The leaves are evergreen, 24 cm (0.81.6 in) long and 25 mm
broad, green above, and white below with dense short woolly hair.
Flowering, very common in a mature and healthy specimens, occurs
in summer in the north, but the plants can be everblooming in
warm-winter climates; flower colors are variable, being white, pink,
purple, or blue.
Coming from the Latin words ros marinus, rosemary translates into
dew of the sea. It was said to be draped around Aphrodite when she
rose from the sea and was originally born of Ouranos's semen. Today,
the goddess Aphrodite is associated with rosemary, as is the Virgin
Mary, who was supposed to have spread her cloak over a
white-blossomed rosemary bush when she was resting; according to
legend, the flowers turned blue, the color most associated with
Since it is attractive and tolerates some degree of drought, it
is used in landscaping, especially in areas having a Mediterranean
climate. It is considered easy to grow for beginner gardeners, and
Rosemary grows on friable loam soil with good drainage in an open
sunny position, it will not withstand water logging and some
varieties may be susceptible to frost. It grows best in neutral to
alkaline conditions pH (pH 77.8) with average fertility.
Rosemary is easily pruned into shapes and has been used for
topiary. When grown in pots, it is best kept trimmed to stop it
getting straggly and unsightly, though when grown in a garden,
rosemary can grow quite large and still be attractive. It can be
propagated from an existing plant by clipping a shoot 1015 cm (46
in) long, stripping a few leaves from the bottom, and planting it
directly into soil.
Numerous cultivars have been selected for garden use. The
following are frequently sold:
Albus white flowers
Arp leaves light green, lemon-scented
Aureus leaves speckled yellow
Benenden Blue leaves narrow, dark green
Blue Boy dwarf, small leaves
Golden Rain leaves green, with yellow streaks
Gold Dust -dark green leaves, with golden streaks but stronger than
Irene lax, trailing
Lockwood de Forest procumbent selection from Tuscan Blue
Ken Taylor shrubby
Majorica Pink pink flowers
Miss Jessop's Upright tall, erect
Pinkie pink flowers
Pyramidalis (a.k.a. Erectus) pale blue flowers
Roseus pink flowers
Salem pale blue flowers, cold hardy similar to Arp
Severn Sea spreading, low-growing, with arching branches; flowers
Tuscan Blue upright
Wilma's Gold yellow leaves
The fresh and dried leaves are used frequently in traditional
Mediterranean cuisine; they have a bitter, astringent taste and are
highly aromatic, which complements a wide variety of foods. A tisane
can also be made from them. When burned, they give off a distinct
mustard smell, as well as a smell similar to that of burning wood,
which can be used to flavor foods while barbecuing.
Rosemary is high in iron, calcium, and vitamin B6, 317 mg, 6.65
mg and 0.336 mg per 100 g, respecively.
Rosemary extract has been shown to improve the shelf life and
heat stability of omega 3-rich oils, which are prone to going
Hungary water was first prepared for the Queen of Hungary to
"renovate vitality of paralyzed limbs" and to treat gout. It was
used externally and prepared by mixing fresh rosemary tops into
spirits of wine.
Don Quixote (Chapter XVII, 1st volume) mixes it in his recipe of
the miraculous balm of Fierabras with revolting results.
Rosemary has a very old reputation for improving memory, and has
been used as a symbol for remembrance (during weddings, war
commemorations and funerals) in Europe and Australia. Mourners would
throw it into graves as a symbol of remembrance for the dead. In
Shakespeare's Hamlet, Ophelia says, "There's rosemary, that's for
remembrance." (Hamlet, iv. 5.) One modern study lends some credence
to this reputation. When the smell of rosemary was pumped into
cubicles where people were working, those people showed improved
memory, though with slower recall.
In the Middle Ages, rosemary was associated with wedding
ceremonies - the bride would wear a rosemary headpiece and the groom
and wedding guests would all wear a sprig of rosemary, and from this
association with weddings, rosemary evolved into a love charm. Newly
wed 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. In
A Modern Herbal, Mrs Grieves says A rosemary branch, richly
gilded and tied with silken ribands of all colours, was also
presented to wedding guests, as a symbol of love and loyalty.
Another example of rosemarys use as a love charm was that a young
person would tap another with a rosemary sprig and if the sprig
contained an open flower, it was said that the couple would fall in
love. Rosemary was used as a divinatory herb-several types of herbs
were grown in pots and assigned the name of a potential lover. Then
they were left to grow and the plant that grew the strongest and
fastest gave the answer. Rosemary was also stuffed into poppets
(cloth dolls) to attract a lover or attract curative vibrations for
illness. It was 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. By the 16th century, this practice became a bone of
contention; and men were known to rip up rosemary bushes to show
that they, not their wives, ruled the roost.
Potential medicinal use
The results of a study suggest carnosic acid, found in rosemary,
may shield the brain from free radicals, lowering the risk of
strokes and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's disease and
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and is anti-inflammatory. Carnosol is
also a promising cancer chemoprevention and anti-cancer agent.
A study found that rosemary "produced a significant enhancement
of performance for overall quality of memory and secondary memory
factors, but also produced an impairment of speed of memory compared
to controls."Rosemary may have some anticarcinogenic properties. A
study where a powdered form of rosemary was given to rats in a
measured amount for two weeks showed a reduction in the binding of a
certain carcinogen by 76%, and greatly reduced the formation of
Rosemary contains a number of potentially biologically active
compounds, including antioxidants, such as carnosic acid and
rosmarinic acid. Other bioactive compounds include camphor (up to
20% in dry rosemary leaves), caffeic acid, ursolic acid, betulinic
acid, rosmaridiphenol, and rosmanol. Rosemary antioxidants levels
are closely related to soil moisture content. The market for these
medicinal use of rosemary is currently small, but there is a market
for rosemary antioxidants, and under the right conditions, rosemary
production could be profitable and sustainable.
Potential side effects
When rosemary is harvested appropriately and used within
recommended guidelines, side effects are minimal. A few instances of
allergic skin reactions to topical preparations containing rosemary
have been reported.
Recent European research has shown rosemary interferes with the
absorption of iron in the diet, which indicates it should not be
used internally by persons with iron deficiency anemia.
 Health precautions and toxicology
Rosemary in culinary or therapeutic doses is generally safe. A
toxicity study of the plant on rats has shown hepatoprotective and
antimutagenic activities; however, precaution is necessary for those
displaying allergic reaction or are prone to epileptic seizures.
Rosemary essential oil may have epileptogenic properties, as a
handful of case reports over the past century have linked its use
with seizures in otherwise healthy adults or children. Rosemary
essential oil is potentially toxic if ingested. Large quantities of
rosemary leaves can cause adverse reactions, such as coma, spasm,
vomiting, and pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs) that can be
fatal. Avoid consuming large quantities of rosemary especially if
pregnant or breastfeeding.