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Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)

© Kat Morgenstern, December 2006

Rosemary is a familiar culinary herb of the semi-arid costal Mediterranean climate zone. Those who are not lucky enough to live within this climatically favoured region will have to either grow their own in pots that can be over-wintered indoors, or forage for it at the local grocery store. In the coastal belt around the Mediterranean Sea it is a common herb. In fact, its very name refers to its fondness of the sea - 'rosmarinus' means 'Dew of the Sea', indicating that this herb likes to be 'kissed' by the salty mist coming in from the sea - even though it is not exactly an herb of the shore. In the wild it never grows too far away. Some, however, feel that the name is perhaps an allusion to the light blue flowers which on a bush covered in them have take the appearance of the sea foam on the crest of a wave.

The reason I talk about it here in the winter issue, is because it is one of the earliest flowering herbs and the wild coastal garrigue hillsides will soon burst into a fragrant lilac blush of rosemary flowers in January - much to the delight of sleepy bees looking for fresh nourishment. And hence soon there will also be aromatic Rosemary honey to be found at local markets - a highly prized regional speciality.

However, unless you are a bee, Rosemary does not provide a whole lot of nourishment. Yet, it is a welcome foraging crop for home made herb mixtures such as Herbes de Provençe', or to flavour the easter lamb roast.

rosemary bush (41K)Rosemary is rich in essential oils, which are obtained from the needle-like leaves rather than the flowers. The essential oil is the main source of its medicinal powers. Rosemary stimulates the circulation, particularly to the head, which is why it is traditionally associated with memory and hence remembrance, friendship and love, even though its scent is rather pungent and anything but lovely. Rosemary also possess some bitter substances that aid digestion. It 'warms' the stomach and stimulates liver and gallbladder, thus explaining its use for flavouring greasy meats. The bitters help to break down the fats and thus aid the digestive process.

Rosemary was one of the earliest herbs to have been used as incense - particularly in combination with Juniper berries, a tradition that has continued into modern times. It is still commonly used as an antiseptic incense to fumigate sick rooms or as purifying aromatic sauna or bath herb. Traditionally herbalists made a hair rinse or shampoo with it to stimulate hair growth and it has always had its place in the still room where its essence was added to skin tonics, lotions and oils. The humble Rosemary is a versatile herb that ought to be remembered!

recipes (1K)

Rosemary Hair Rinse

The simplest way to let your hair benefit from the tonic power of Rosemary is to simply make a strong infusion of 1 tablespoon of dried rosemary leaves to ½ liter of water - infuse with boiling water and steep until cold or cool, strain and massage into the scalp. Leave it for a few minutes, then rinse it out.It is best when prepared fresh, but it will keep a few days in the fridge.

Rosemary Shampoo

Unscented shampoo bases are readily available at many stores these days. Get one you like and add a few drops of Rosemary Essential Oil to it.

Rosemary stimulates hair growth and tonifies the scalp. However, it is more recommended for brown or dark hair as it naturally darkens hair over time.

Vinegar of the 4 thieves

This concoction is an extremely powerful and potent antibacterial and antiviral. It is not for taking internally, but if you want to protect yourself against and free-floating bugs it is handy to have around for wipes, to rub your hands and face with it and to sniff it occasionally. The remedy originates in the 17th century when the plague ravaged France. The four infamous thieves somehow found the recipe and managed to protect themselves against the plague, even as they were robbing the dead and dying. When they were caught the prosecuters spared their lives on condition that they had to reveal their secret formula.

The original formula for the Four Thieves Vinegar is found in The Practice Of Aromatherapy by Jean Valnet, a physician who has devoted his life to the study of herbs and essential oils for therapeutic use and is credited for the modern term 'aromatherapy'. It appears in his writings as follows:

Vinegar of the Four Thieves

Steep the herbs in the vinegar for 10 days. Strain through a sieve. Add camphor, then filter. Rub on face and hands and burn in room. Additionally, keep in small bottles for the vapors to be sniffed. Avoid contact with eyes. From http://waywardwaif.typepad.com/waywardwaif/2005/11/avian_flu_virus.html

Cooking with Rosemary

Rosemary goes great with roasts - both vegetable and meats. Whether you are roasting a goose or lamb chops, or a pan full of root vegetables, a spring of rosemary transforms the dish and adds a delightful, herbal aromatic flavour.

For questions or comments email: kmorgenstern@sacredearth.com

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Please note that although all the references to edible and medicinal herbs are tried and tested, their efficacy cannot be guaranteed and has not been approved by the FDA. Furthermore, everybody responds differently to various plants, and adverse reactions cannot be ruled out. Historical information regarding poisonous plants is included for educational purposes only and should not be tried out at home. Everybody uses herbs at their own risk and thus must make themselves fully aware of their potential power. Any information given here is educational and should not replace a visit to the doctor should this be necessary. Neither Sacred Earth nor Kat Morgenstern accepts responsibility for anybody's home experimentation. Links to external sites are included as pointers to further resources - we do not endorse them or are in any way responsible for their content, nor do we thus verify that their content is accurate.