2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Plants

Rosemary in flower
Rosemary in flower
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Magnoliophyta
Class: Magnoliopsida
Order: Lamiales
Family: Lamiaceae
Genus: Rosmarinus
Species: R. officinalis
Binomial name
Rosmarinus officinalis

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. Forms range from upright to trailing; the upright forms can reach 1.5 m tall, rarely 2 m. The leaves are evergreen, 2-4 cm long and 2-5 mm broad, green above, and white below with dense short woolly hairs. The flowers are variable in colour, being white, pink, purple, or blue.

The name rosemary has nothing to do with the rose or the name Mary, but derives from the Latin name rosmarinus, which is presumed to mean "dew of the sea", though some think this too may be derived from an earlier name.

Rosemary is often commonly associated with memory and/or remembrance of the past.

Cultivation and uses

The fresh and dried leaves are used frequently in traditional Mediterranean cuisine as a herb; a tisane can also be made from them. They are extensively used in cooking, and when burned gives off a distinct mustard smell.

Since it is attractive and tolerates some degree of drought, it is also used in landscaping, especially in areas having a Mediterranean climate. It can in fact die in over-watered soil, but is otherwise quite easy to grow for beginner gardeners. It is very pest-resistant.

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 too 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 10-15 cm 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
  • '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
  • 'Prostratus'
  • 'Pyramidalis' (a.k.a 'Erectus'): pale blue flowers
  • 'Roseus': pink flowers
  • 'Severn Sea': spreading, with arching branches; flowers deep violet
  • 'Tuscan Blue': upright

Rosemary is a useful food preservative, according to research published in 1987 by Rutgers University, New Jersey. Researchers at Rutgers patented a chemical derived from rosemary that compares favourably with BHA and BHT in its preservative properties.

Rosemary can be added as an unusual extra flavouring in lemonade.

Medicinal uses

Rosemary has been found to be a stimulant and mild analgesic, and has been used to treat headaches, poor circulation, and many ailments for which stimulants are prescribed.

Rosemary essential oil is a powerful convulsant; if applied to the skin, it may cause seizures in otherwise healthy adults or children .

It can be used as a disinfectant, as a mouth wash and to treat fever or rheumatism.

Externally it can be used in hair lotions; a few drops of Rosemary oil massaged into the scalp, then rinsed with an infusion of nettles can revitalise the hair. Used in this manner it supposed to prevent premature baldness. Rosemary is also reported to stop dandruff.

Hungary water was first invented for a Queen of Hungary to 'renovate vitality of paralysed limbs'. It was used externally and is prepared by mixing 180g of fresh rosemary tops in full flower into a litre of spirits of wine. Leave to stand for four days then distill. It is also supposed to work as a remedy against gout if rubbed vigoursly on hands and feet.

For a tonic against headaches put some sprigs into a teapot, add hot water, strain, and serve.

Rosemary has a very old reputation for improving memory, and has been used as a symbol for remembrance (as in worn during weddings, war commemorations and funerals) in Europe, probably as a result of this reputation. Students in ancient Greece are reported to have worn sprigs of rosemary in their hair while studying for exams to improve their memory, and 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".

Rosemary and its constituents carnosol and ursolic acid have been shown to inhibit the growth of skin tumors and to provide a natural anti-oxidant protection against skin cancer and photodamage.

Don Quixote (Chapter XVII, 1st volume) mixes it in its recipe of the miraculous balm of Fierabras with revolting results.

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