This native evergreen shrub of the Mediterranean is one of the few herbs still bedazzling the garden in the somber Winter months. In Mississippi, where I live, I have to make sure not to crowd the crown of the roots or have debris touching the lower branches as the humidity will tend to rot the plant. Their native terrain are the poor quality, easily-drained soils of the Mediterranean coast. In colder climates, they need to be put near rock or stone to capture ambient heat in the cold nights of Winter.
Rosemary has a number of virtues. She is wrapped in myth… Her latin name means, “dew of the sea.” And, fortunately, she is easy to grow and very willing to be used. They say her medicine is strongest *right* before she goes to flower. She is one of many in the mint family (Lamiaceae).
I’m writing about this herb, because she is quickly forgotten and largely overlooked. Mainly, I feel, due to her constant presence. She finds herself in almost all herbal gardens with very little effort on her part. And, maybe that is part of her medicine…to be present and willing — to try any terrain and any planting zone — all to be in your company! Our part is to remember her and to discover ways to integrate her into our lives.
Easy segway here as she is the herb of remembrance. Not only can she lift your spirits and sweetly shift your mood, she is being researched as an aid to alleviate or deter Alzheimer’s as she has chemicals in her to help memories stay strong. And, a nice foot-bath of her strong tea will soothingly lift fatigue and exhaustion.
Drink as a tea
No one really thinks to drink her as a tea, but she is very refreshing and has such a clean taste to her. Rosemary provides a decent amount of calcium. She is a strong anti-oxidant and gobbles up free radicals. This nourishing tea will gently stimulate menstrual blood flow and relax tension in muscles. She is also a cardiac tonic and will lower blood pressure. Nursing mothers are encouraged to drink the tea of Rosemary as it encourages the flow and production of milk (stinging nettles is also a good one). Sip on rosemary to easy the stomach and dispel gas as well. A simple tea is a also a good wound wash for any new cuts and scrapes that need to be washed free of bacteria.
Make a brew
One of my favorite herbal brews is made from rosemary. It’s a combination of juniper berries, orange peel, and rosemary. I basically adapted a recipe from Stephen Buhner’s amazing book, “Sacred Herbal and Healing Beers.” Buhner says that rosemary was once a very common herb in ales and brews.
Use as a tincture
Prepare a tincture with fresh or dried herb. Use 100+ proof alcohol to make your tincture. Let it sit for 6 weeks before straining and using. As I mentioned above, she is used to lower blood pressure; tincture form will give you better results. It has also been used in combination with St. John’s Wort for children’s bed wetting. For sciatica and migraines, use rosemary to calm the muscles and open blood flow for relief.
In the kitchen
This is the place that most people are familiar with rosemary — in the kitchen and in their food! It is a great rub for meats…and a great addition to veggies as well. I love rosemary on olive oil-coated sweet potatoes! What people might not know is that rosemary was a common plant to use before refrigeration. Meat was surrounded with rosemary and kept like this for days at a time as she is good at protecting it from bacteria and bugs.
In the bathroom
Rosemary is my favorite hair rinses. I make a strong tea in a Bodum coffee press (some use it for coffee, I use it for my infusions and hair rinses). When it cools, I pour this over my head in the shower and do not rinse it out. It nourishes the scalp and gives the hair great strength and shine. She also helps with dandruff and a flaky scalp. By the time I am done with this process, my entire apartment smells amazing (and so do I). Recently, I’ve begun making a rosemary vinegar-based conditioner instead of the rinse.
Infused in vinegar
Infuse her in vinegar to also get access to all of her minerals. Simply fill a jar 1/2 full with rosemary and pour apple cider vinegar over her. Let it sit for 6 weeks, shaking occasionally and then strain. Use this in salad dressings or take a Tablespoon — down the hatch! — as needed. Remember, she’s provides you calcium as well! Mix her with lots of blossoms and add to vinegar to make the legendary Queen of Hungary Water.
You can also infuse the herb into white vinegar. Either simmer this for 30 minutes or infuse for 4-6 weeks and strain the herb out. Then, dilute 1:4 (water:vinegar solution) and use as a household all-purpose cleaner.
Some more about her energetics is that she has to do with loyalty. In Europe, she was commonly found in the bride’s bouquet for flowers. This, again, attests to her strength and presence. She was also used for protection of the home (by being placed on either side of the front door). She was known as a ‘threshing herb’ and and was tossed all about the home to ward off critters, pests, and negative energy.
Grind her up into a powder and dust the armpits for a nice, anti-bacterial deodorant.
Midwives were known to burn rosemary to keep the air clean during child-birth. The leaves, powdered, were dusted on the umbilical chord after it had been cut to work as an antiseptic.
Olive oil infusion
Use this oil for cooking and in salad dressings (to add flavor and to stimulate circulation once imbibed)… Or, use the oil on wounds. Add some beeswax to the oil in a double-burner to make a skin salve. She has anti-bacterial and anti-microbial properties that would lend shallow wounds a hand in healing.
The oil is also good for achy muscles and arthritic joints. It is warming and encourages circulation in the body. Try rubbing the oil on your belly to prevent or calm uterine cramping and spasms during menstruation.
Roasting the goat
I assume, not many of you will try this at home…but, all this talk about rosemary reminded me of attending my friend’s graduation at Green String Farm in Petaluma, CA. For the graduation, the students had been slow-roasting a recently slaughtered goat over an open fire-pit for the festivities. Dried bows of rosemary were steadily added to the fire to season the meat. The fragrance was overwhelmingly rich and inviting from the fire and the meat was undeniably delicious.
As you can see…there’s so much that this plant offers us. Next time you pass her in a garden, rub your hands on her leaves, take in the fragrance, and take some time to thank her. She’s been awfully generous!
I want to thank Mary Morgaine Thames for the transmission of much of what I know about rosemary. Mary Morgaine is a folks herbalist and yogini in the Asheville, NC area.