Rosemary, the remembrance herb

Rosmarinus officinalis

is a woody, perennial herb with fragrant, evergreen, needle-like leaves and white, pink, purple, or blue flowers, native to the Mediterranean region. It is a member of the mint family Lamiaceae, which includes many other herbs. The name “rosemary” derives from the Latin for “dew” (ros) and “sea” (marinus), or “dew of the sea”.[2] The plant is also sometimes called anthos, from the ancient Greek word ἄνθος, meaning “flower”.[3] Rosemary has a fibrous root system. [7]It  flourishes in well-drained, alkaline soil. It prefers sunny condition and needs protection shelter from gusty winds. The plant reaches about 1.5-3 meters in height. Its bushy stems and downy young shoots are covered with about 1 inch long, narrow, needle-like aromatic leaves; dark green above and grayish underneath. The plant bears short racemes of small sea blue flowers appearing in early summer. [3]

Rosemary contains substances that are useful for stimulating the immune system, increasing circulation, and improving digestion. Rosemary also contains anti-inflammatory compounds that may make it useful for reducing the severity of asthma attacks. In addition, rosemary has been shown to increase the blood flow to the head and brain, improving concentration. [1]

Rosemary is rich in carnosic acid, which dilates the cerebral vascular tissues and enhances blood flow. The scent of rosemary can improve memory performance in office workers. Rosemary helps to enhance memory, calm nerves, stimulates the circulatory system, and helps prevent the breakdown of neurotransmitters in the brain. It can be seeped in hot water to make tea just before strenuous work. [2]

History & Mythology

According to legend, it was draped around the Greek goddess Aphrodite when she rose from the sea, born of Uranus’s semen. The Virgin Mary is said to have spread her blue cloak over a white-blossomed rosemary bush when she was resting, and the flowers turned blue. The shrub then became known as the ‘Rose of Mary’ [7]

Although rosemary is native to the Mediterranean, it now grows throughout much of the temperate regions in Europe and America. Rosemary has been a prized seasoning and natural medicine for millennia. Part of rosemary’s popularity came from the widespread belief that rosemary stimulated and strengthened the memory, a quality for which it is still traditionally used. In ancient Greece, students would place rosemary sprigs in their hair when studying for exams, and mourners would also throw the fragrant herb into the grave of the deceased as a symbol of remembrance. In olde England, rosemary’s ability to fortify the memory transformed it into a symbol of fidelity, and it played an important role in the costumes, decorations and gifts used at weddings. Rosemary oil was first extracted in the 14th century, after which it was used to make Queen of Hungary water, a very popular cosmetic used at that time. In the 16th and 17th centuries, rosemary became popular as a digestive aid in apothecaries. Recently, as modern research focuses on the beneficial active components in rosemary, our appreciation for this herb’s therapeutic as well as culinary value has been renewed. [1]

It has been referred to from the latter part of the Elizabethan Era to the Early Romantic period as the herb of remembrance. In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Ophelia says, “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance.” (Hamlet, iv. 5.) It has also long been used as a symbol for remembrance during weddings, war commemorations and funerals in Europe and Australia. [1]

Mourners in old times would wear it as a buttonhole, burn it as incense or throw it into graves as a symbol of remembrance for the dead.
It seems that this tradition of Rosemary may actually far more ancient and have its origins in the Arabic world of medieval times, which was greatly advanced in science: In Henry Lyte’s 1578 “Niewe Herball“, an English version of Rembert Dodoens’ French treatise, it is written “The Arrabians and their successors Physitions, do say that Rosemarie comforteth the brayne, the memory and the inward senses, and that it restoreth speech, especially the conserve made of the flowers, thereof with Sugar, to be received daily.” [2]
Because of this seemingly esoteric association, rosemary has at times been made into a sort of herbal-amulet, where it was placed beneath pillowcases, or simply smelt as a bouquet, and it was believed that using rosemary in these ways could protect the sleeper from nightmares, as well as increase their memory. [2]

Nutrition & Health benefits

Rosemary leaves contain certain phyto-chemical (plant derived) compounds that are known to have disease preventing and health promoting properties.

The herb parts, especially flower tops contain phenolic anti-oxidant rosmarinic acid as well as numerous health benefiting volatile essential oils such as cineol, camphene, borneol, bornyl acetate, α-pinene, etc. These compounds are known to have rubefacient (counterirritant), anti-inflammatory, anti-allergic, anti-fungal and anti-septic properties.

Rosemary leaves provide just 131 calories per 100 g and contain no cholesterol. Apart from nutrients, this humble herb contains many noteworthy non-nutrient components such as dietary fiber (37% of RDA).

The herb is exceptionally rich in many B-complex groups of vitamin, such as folic acid, pantothenic acid, pyridoxine, riboflavin. It is one of the herbs contain high levels of folates; providing about 109 µg per 100 g (about 27% of RDA). Folates are important in DNA synthesis and when given during the peri-conception period can help prevent neural tube defects in the newborn babies.

Rosemary herb contains very good amounts of vitamin A, 2924 IU per 100 g; about 97% of RDA. A few leaves a day in the diet, would contribute enough of this vitamin. Vitamin A is known to have antioxidant properties and is essential for vision. It is also required for maintaining healthy mucus membranes and skin. Consumption of natural foods rich in vitamin A is known to help the body protect from lung and oral cavity cancers.

Fresh rosemary leaves are a good source of antioxidant vitamin; vitamin-C containing about 22 mg per 100 g, about 37% of RDA. The vitamin is required for the collagen synthesis in the body. Collagen is the main structural protein in the body required for maintaining the integrity of blood vessels, skin, organs, and bones. Regular consumption of foods rich in vitamin C helps the body protect from scurvy; develop resistance against infectious agents (boosts immunity) and help scavenge harmful, pro-inflammatory free radicals from the body.

Rosemary herb parts, whether fresh or dried, are rich source of minerals like potassium, calcium, iron, manganese, copper, and magnesium. Potassium is an important component of cell and body fluids, which helps control heart rate and blood pressure. Manganese is used by the body as a co-factor for the antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase.

This herb is an excellent source of iron, contains 6.65 mg/100 g of fresh leaves (about 83% of RDA). Iron, being a component of hemoglobin inside the red blood cells, determines the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood. [3]

To see an in-depth nutritional profile click here. [1]

Picking & Storing

Whenever possible, choose fresh rosemary over the dried form of the herb since it is far superior in flavor. The springs of fresh rosemary should look vibrantly fresh and should be deep sage green in color, and free from yellow or dark spots. Fresh rosemary should be stored in the refrigerator either in its original packaging or wrapped in a slightly damp paper towel. You can also place the rosemary sprigs in ice cube trays covered with either water or stock that can be added when preparing soups or stews. Dried rosemary should be kept in a tightly sealed container in a cool, dark and dry place where it will keep fresh for about six months. [1]

Preparing & Uses

Quickly rinse rosemary under cool running water and pat dry. Most recipes call for rosemary leaves, which can be easily removed from the stem. Alternatively, you can add the whole sprig to season soups, stews and meat dishes, then simply remove it before serving.

Rosmarinic acid, a natural polyphenolic antioxidant found in rosemary, has been found to have anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, and anti-oxidant functions. Apart from the rosemary, other popular herbs like Sage, peppermint, oregano, thyme herbs also contain appreciable levels of rosmarinic acid.

Rosemary oil which is distilled from the flowering tops contains volatile essential oil such as camphene, cineol, borneol, bornyl acetate and other esters. These compounds are known to have tonic, astringent, diaphoretic, and stimulant properties.

Its herbal oil is also being used externally as a rubefacient to soothe painful ailments in gout, rheumatism and neuralgic conditions.

Rosemary herb extractions when applied over the scalp known to stimulate the hair-bulbs and help prevent premature baldness. It forms an effectual remedy for the prevention of scurf and dandruff.

Rosemary tea is a natural remedy for nervous headache, colds, and depression. [3]

Rosemary-infused olive oil 

Strain Step 4.jpg

Perfect for adding to the bath and it is a great help for easing sore muscles or giving yourself a refreshing boost. It can also be consumed, adding flavours to a variety of dishes.

Place the finely chopped rosemary leaves into the glass jar. Top up with olive oil. [As a rough rule of thumb, use two cups of oil to one cup of plant material] Put the lid on. Shake a little. Store the jar in a warm, dark place. Leave the oil to infuse for a few days, or until the plant material begins to brown. Take the cap off and sniff – if it is not strong enough for you, strain the liquid, fill the jar with fresh plant material, and pour the oil back over it. Leave for another few days. Keep doping this until the mixture is as aromatic as you want. Strain the oil after two weeks. Pour into a storage container or back into the glass jar. [4]

You use the same method for making aromatic vinegar. Choose a good quality wine or apple cider vinegar and pour it over your herb sprigs. Leave for a few days in a warm place and you will have a delicious addition to salad dressings. [6]


Sources:

[1] http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=75

[2] http://naturehacks.com/5-herbs-that-improve-memory/

[3] http://www.nutrition-and-you.com/rosemary-herb.html

[4] http://www.wikihow.com/Make-Rosemary-Oil

[5] http://ahealthylifeforme.com/how-to-make-rosemary-essential-oil/

[6] http://www.doityourself.com/stry/makearomaoils#b

[7] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosemary

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