Rosemary – Rosmarinus officinalis. Family: Labiatae
There are few herbs as popular and widely grown as Rosemary. This beautiful shrub, with its strongly fragrant and tasty leaves, have been a garden favourite almost forever, it seems! Immortalised in Shakespeare’s Hamlet (There’s Rosemary, that’s for remembrance), the herb is well-known for its medicinal uses. The herb is actually thought to help with a weak memory! How does one best grow and cultivate it? What are its medicinal and cosmetic uses?
The shrub grows about 1.5 feet (0.5m) in height and spreads over just 3 foot (1m). It will do well virtually anywhere in South Africa, except where frosts are severe. It is quite tolerant of drier conditions too, as long as it can be watered through the summer during dry spells. It prefers a sunny position and well-drained soil. Water until it has become established and then only during long dry spells.
It has very narrow, almost spiky green leaves and produces masses of blue flowers in winter and spring, and even intermittently through the summer. It would contrast nicely with plants that have grey or grey-green foliage. It can work nicely in a Mediterranean style or rock garden. In the vegetable garden, it can be grown as a companion plant for beans, cabbage and carrots.
Rosemary contains the following constituents:
- Volatile oils,
- Bitter Principle and,
Rosemary has many uses. The most prominent and popular include:
- It is used as a bitter tonic, which strengthens digestion and improves liver function. In fact, rosemary is considered as a cholagogue herb due to its bitter principle, meaning that it stimulates bile flow from the liver. It can be taken for long-term improvement for digestive dysfunction. It could be taken as a rosemary wine half and hour before a meal to prime the digestive system! Yum!
- It is used as a circulatory tonic. It helps in most cases of poor circulation and aches and pains. Long-term use of the herb taken as a tea can help a whole range of symptoms in people that suffer from poor circulation.
- The essential oil is used for massaging cold joints and aching muscles.
- Rosemary is also used as a nerve tonic. Thus it can be used to ease the pains of neuralgia. The fact that it improves circulation and stimulates the nervous system is fitting, since it is so synonymous with remembrance, as these two actions do thus strengthen the memory. Rosemary used to be grown in graveyards and mourners would carry a sprig of it and throw it into the grave as a symbol of remembrance. It is even being said that just smelling rosemary improves memory! Amazing, or what?
- It can be combined with chamomile for headaches.
- It can be combined with cardamom for depression.
Besides the many medicinal uses, rosemary can be used for some cosmetic purposes:
- Excellent for improving the condition of the scalp (thus useful for cases of dandruff!) It is also useful for strengthening hair growth and preventing premature baldness!
- Dry scalps: Rub rosemary-infused oil well into the scalp. Leave it for half and hour and then wash out with a gentle shampoo.
- Greasy scalp and weak hair: Add two dessert-spoons of rosemary vinegar to the final rinsing water. (How to make a herb-infused oil or vinegar will be considered in future articles)
- Breath Freshener: According to a book written in 1597 by a John Gerrard, called The Herbal or Generall Historie of Plants, a drink made with Rosemary flowers, cloves, mace, cinnamon, and a little aniseed, and dunk first thing in the morning and last thing at night “Taketh away the stench of the mouth and breathe, and maketh it very sweet.” A tincture can be made of the above listed herbs and two teaspoons of this can be added to a glass of water and used as a mouthwash. (How to make a tincture will also be included in a future article)
- Rosemary added to a bath can be used as a great pick-me-up for both mental and physical tiredness.
- It can also be used to improve the condition of cellulite and loss of skin tone, amongst other uses for the skin! That ancient herbalist, Culpeper, recommended that rosemary be used to ‘take away spots, marks and scars in the skin.’ These words have been proved true as more recently it has been discovered that it contains a substance which has been named diosmin. Diosmin helps to strengthen fragile capillaries and could even help to improve some disfiguring skin conditions, like broken thread veins.
Something To Try
Boil the kettle. Put 1 teaspoon of chopped rosemary into a cup and fill it with boiling water. Leave it to steep for a few minutes and the strain and drink/serve. Rosemary tea is great when taken with company as it lifts the spirits and cheers the heart!
- The essential oil should be diluted before use and should not be used on babies or small children due to its high camphor content
- DO NOT use in cases of Pregnancy or Epilepsy
If you struggle to remember all this information, perhaps it is time to start taking and using this marvellous herb! For ‘remember’ “There’s Rosemary, that’s for remembrance”!