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Rosmarinus officinalis, also known as rosemary, is an evergreen plant that belongs to Lamiaceae, the family of mint. It is native to the Mediterranean region, but it is now widely grown in countries with relatively warm climates.
However, apart from its practical uses, rosemary also holds symbolism and meaning.
Read on to learn more about the history of rosemary, how it’s used, and what it usually symbolizes in various cultures.
The Origins of Rosemary
The Latin name Rosmarinus officinalis means dew of the sea, which refers to the fact that it usually thrives best when growing near the ocean.
While the name Rosemary was derived from the name of its genus, there’s a legend that adds another explanation. Accordingly, when the Virgin Mary fled from Egypt, she took shelter next to a rosemary bush. On one occasion, she threw her cape over the plant and all its white flowers became blue. Due to this, the herb was called the Rose of Mary even though its blooms do not look like roses.
The use of rosemary goes as far back as 500 B.C. when the ancient Romans and Greeks used it as a medicinal and culinary herb. Egyptian tombs had dried sprigs of rosemary that date back to 3,000 B.C. Dioscorides, a Greek pharmacologist and physician, also wrote about rosemary’s excellent healing properties in his opus De Materia Medica, a text which served as the gold standard for identifying and using medicinal herbs for over a thousand years.
Rosemary is still widely used today, with dried rosemary usually being exported from countries like Morocco, Spain, and France. It is easy to grow in moderate climates, so some people also grow this shrub in their gardens.
In 1987, a group of researchers from Rutgers University patented a preservative that was derived from rosemary. Known as rosmaridiphenol, this is a great antioxidant that can be used in plastic packaging and cosmetics.
Today, this delightful herb’s pleasant aroma makes it a great addition to perfumes and cosmetics. Some people also use it in aromatherapy, claiming that rosemary essential oil can help improve brain function and ease stress.
Meaning and Symbolism of Rosemary
The long and rich history of rosemary has helped it accumulate several meanings over the years. Here are some of the most popular concepts and feelings that the rosemary herb symbolizes.
Rosemary connection to remembrance dates back several centuries. The herb has been used in funerals to commemorate the deceased. In some cultures, mourners hold rosemary sprigs and threw them into the coffins, while in others, the stems are put in the hands of the dead. In Australia, people wear rosemary sprigs to honor the dead on Anzac Day.
In the all-time classic Hamlet, Ophelia mentions rosemary for remembrance, stating:
“There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance.
Pray you, love, remember…”
William Shakespeare also used it as a symbol of remembrance in another line from The Winter’s Tale. In Romeo and Juliet, rosemary was placed on Juliet’s tomb as a symbol of loss and remembrance.
Rosemary is also considered a symbol of fidelity. Lovers used to exchange sprigs of rosemary to promise loyalty and faithfulness. It has also been used in different ceremonies that celebrate love and friendship, for instance at weddings and parties.
At weddings, rosemary has sometimes been dipped in gold, tied with a ribbon, and given as keepsakes to guests. Some also believe that if rosemary cuttings from a bride’s bouquet are planted and take root, it’s a sign that the relationship will be successful and that the bride would successfully keep the home running.
Oracle of Love
In the past, some believed that rosemary could lead them to their one true love. In order to achieve this, they would put some of it under their pillow, hoping that it would reveal the identity of their soulmate or true love in their dream. They believed that July 21st was the best day to do this because it falls under Magdalen’s Eve.
Culinary Uses of Rosemary
Rosemary is used to add a unique and complex flavor to food, with a slightly bitter taste that complements meat like chicken duck, lamb, sausages, and stuffing. It’s commonly used to season dishes like casseroles, soups, salads, and stews. It also goes well with mushrooms, potatoes, spinach, and most grains.
To prepare rosemary, the leaves are usually rinsed under cold running water and then pat dry. The leaves are removed from their stems and then added to the dish, although some prefer to use whole sprigs of rosemary to meat dishes and stews.
Medicinal Uses of Rosemary
Rosemary is known for its various health benefits. It’s rich in anti-inflammatory compounds and antioxidants, making it an excellent way to improve one’s blood circulation and immune system. It also fights against free radicals, which are harmful particles that can damage your cells. In addition to this, rosemary is also a popular home remedy for indigestion.
Studies show that the scent of rosemary can improve concentration and memory. It contains a compound called carnosic acid, which can protect the brain from the possible damage that free radicals can cause.
There is also some research which contends that rosemary may help fight against cancer. Accordingly, rosemary extract can slow down the spread of cancer cells in leukemia and breast cancer. Adding rosemary to ground beef can also reduce cancer-causing agents that can develop in the meat while cooking.
Caring for Rosemary
This perennial shrub can grow up to a meter in height, but others can become as tall as 2 meters. Rosemary has long leaves that look like small pine needles, and small blue flowers that bees love. They are great plants for beginners as they are resistant to most diseases and pests. However, they can get fungal infections like powdery mildew when grown in humid climates.
When growing rosemary plants, it is important to space them no less than 2 feet apart and put them in an area that gets plenty of sunlight. The plant also needs a well-draining potting mix with a pH level of 6.0 to 7.0. Regularly feed rosemary with liquid plant food, and make sure to let the soil dry out between waterings to avoid root rot.
When harvesting rosemary stems, use a pair of sharp, clean gardening shears to snip them. If the plant is already established, you can cut them often.
Like most herbs, the delightful taste and aroma of rosemary herbs make them an excellent addition to most dishes. They also have excellent health benefits, making them a definite must-have in every garden. In addition to this, the symbolic meanings of rosemary, such as remembrance, love, and fidelity, make this herb an attractive houseplant.