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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Rosemary for Remembrance

 "That's Rosemary, that's for remembrance; I pray you, love, remember."  William Shakespeare

On this anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks we can snip a few sprigs of the Rosemary bush and say a prayer of remembrance for those lost but not forgotten.

Rosemary, an ancient folk remedy for improving memory, is the herb of love and remembrance, steeped in thousands of years of myth and tradition.  A member of the mint family, this herb is native to seaside regions of the Mediterranean and North Africa. The Latin name Rosemarinus means dew of the sea, probably in reference to its little beautiful blue flowers when in bloom.

There are interesting stories tied to rosemary.

It is said in Spain that this bush gave shelter to the Virgin Mary in the flight into Egypt. They called it Romero or the Pilgrim's Flower. Others say it flowered white until Mary hung her cloak on a bush while fleeing Herod's soldiers. In its native habitat rosemary is not the tender little garden plant we may think of. It grows to be a tall, spreading shrub, growing happily in dry soil refreshed by the sea spray.

In 1235, Queen Elizabeth of Hungary discovered rosemary while suffering from rheumatism and gout. She fell in love with the plant after discovering its virtues as an aid for her pain. She sought the formulas of an old hermit and learned the various uses of rosemary in either wine, oil or vinegar for both medical and cosmetic purposes.

Thousands of years before refrigeration, people knew to wrap meat in crushed rosemary to help with preservation. This led to the belief that it therefore could also help preserve memory. Grecians drank it to clear the head and facilitate mental capacity. Tired students had used it as a study aid to help with fatigue by twining sprigs of it through their hair.

The French hung rosemary around sickrooms as a healing incense calling it incensier. Even as recently as WWII it was burned with juniper berries as an antiseptic.

Rosemary has long been part of wedding ceremonies as a symbol of spousal faithfulness and devotion. In many parts of Europe unmarried women looking for love placed under their pillows to induce dreams that would reveal a future husband's identity. During wedding ceremonies branches of rosemary were traditionally used for decoration, added to the bride's hair and also dipped into wine goblets during toasts.  A husband leaving for a trip would not have been surprised to find slips of rosemary tucked into his jacket pockets,  to guard against infidelity.

Rosmarinus officinalis Prostratus Group is a tender perennial that only reaches 6 to 12 inches in height, but can spread to 3 feet. This creeping rosemary trails over walls or window boxes with  twisting, curling branches.

Rosmarinus officinalis Arp is a perennial that grows 3 to 5 feet tall and spreads 2 to 3 feet. This type  is more cold hardy, surviving temperatures down to 10 below zero if protected with burlap or mulch.

Both types prefer full sun, a periodic thorough watering without ever letting it stand in water.

Here in zone 6 people usually pot their rosemary and bring it indoors for the winter. Indoor conditions without good sun and proper humidity may result in a sad looking plant by spring but if you can get it that far it usually perks up once back outside.

Below are two recipes for the legendary Queen of Hungary's Water:

This version has been used to treat gout and baldness
2 oz. unscented alcohol and the following essential oils:
30 drops rosemary                            5 drops neoli 
12 drops lemon                                 2 drops sage
5 drops rose                                       2 drops mint

The herbal version makes an astringent for all skin types that normalizes the skin's pH. It can also be used as a great hair rinse for healthy hair and scalp. If you don't like the smell of vinegar in your facial toner use witch hazel in its place. For use as a body splash instead of a hair rinse or facial toner, substitute the vinegar with vodka. This herbal blend is based on Rosemary Gladstar's recipe.

• 5 parts fresh or dried organic Lemon Balm
• 5 parts fresh or dried organic Lavender
• 4 parts fresh or dried organic Chamomile
• 4 parts fresh or dried organic Roses
• 4 parts fresh or dried organic Calendula
• 3 parts fresh or dried organic Comfrey leaf
• 1 part fresh or dried organic Lemon Peel
• 1 part fresh or dried organic Rosemary
• 1 part fresh or dried organic Sage
• 1 part fresh or dried organic Peppermint
• 1 part fresh or dried organic Elder flowers
• 1 part fresh or dried organic Helichrysum flowers
• Organic Apple Cider Vinegar

Combine all herbs in a glass mason jar and add vinegar until the liquid rises above the herbs by at least 1 or 2 inches. As the herbs swell, add additional vinegar if needed.  Cap the jar tightly and shake once or more per day. After 2-6 weeks, strain out the herbs and reserve the liquid.
The infused vinegar can be used alone but if too strong as is for a facial toner dilute with distilled water or a hydrosol such as rose or lavender.