Rosemary, or Rosmarinus officinalis, the common name we know it by comes from the original Latin name ros for dew and marinus for sea. This is definitely a herb you should know, or at least heard of before. It is so common in food (Italian and otherwise) that you will most definitely know it from it’s smell even if you have never seen it. It is a common herb used in home made and store bought sausages, and frequently is found in pizzas and tomato based pasta sauces. It is also great in breads, most meats and surprisingly very good with sweets. Rosemary is one of those super herbs that, along with lavender, ginger and peppermint, you should have around all the time if possible.
Rosemary has a long history with humanity, it was found referenced in cuneiform tablets which means it has been with humanity since the cradle of civilization. This plant is native to the Mediterranean, and its allure even grabs us now, I am sure if you have ever found a rosemary bush you are almost compelled to pause and enjoy it, take a sprig, or just rub your hand along it to get that lovely, almost pine like, smell.
Greeks and Romans associated rosemary to memory, and recall of facts, and it was frequently used to symbolize the remembrance of people who have passed. It was woven into hair of students to help with exams, since they believed it would help them recall the answers better. Sprigs were used in funeral ceremonies to indicate the deceased would not be forgotten, often a sprig was even thrown in with the body during burial. In Australia and New Zealand ANZAC forces are honored by people wearing a sprig of rosemary. Even Shakespeare has the tragic Ophelia mention its association with remembering. This association with memory is so strong that some studies have been done, but as of yet there is only some evidence that it could help improve memory, there are not enough definitive studies for this to be a concrete fact.
The ballad Scarborough Fair mentions rosemary, and is thought to have been a song relating to the black plague, due to the listing of herbs, or it could be a changed version of an earlier ballad the Elfin Knight. The song generally follows the pattern of a male requesting impossible tasks of his lady love, who then requests impossible tasks in return promising to do his once he has done her tasks. All of this tied in with the repeating, and almost definitely familiar thanks to Simon & Garfunkel, “parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.”
On a happier note, rosemary was also used in marriage and other ceremonies where it took on many folk meanings, such as you would dream of your future husband if you placed a sprig in your pillow, or it would ward off demons or nightmares. Another is if you smelled rosemary on Christmas Eve, you would have a year of health and happiness ahead of you. There is an association with the Holy Family. In some christian traditions, it is believed to be plant that Mary used to shelter the baby Jesus on their flight to Egypt. The pale blue of the flowers of rosemary is thought to be the same color of Mary’s cloak, that she placed over the bush to help hide him. An amusing one, was that where rosemary flourished there the wife ruled, which may have prompted some husbands to pull up rosemary so no one would think they weren’t the one in charge.
Napoleon was apparently very fond of it, because Josephine requested he bathed in it before entering her bedchamber. He even had it burning as incense on his deathbed. In Roman times it was burned near sickbeds to cleanse the air, and it was frequently used in the past as incense for both ritual and medicinal purposes. Even the people in the past knew it had a good antiseptic properties, and it was one of the many herbs that would have been effective in their use during the outbreaks of Bubonic plague, like others we have discussed before. The usual suspects mention rosemary’s medicinal qualities, like Dioscorides, and Culpepper. Even Thomas More (or Saint Thomas More) mentions that he lets it grow rampant in his garden not only because the bees liked it but it was for remembrance, and therefore friendship. Rosemary is a great addition to skin creams and the like it, it does have antioxidant properties, and it was said in the more ancient herbals that rosemary had wonderful skin restoring properties and if you –
“washe thy face therwith . . . thou shalt have a fayre face.”
There is legend that Elizabeth of Poland, Queen of Hungary used a form of rosemary water, called Hungary Water. She is credited with the bringing of the first perfume to the Western world, and was a frequent user of this simple scent. According to legend her frequent use apparently made her so foxy that at about 72 she had such youthful beauty that the King of Poland, who was 26, asked for her hand in marriage.
While that sounds a little too much like an infomercial for a cream made of rare ingredients that promises to bring you youth and beauty for ever, there may be a grain of truth to this. Rosemary will help with acne, and help in general with complexion as it is an antiseptic and is, again, high in antioxidants and even vitamin E. Rosemary oil is also great for treating dandruff, and a good addition to any shampoo just because it smells so lovely! Try using the recipe for the best shampoo ever, and add 6-10 drops of rosemary and 10 drops of sweet orange oil instead of additional lavender oil, this is a good shampoo if you have mild dandruff. Another dandruff solution, or to improve your scalp and encourage hair growth, you can put a few drops of rosemary oil on your hairbrush and brush it through your hair.
It also has the fantastic property of helping with digestion, and is a welcome tea to ease nausea from my medications or from pain. Personally though, my favorite uses for rosemary are not only its antiseptic/antibacterial uses but for stress reduction, treating inflammation and as an analgesic. It seems I never grow tired of this and it is so easy to add into meals and your routine since it is so versatile. Plus it is a good change up if peppermint or ginger isn’t working for you to settle your stomach.
Its antibacterial properties are well known, and it is why rosemary was often used in food preservation. Several medical studies have shown it is effective in inhibiting growth of Listeria monocytogenes, Bacillus cerus, and Staphlococcus aureus. It is great for a tea when you are feeling sick, or as an after dinner tea to aid in digestion, or just prevent any stomach issues as it helps to ease spasms and can reduce inflammation of the digestive tract.
- 8 oz Hot water, not boiling
- 1 teaspoon of Rosemary, you can use finely chopped fresh, or you can leave it mostly whole and strain
- Optional additions: 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of dried or fresh rosemary flowers, a bag of green tea, a few medallions of ginger, a teaspoon of hibiscus flowers, even a dash of parsley (fresh or dried) is very nice in this.
You can also use a half tablespoon of dried herbs if you do not have fresh, or you can grind the dried in your mortar, or spice grinder of choice, to create a matcha like powder you can use for tea as well. You may want to use a tea infuser if you do not want to filter the tea with cheese cloth (or your teeth if you are lazy), remember this needs to be steeped in a covered teacup, or teapot, for about 5-10 minutes. Add honey or your sweetener of choice if you need it sweeter, and do not use continuously for more than a few days at a time.
Rosemary tea like this can also be a great way to start your day on a cold morning, and it is a great wake up call to the brain on one of those foggy minded mornings. This is also a good way to get all the vitamins and minerals from rosemary (such as A, B, C and E, iron, calcium and magnesium) without the destructive heat of cooking that can break things down too far.
You can also brew this tea stronger for a bath as well
Rosemary Pain and Stress Tea Bath
- 16 oz of water
- 2-3 tablespoons of the rosemary fresh or dried
Add it to a hot bath for a muscle relaxing, stress relieving, soak. Rosemary has some great antispasmodic properties and can bring relief for muscle pains when used as a hot soak. Or you can use this strong tea as a wound wash, or compress for painful muscles, or across the forehead for a headache. You can always use 3-10 drops of rosemary essential oils instead of a tea in your bath, and you can add in lavender for a relaxing sleepy bath. But you would want to avoid using the rosemary oil for teas you drink as it can quickly become too much for the body and start to upset the stomach, or cause other issues.
Rosemary oil is also great as a massage oil to help with pain and muscle spasms topically, and decrease inflammation. When used in concert with turmeric pills, or Tulsi in a tea, it can go a long way to relieving back pain and even sciatic pain. When mixed with lavender oil or ginger oils it helps to relieve the pain of muscle spasms and will help decrease inflammation.
Rosemary Massage Oil for Muscle Pain and Spasms
- 1 oz Carrier oil
- 20-30 drops of Rosemary essential oil, use only 10-15 if you are adding the optional oils
- Optional additions: 10 drops ginger oil, 10 drops lavender oil, 10 drops chamomile oil (Roman or German), 5-10 drops peppermint, etc, etc.
Mix well and store in dark container, and massage directly into a painful area. This is a warming oil so as always with these make sure you avoid applying it to any sensitive skin areas. This is also great massaged into the temples or neck if you have a tension headache or migraine.
As I am generally a sucker for sweet stuff, nothing in the world is better than shortbread, unless that is shortbread with rosemary in it. Rosemary lends itself well to sweet surpsingly well, and not just savory dishes like meats and potatoes. These paired with Lavender Shortbread cookies are a fantastic gift for the holidays for those unexpected gifts or people who are hard to shop for.
Rosemary Shortbread Cookies
- 8 oz Unsalted butter, softened
- 2 tablespoons Fresh rosemary, finely chopped
- 1/2 cup Sugar (granulated white sugar)
- 2 cups all purpose flour
- 1/4 teaspoon salt (this is not in the Lavender Shortbread recipe but I add it to that one too)
In a bowl or stand mixer, cream butter and sugar together, sift in flour and add rosemary at the end. Dough should come together easily in your hand but not be a tight ball. Turn out onto floured surface and roll to about a 1/4 inch thickness. Cut out rounds or triangles, or whatever shapes you fancy, and chill for at least 2 hours. You can sprinkle with additional sugar before baking, or some fresh rosemary flowers, for a nice presentation. Bake in a 300 degree oven for about 20-30 minutes, you do not want to see any browning, they will almost look under cooked when you remove them. This is a key step, do not let it bake to browning stages!
Now, you can not mention rosemary and not bring up Four Thieves Vinegar. This is an old and long used recipe, and still exists in many modern formats. The original recipe seems to be long lost in the pages of time, but the legend of it goes like this…
During the Black Plague thieves (possibly from Marseilles, France) were able to rob houses and graves with impunity, and this was quickly noticed by the other villagers. Once the thieves were caught, the secret of their health was squeezed out of them. Some say by the promise of a hanging instead of burning, hanging preferable to the painful end that burning alive was. They said they used this vinegar recipe on their hands, feet, temples, and face masks that were worn while robbing plague houses and bodies.
Luckily in modern times you can purchase Thieves oil in a ready made form, and this is great for colds, or to add to hand sanitizing solutions and the like. Which you again can buy pre-made or you can make yourself. I prefer the DIY method as usual, and I highly suggest making this vinegar since it is great to use for cleaning most surfaces and is a great addition to the hand-sanitizer recipe listed after the vinegar. For accuracy’s sake I am going to list the oldest listed recipe I can find, and then my own variation of the vinegar.
Four Thieves Vinegar “Original”
- 3 pints White wine vinegar
- a handful (about a cup) of the following herbs: wormwood, meadowsweet, wild marjoram & sage
- 50 cloves
- 2 oz Angelic
- 2 oz Rosemary
- 2 oz Campanula roots
- 2 oz Horehound
- 3 cups of Camphor
Place in a container and seal for 15 days, shaking every day. Filter and use for cleaning, and topically on the body for antiseptic purposes. I don’t suggest ingesting this one at all, and should only be used for topical applications.
Four Thieves Vinegar “Modern”
- 2 pint bottle with a top you can seal (you can use a 2 pint mason jar, but I prefer the bottle for this one)
- 1 1/2 – 2 pints good white vinegar (you can use apple cider, I just like white for this)
- 2 tablespoons Rosemary
- 2 tablespoons Sage
- 2 tablespoons Lavender flowers
- 50 cloves
- 4 cloves of Garlic, peeled and diced or crushed
- Optional additions: You can include one or more of these in the amount of 2 tablespoons – fresh rue, peppermint, marjoram, or camphor dissolved in a strong spirit.
Finely chop the herbs and add to a bottle and cover with vinegar, do not fill all the way to the top leave some room, about 2 inches. If you add camphor do not ingest this internally, only use topically. Rue as well, if you include it do so sparingly if you want to ingest it. You can use this for cleaning, and for topical sanitizing. This is also surprisingly good in a vinaigrette and can be used for cooking if you like.
Cold and flu season is in full swing, and Four Thieves Vinegar is fantastic to use as a spray for disinfecting areas where sick people have been, or just for a general antibacterial surface cleaner.
Four Thieves Sanitizing Spray
- A spray bottle
- 1 part Four Thieves Vinegar
- 1 part Witch Hazel
Combine liquids in spray bottle, and use the mist and wipe down method to clean and disinfect surfaces.
You can also make a hand sanitizing gel just by adding some additional ingredients.
Four Thieves Sanitizing Hand Gel
- Pump container
- 1 part aloe gel
- 1 part Four Thieves Vinegar
- 1 part Witch hazel (you can substitute rubbing alcohol, or grain alcohol as well)
Mix liquids well, you can mix this with a spoon but I prefer a hand mixer or with a blender. Store in pump container, you can reuse an old alcohol sanitizer pump bottle, or you can check out your local stores selection of bottles for air travel and they tend to have great bottles for purse or travel use.
Remember these are only a few of the many uses for this very versatile herb, I am sure if you start using it you will come up with a few more ways. Remember before using any herbal or other medicine, do your own research and educate yourself. Everyone is different so do your own trails and see what works best for you, and always check WebMD for interactions. If you are ever in doubt about this in any way, always, always ask a professional!