Rosemary for Remembrance

[ Rosemary for Rememberance ] ~ from Monterey Bay Herb Company
Rosemary for Remembrance Shadow Header
"Pray you love, remember." Ophelia may have pleaded with her brother to remember their father's death while she teetered on the brink of madness, but rosemary was anything but forgotten in Hamlet's day.
In fact, the herb has long held a reputation for enhancing memory, honoring the dead, and scattering negative vibrations to the four winds.

[ Rosemary: remembrance of things past ] ~ from Monterey Bay Spice

a. rosemary &
the remembrance of things past

Rosmarinus officinalis is a woody evergreen native to the Mediterranean and a universal symbol of remembrance used to honor those who have passed on.

The tradition of laying sprigs of rosemary across the coffin or upon a tombstone dates back to ancient Egypt. This custom continued well into the medieval period and beyond. For instance, Shakespeare’s Juliet was bestowed with rosemary upon her untimely death. In Australia, where Anzac Day is celebrated in remembrance of one’s family ancestors, it is still customary to wear sprigs of rosemary today.

Ironically, it was when Shakespeare's Ophelia's mind had truly retreated into madness in attempt to forget the woes of her father's death when she petitions Laertes with, "There's rosemary, that's for remembrance, pray you love, remember."


[ Rosemary: the wedding day nosegay ] ~ from Monterey Bay Spice

b. rosemary &
the wedding day nosegay

Rosemary is also associated with enhancing memory and recall. Scholars of ancient Greece wore wreaths of rosemary about the brow to help improve recall while taking exams. This reputation has earned the herb a place among traditional wedding herbs used to grace the bride’s bouquet, headpiece, and dress—in effort to further memorialize the weighty occasion.

In addition to the bride's adornments, it was also once common to add rosemary to the couple’s wine to help them remember their sacred vows to each other. Wedding guests are also given sprigs of rosemary to wear to help them remember the occasion.

At one time, it was customary for the bride and groom to plant rosemary near the marital threshold on their day of matrimony. However, the old saying "where rosemary flourished, the woman ruled," prompted some husbands to pluck the plant from the ground lest anyone should think he wasn’t fit to rule the roost. Perhaps this is why the practice fell out of favor by the late 15th century.

rosemary in bloom
for the bride and the groom

[ Rosemary in Bloom ] ~ from Monterey Bay Herb Company

[ Rosemary: A rose by any other name... ] ~ from Monterey Bay Spice

c. a rose by any
other name...

Rosemary takes its name from the Latin ros maris, which means “dew of the sea.” This is likely in reference to the herb’s preference for growing at low altittudes (albeit not necessarily along the coasts) of its indigenous domain. The name was combined in Middle English to rosmarine.

It was then further refined so as to emphasize the "Mary" which was in reference to an account of the Flight into Egypt. Reputedly while resting during the Virgin Mary and Christ child's journey to Egypt to escape King Herod, the Virgin hung her blue cloak on a rosemary bush thus causing its white flowers to turn blue. It has also been said that in her honor the plant came to be known as Rose of Mary, which was eventually shortened to the modern name rosemary—familiar to us today.

The Flight into Egypt
by Vittore Carpaccio
c 1500


[ The Lure of Lavender: In the Kitchen and Bath ] ~ from Monterey Bay Spice

d. rosemary &
uses beyond the kitchen

During the Middle Ages, rosemary was thought to be capable of dispelling negativity. As such, it was tucked under pillows to thwart nightmares and visits from evil spirits. It was also burned in the house to keep the black plague from entering. Perhaps this association with protection is why rosemary is still a common ingredient in incense used to cleanse sacred spaces. It was also thought to promote prosperity. In fact, 16th century merchants would often hire perfumers to infuse their shops with spirits of rosemary. The herb was also a popular addition to nosegays, wreaths, and other floral displays to encourage happiness of home and hearth.

Historically rosemary had a variety of uses. In one of the earliest herbals known to be printed in England, Rycharde Banckes recommended that one gather leaves of rosemary and “...boyle them in fayre water and drinke that water for it is much worthe against all manner of evils in the body." Indeed, rosemary was once thought to be a good for poor digestion, migraine, joint disorders, and muscle aches. In fact, Queen Elizabeth of Hungary was reputedly saved from a semi-paralysis when she sipped a concoction of rosemary to ease her painful joints. Hence, this formula came to be known as the infamous Hungary Water.

Today, rosemary is recognized as possessing a wealth of interesting components. For one thing, the plant contains salicylic acid, the forerunner of aspirin. This may explain why massaging the oil of rosemary into joints was sometimes used to ease arthritic or rheumatic pain. It also contains antibacterial and antimicrobial agents, and is used by modern herbalists in their cosemtic formulas made to address a variety of skin issues, including dandruff.

Researchers have discovered that certain phytochemicals in the herb prevent the degradation of acetylcholine, an important brain chemical needed for normal neurotransmission. A deficiency of this chemical is commonly seen in Alzheimer's patients.