I’ve been busy. Among other activities, we bought a house and moved. Consequently, I am now the proud custodian of a rosemary bush that is twice my size. I never knew they could get that big. Which got me thinking, what am I going to do with all this rosemary? So of course, that meant a learning opportunity.
Rosmarinus officinalis is a woody, perennial herb with fragrant, evergreen, needle-like leaves and flowers ranging from white, pink, purple or blue. A native to the Mediterranean region, it is a member of the mint family Lamiaceae. The name “rosemary” derives from the Latin for ros = dew + marinius = sea, or “dew of the sea” because it thrived in locations where the only water came from the humidity carried by the sea breeze.
Rosemary is used as to liven up gardens and has many culinary and medical uses. The plant is said to improve the memory. The leaves are used to flavor various foods.
Myths and Legends
According to legend, the Greek goddess Aphrodite had it draped over her when she rose from the sea.
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. Consequently, the shrub then became known as the ‘Rose of Mary’.
Mary supposedly dried her infant’s clothes on a rosemary bush. Though rosemary bushes can grow as high as a house, a millennia ago it was believed that rosemary never grew taller than Jesus.
Old World Uses
Like other Old World herbs, rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) was a mainstay of cooks and apothecaries throughout history and was bestowed mythical powers. Specifically, early Romans and Greeks believed this Mediterranean herb was a powerful memory booster.
In the Middle Ages, rosemary was associated with weddings, a way to remind the bride and groom not to forget their vows. The bride wore a rosemary headpiece and the groom and wedding guests wore rosemary sprigs. From this association with weddings, rosemary evolved into a love charm. Newlywed couples planted a branch of rosemary on their wedding day, and if it grew it boded well for the union and family. Its power was thought to be similar to mistletoe for if a young person tapped another with a rosemary sprig and the sprig contained an open flower, the couple would fall in love.
Several herbs were grown in pots and assigned the name of a potential lover. They were left to grow and the plant that grew the strongest and fastest gave the answer to the eager gardener. Rosemary was stuffed into cloth dolls to attract a lover or attract curative vibrations for illness.
The Stuff of Nightmares, or Not
It was believed that placing a sprig of rosemary under a pillow before sleep prevented nightmares, and if placed outside the home witches would pass by.
At some point, the use of rosemary in the garden to repel witches came to represent that the woman ruled the household in homes and gardens where rosemary grew abundantly. By the 16th century, men were known to rip up rosemary bushes to show that they, not their wives, ruled the roost, and it was rumored that many husbands yanked rosemary bushes from the ground if they grew too large. (Did I mention that my new rosemary plant is twice my size? =-))
Death and Beyond
Rosemary also played an important role in death. In Athens and Rome, rosemary sprigs were placed on coffins and in the hands of the deceased. Bushes were also grown around tombs, all this as a sign that departed relatives would not be forgotten. The custom carried on to Great Britain, and mourners in Wales still place stems of rosemary in the hands of their dead.
Mixing Christianity with black magic, young women in medieval England used rosemary on July 21 (the eve of the feast of St. Mary Magdalene) to attain prophetic dreams.
Back to the uses that influence me most – what about food?
This wonderfully versatile herb can be used both fresh and dried, and is very common in traditional Mediterranean cuisine. With their bitter, astringent, highly aromatic taste rosemary complements a variety of foods.
A tisane can be made from the leaves.
When burnt, rosemary gives off a smell similar to burning wood, which flavors foods while barbecuing. Ever tried scallops skewered with rosemary and then grilled? Delicious!
Surprisingly, rosemary pairs well with sweets. For a delightful addition to desserts and tea, try pounding rosemary’s tender tips with sugar and let it sit for a few days. The herb is also delicious in jellies, cookies (rosemary shortbread?), and sorbets (lemon rosemary has long been a favorite), and I’ve flavored my limoncello with rosemary for a new take on a classic.
Saveur has a plethora of ideas from savory to sweet
Lazaro Cooks also will get you thinking
as will Lori at FakeFoodFree
Hopefully some food for thought in the mean time I am back to my unpacking and garden planning.