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The Medicinal Herb Garden: Rosemary

August 29, 2013

The Medicinal Herb Garden: Rosemary

By Stephanie Ross, Director of the Complementary and Integrative Therapy Program, Health Sciences Department

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)

RosemaryCascades of rosemary emit a pungent, pine-like aroma with a woody camphoraceous note. This aromatic shrub has scaly bark and tiny pale-blue flowers that coalesce, nestled among dense leathery, needle-like leaves. It requires 100 pounds of rosemary in bloom to steam distill 1 pound of strong, clean and potent rosemary essential oil.

The genus name Rosmarinus is derived from Latin, meaning “dew of the sea” and was one of the first plants used for medicine, food and religious rituals. In ancient times rosemary was a highly esteemed aromatic plant by the East and West alike. The early Egyptians used it as a ritual cleansing incense and traces of rosemary have been found in First Dynasty tombs. To the Greeks and Romans it was a sacred plant, symbolizing both love and death. In the West, rosemary has been associated for centuries with faithfulness and friendship, as in Ophelia’s much quoted line from Hamlet:

“There’s rosemary; that’s for remembrance.

Pray, love, remember.” 

Rosmarinus officinalis was first mentioned in Europe in the 11th century. The dried herb was commonly burned as a purifying incense and as protection against contagious disease, including the plague.

In aromatherapy, rosemary essential oil is used as a tonic for the nerves, as a very effective nerve stimulant, and it is effective for nervous disability and general dullness. It has a refreshing, invigorating scent, which has a reviving, uplifting effect on the spirit and helps to provide mental clarity. Rosemary has a pronounced action on the brain and is a classic remedy for fainting, headache and dizziness.

Rosemary should not be used in pregnancy, with epileptic patients and those individuals experiencing hypersensitivity.