Medical Parts: Leaves, flowering tops.
Description: Rosemary is an evergreen shrub which originated in the Mediterranean area and is now widely cultivated for its aromatic leaves and as a kitchen seasoning.
Properties and Uses: Antispasmodic, cholagogue, emmenagogue, stimulant, stomachic. The stimulant action of rosemary helps promote liver function, the production of bile, and proper digestion. It also acts to raise blood pressure and The Lost Book of Herbal improve circulation. Because of the genuine danger of poisoning, however, rosemary is more often used externally.1
As popular as rosemary is today, its’ place in herb lore is what I find most fascinating. Rosemary flourishes in the Mediterranean area. Near the sea, there are veritable hedges of rosemary stretching as far as the eye can see, filling the air with its pungent, heady aroma.
In ages past rosemary was associated with female dominance; or as the old saying goes, “where rosemary flourishes the misses is master.” So prevalent was this belief that men were known to come home late at night, pruning sheers in hand, to cut back the rosemary bushes near their front gate, before the neighbors started to talk.
In herb lore, rosemary was considered a useful remedy for headaches, upset stomach, to ward off disease or calm the brain. It was thought a sprig of rosemary placed beneath a child’s pillow at night would keep away nightmares; and rosemary was often woven into the bridal bouquet as a symbol of fidelity.
Today, rosemary is as common in most spice cupboards as salt or pepper. While it may have lost some of its mystery over the intervening years, it has lost none of its usefulness. Rosemary is a common ingredient in many shampoos and conditioners, hand creams and cosmetics. (For a great hair tonic recipe please refer to my article on Nettles).
While dried rosemary can be purchased at virtually any grocery story, there is something immensely satisfying about growing the herb yourself. People often have difficulty growing rosemary, primarily because they treat it far too kindly.
Rosemary grows best in the temperate climate of the Mediterranean, but it does so in the highly acidic, sandy soil of the region. When planting rosemary, ignore the specialty packages of potting soil and fertilizers. If you happen to live in a region with very poor, sandy soil, you’re definitely in luck. Stick the plant directly into that lousy sand, in a sunny location, water it generously, and then leave it alone. The less attention and care it gets, the better it will do.
Rosemary will also do well in a pot near your front gate (a fun way to torment your husband). Just remember to give it lousy soil and lots of sun. Rosemary does not do well if over-watered. It is also extremely difficult to get rosemary to grow well indoors. Not even my grandmother, raised in the Mediterranean and a rosemary enthusiast, could keep hers alive indoors.
I have had some success keeping rosemary alive through a mild winter by heavily covering the roots with a dense compost, then wrapping the entire plant in burlap. But if you live in a northern climate, you will probably have to settle for replanting each spring. Don’t worry; with lots of sun, rosemary will grow quite rapidly.