December 01st 2011 - Mad Ophelia tells us: "There's Rosemary, that's for remembrance". In Shakespeare's day it was common knowledge that rosemary helped one remember. Today, as then, herbalists agree: "For weyknesse of ye brayne, sethe rosemaria in wyne and keep ye heed warme". The leaves of this tough, evergreen shrub, are valued for both medicinal and culinary uses. And, the powerful antioxidant vitamins found therein do help the brain work better.
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) is an especially aromatic member of the mint family. When grown in dry, poor soils in hot areas, a little protected, but touched by the winds, rosemary rewards us with minerals, vitamins, and antiseptic, antibacterial volatile oils which extract easily into water, vinegar, alcohol, and fat. While evergreen, and thus usable at any time of the year, rosemary is considered most medicinal when flowering. A large pinch of dried rosemary in food acts as a preservative. A strong brew of the fresh or dried leaves makes a particularly effective wound wash.
Old herbals hint that rosemary exerts its influence magically as well as physically. Burned as an incense, twined into a wreath, or grown in a pot, rosemary protects the house and those who live in it, especially the women. Added to the wedding bouquet, it insures fidelity. Tied with silk ribbons and given to the wedding guests, it spreads loving kindness.
"As for Rosmarine, I let it runne all over my garden walls, not onlie because my bees love it, but because it is the herb sacred to remembrance, and, therefore, to friendship …" said Sir Thomas More several hundred years ago, with a smile.
Juliette de Bairacli Levy repeats an old, old story about rosemary: When Mary and Joseph were fleeing with the infant Jesus, Mary placed her damp blue cloak on the rosemary bush to dry it. The rosemary, thus blessed, forever more has had blue flowers, and the absolute power to protect against evil. A sprig of rosemary hung by the door banishes all thieves; a bush of rosemary growing by the door allows only love to enter.
Rosemary is a traditional Christmas decoration - partly because it smells good, and partly because pruning rosemary back mid-winter makes it stronger and healthier. So don't hesitate to cut bunches of it for beauty. If you take your decorative rosemary down before it gets too dry, it can be used for cooking or as a smudge.
The dense smoke (smudge) produced by burning dried rosemary is equally favored in religious, mystical, and medicinal settings. When frankincense and myrrh - expensive and foreign resins - are in short supply, rosemary stands in for them in the church's - or the pagans - censors. During the plague years, and thereafter in many hospitals, the burning of rosemary reliably cleared the air and countered airborne infections. By extension, rosemary was given to mourners to protect them from contagion. It was laid in the coffin to preserve the body. And it was cast into the grave at the end of the funeral.
In England, a branch of rosemary was placed in the dock of the courts of justice as a preventative against jail-fever. To ward off moths, lay it in your woolen chest.
European ladies, princesses, and even queens used rosemary in many ways to enhance their beauty. They tied it into a cloth to keep fleas away; they smelled it to "keep youngly”; they soaked it in wine and used it to wash their faces so they would be "light and lovely"; they added it to their bath water so they would "wax shiny and be merrie"; and they stopped bad dreams by placing rosemary under the bed.
Modern ladies praise rosemary's ability to make their scalp healthy and dander free, and their hair lush, thick, and dark. To make a rosemary hair rinse, brew a full ounce of dried rosemary in a quart of boiling water overnight. After you've washed your hair, pour the dark, sweet-smelling rosemary liquid over your head, rubbing well into the scalp. Leave it be; no need to rinse it out. If you have very bad dandruff, add a tablespoon of borax per half cup of rosemary hair rinse just before use. Lavaggio, a hair tonic made from an Italian folk recipe that is 99% rosemary, is available for sale for those who don't want to do it themselves.
Recent research has found that the heart has memory cells just like the brain. No wonder rosemary is renowned as a heart tonic, too! The oldest recipes call for soaking several handfuls of fresh rosemary in a large glass of white wine for several days, then sipping the wine to ease palpitations, strengthen weak hearts, and heal broken hearts. Rosemary in capsules, or rosemary tincture in large doses, can raise blood pressure however, so I stick to tea or external applications.
Rosemary infused oil or ointment (not the essential oil, which can cause poisoning) eases the pain of arthritis, improves flexibility of the joints, counters and sometimes cures eczema, and hastens wound healing. If you don't have the oil, rosemary tea can be used instead.
Rosemary tea has a beneficial effect on the lungs and breathing. If you have a cold, rosemary tea is happy to help you feel better. Too tired and sick to do anything? Just throw a big handful of rosemary in canned chicken soup and heat. For best effect, let steep for an hour, then eat it. Ahhh. When imbibing rosemary tea, feel free to add honey*, especially if your throat is scratchy and sore.
Rosemary, like all its mint sisters, is antispasmodic, mildly so as a tea, more strongly in vinegar, and powerfully as a tincture. Not only does it relieve nervous pains and headaches, rosemary eases all digestive woes, from gas to gall bladder problems. A tablespoon or two of the vinegar on salad is an easy way to take this remedy. Because of the danger of kidney damage, I use small (1-5 drop) doses of rosemary tincture, and only occasionally.
As a seasoning, rosemary feeds the brain and helps prevent cancer. As a medicine, rosemary restores memory and improves digestion.
No wonder boxes made of rosemary wood are considered magical. As rosemary is only happy when commanded by a woman, its magic is most suited to the needs of women. Perhaps Pandora's box was made of rosemary wood. For sure, your life will be more magical when you remember rosemary.
*Note: Do not give honey to babies under 12 months old.
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