Rosmarinus officinalis


This well known and tasty culinary herb also has an ancient history as a medicinal and magical herb. The genus name means “dew-of-the-sea.” Native to the Mediterranean, rosemary was used by the Romans as hedges and by the ancient Greeks to adorn young women. An old saying goes "where rosemary flourishes, there a strong woman rules." Legends say that a rosemary bush sheltered the Virgin Mary on her journey into Egypt. I could never quite picture that until I found wild rosemary bushes in Southern Italia growing 10 feet wide and 6 feet tall!

Referred to in old herbals as a cure-all, rosemary is a supreme cardiac tonic that energizes the circulatory system. To help bring down high blood pressure, my mother used a standard dose: one or two cups of rosemary infusion daily, or up to 20 drops of fresh rosemary tincture in water twice a day.

Rosemary is also a nervine, antidepressant and restorative tonic for the entire nervous system. Grandmothers use rosemary infusion to help alleviate headaches and lift depression. Uplifting and energizing, rosemary is an excellent brain tonic, clearing the mind and improving memory. Wild hearted wise women enlist rosemary as an ally when dealing with fatigue, exhaustion, stress and nervous anxiety.

Loaded with antioxidants, which help prevent cancer and forestall the signs of aging, rosemary is also helpful fighting infections caused by bacteria and fungi. Rosemary inhibits food-spoiling organisms as efficiently as the commercial food preservatives BHA and BHT. Before refrigeration, people would rub rosemary into meat to retard spoilage.

The Chinese use rosemary with ginger to treat headache, indigestion and insomnia. Europeans traditionally used it as a smoking herb, combined with coltsfoot, to treat asthma, bronchial ailments and sore throat.

My Southern Italia neighbors love rosemary! It is extremely widespread throughout our area, growing wild, free and huge on the sunny slopes of our mountains and along the sea coast. Rosmarino, as we call it, is a valued addition to many meals not only because we appreciate the flavor, but also because it aids digestion and stimulates the appetite. Rosemary is antispasmodic, carminative and promotes the flow of bile, all making it a great digestive tonic. Sipping warm infusion relieves stomach discomfort and gas.

One especially common practice is to simmer rosemary branches in a pot of water, sometimes with other aromatic plants, and allowing the vapors, or steam, to relieve the aches and pains of both muscles and joints. A rosemary foot bath is also popularly used for its nerve soothing and anti-stress effects. Rosemary's analgesic action brings blood flow to an area, helps ease tense muscles and inflamed joints and relieves arthritic/rheumatic conditions.

Fresh rosemary tinctured in rubbing alcohol is a stimulating liniment known as Queen of Hungary water. First made in the thirteenth century, it cured the paralysis of Queen Elizabeth of Hungary. She is said to have used it continuously and her simple formula for making it is preserved in Vienna. Rubbed in vigorously, rosemary liniment is also effective for relieving gout in the hands and feet. I find rosemary baths, compresses, and poultices similarly therapeutic.

To make an invigorating treatment for hair and scalp, use infused oil of fresh rosemary. Rosemary oil promotes healthy hair follicles, brings renewed vitality, helps moisturize hair, prevents premature loss and keeps scalp dandruff-free. Infused rosemary oil even prevents infestations of lice. During outbreaks at the local school, I rubbed it into my children's hair and scalp, checking carefully for nits. This works only when we know about the problem beforehand. It isn't a cure.  

The young buds of rosemary are used to make a gemmotherapy elixir. Indications for use include countering chronic allergies, regulating the function of the liver and gallbladder and to a slighter degree, the kidneys, and to relieve chronic nervousness.

Flower Essence I use rosemary flower essence to cultivate wisdom in love and loyalty.

Magical Lore Rosemary is an herb of protection. I burn a bit before bed to ward off disturbing dreams. Burned or carried, sprigs of rosemary enhance the sacredness of any occasion. Mixing it with juniper (Juniperus communis) is especially clearing. In parts of Wales, rosemary is carried during a funeral, and thrown onto the casket before burial as a blessing for the departed. Around our village in Italia it is planted at the entrance to a home or garden as protection against negativity and harm. A sprig is often used as a sprinkler for holy water, to cleanse and bless, or burned as incense to clear the air and at night before bed to protect against disturbing dreams.

A symbol of lovers' fidelity for more than two thousand years, rosemary is still put in bridal bouquets and offered to wedding guests. Rosemary signifies true friendship, and as Shakespeare's Ophelia reminds Hamlet, “There's rosemary, that's for remembrance; pray, love, remember.”

Culture Rosemary is a perennial that grows as a five or six foot high shrubby bush loaded with flowers. Home in Maine, we have to bring our rosemary inside before the first frosts. High humidity and above-freezing temperatures keep it green - I love growing rosemary! It's magical the way it starts off so teeny tiny and then grows in its sandy, sunny well-drained bed into a vibrant, resinous, aromatic pine-like shrub during just one season. And, the smell! Cutting rosemary for harvest is pure heaven, comparable only to lavender for the peaceful, contented spell it weaves. And, honey bees love rosemary too.

I harvest rosemary sprigs any time they are green and vibrant. Some I bundle fresh into smudge sticks and some I dry on screens or hang in bunches for cooking, teas and infusions. I also tincture fresh rosemary and infuse it in oil, vinegar or honey.

WARNING! Pregnant women steer clear of strong rosemary infusion or essential oil. Studies indicate rosemary may excite the uterus, but in amounts typically used for cooking it is perfectly safe.


I love myself.

The quietest, simplest,

most powerful revolution ever.

-Nayyirah Waheed

Return to Materia Medica