Rosemary, a great aromatic plant with many properties and uses, known since antiquity to Egyptians, Romans, and Greeks. The name “rosemary” comes from the words “tree” and “frankincense”, while its scientific name Rosmarinus refers to “the coolness of the sea”. Its relationship with the sea arises both due to the color of its flowers and the fact that it grows close to the sea.
Rosemary is a plant native to the temperate regions of the Mediterranean. In Greece, we find it both as a native and as (mainly) cultivated, while it is a favorite ornamental plant that due to its great adaptability can decorate gardens, pots, flower beds in areas with different climatic characteristics.
Rosemary is a shrub with great endurance
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) belongs to a family of plants (Lamiaceae) that includes herbs such as basil, lavender, mint, sage and thyme, culinary, ornamental herbs, with many medicinal properties due to the essential oils they contain. Rosemary is an evergreen shrub that can grow up to one meter in height. Its characteristic thin, leathery and very fragrant leaves are characteristic while depending on the variety, more ortho-branched or side-branched plants can adorn it. Rosemary flowers are cyan-violet and can be found almost all year round. However, general flowering takes place in early spring.
Rosemary is a plant that can withstand both the high temperatures of summer and the low of winter, while it can thrive at altitudes up to 600 meters. It is a plant that loves the sun and if we help it a little at the beginning with frequent watering, it soon develops a rich root system that helps it cope even in dry fields (watered only by rainwater). It is a plant that is easily propagated by cuttings, small parts of the tops that can be collected either in Autumn or early Spring.
Proper management of rosemary
Rosemary can be productive for over 15 years. We choose to collect its leaves just before the beginning of flowering as then the essential oils of the leaves are at the highest levels. Immediately after collection, we take them to a dark and well-ventilated area to be dried. Once the leaves break when we bend them (and they are not elastic), it means that the leaves are ready for storage. We place them in a container well protected from the sun and the wind. During the drying process, the plant loses a significant part of its weight, so the ingredients of the dried herbs are more concentrated so that smaller quantities are required during our preparations than if we would use fresh. And here we will share with you a secret for choosing quality rosemary. Color is a key element that reveals its quality. The green color tells us that its leaves have dried properly. And if stored in the above conditions to offer us their properties and aromas for the coming years at any time.
A plant with a rich tradition
Such a fragrant and beautiful shrub has been known since antiquity so the traditions associated with rosemary are many. In ancient times, rosemary was a symbol of remembrance and an emblem of faith. According to tradition, the Roman soldiers shortly before the battle gave a sprig of rosemary to their best friend – comrade, who would keep it with him as a sign of trust, friendship, and memory.
The ancient Greeks considered it a godsend, a gift of Aphrodite and the students wore rosemary wreaths when they had exams because it helped concentration and memory. Dioskourides mentions it as the “fourth incense burner”, it was used a lot as a perfume and cosmetic, while it was burned as incense. Along with myrtle and laurel, they made bouquets for coronations, while they also used it in funeral processions.
Rosemary has great medicinal properties
Rosemary is traditionally used for both culinary and medicinal purposes. According to folk medicine the leaves of the plant (fresh or dried) are used against inflammation, abdominal and stomach pain, convulsions, arthritis, gout attacks, rheumatism. At the same time, studies report the traditional use of rosemary for disorders of the nervous system, especially against headaches, depression, as well as as a memory enhancer, sedative, and relaxant.
The properties of rosemary are due to the essential oil contained in the leaves of the plant, which contains, among other things, phenolic compounds with the main representative’s flavonoids and phenolic acids. Among the biologically active ingredients contained in the leaves are rosmarinic acid, carnosol, and carnosic acid.
Today it is one of the most popular sources of natural bioactive compounds, and according to studies, the plant exerts various pharmacological activities such as antibacterial, anti-diabetic, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant. It is worth noting that the European Union has approved rosemary extract as a safe and effective natural antioxidant for food preservation. In addition, according to modern studies, the carnosic acid contained in rosemary can protect the brain from various diseases related to aging and neurodegenerative conditions.
Ways to use rosemary
The characteristic aroma of rosemary in combination with its unique properties makes it very popular among aromatic herbs and can be used both in cooking and as an herbal tea, alone or as part of a mixture. In cooking it combines perfectly with fish, however, it can wonderfully give its beautiful aromas to culinary creations with meat. As a herbal tea use, one gram of dried rosemary leaves per 250 ml of water. In a closed container, keep the rosemary leaves in hot water (just before boiling) for about five minutes, strain, and serve.
In addition to the properties offered to us by drinking a cup of rosemary as a beverage, according to traditional practices of our ancestors, it can help stimulate and grow our hair, acting beneficially on our skin, if we take baths or washes with its infusion. If we want to enjoy its beneficial properties on skin, hair wound healing, we increase the dose (grams per ml of water) and allow more time to “stand” in hot water.
Side effects – Precautions
As is the case with most aromatic – medicinal plants, daily and excessive use of rosemary can cause various health problems (poisoning, vertigo). Rosemary essential oil can cause eye and skin irritation and should not be consumed by people with epilepsy or high blood pressure. Its consumption during pregnancy should be avoided. In any case, the appropriate information from our doctor, if we have a health problem is considered necessary.
A favorite herb, rosemary
The global interest in the use of aromatic-medicinal plants due to their beneficial properties is constantly increasing. Certification of traditional uses and discovery of new properties concerning plants that have been used since ancient times, find the light of publicity more and more often in recent years, through modern scientific research.
Rosemary is undoubtedly a typical example of an herb with a rich tradition and long-term use, which is the subject of ongoing research. It is considered a symbol of memory and is indeed a beautiful shrub holding a special place in the world of herbs. Its properties have aroused human interest since antiquity and we can easily enjoy its benefits either fresh or dried by incorporating it into our culinary creations and herbal drinks.