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Rosemary - Part 1

Rosmarinus officinalis

Rosemary

Remembrance

THE STORY

Rosemary

The herb rosemary, Rosmarinus officinalis, has been associated with innumerable legends and traditions and put to a hundred uses. A member of the Lamiaceae family, also known as the mint family, rosemary is native to the Mediterranean and one of the most beautiful and fragrant of the culinary herbs. It is aromatic, savory, medicinal, and ceremonial, earning the name “Herb of Remembrance.” Because it can tolerate relatively dry growing conditions and has structural features that help it to minimize water loss, rosemary keeps fresh for long periods of time and was used in ancient Egypt as one of the embalming herbs. Rosemary was placed in tombs to remember the dead as far back as the Egyptian First Dynasty, and it is still regarded as a funeral flower, signifying remembrance of the departed.

The dry climate of Egypt contributes to the excellent preservation of organic materials and the ancient secrets that they hold. One of those secrets was discovered in tombs of southern Egypt that date to the fourth century CE. Ancient Egyptian wine jars coated with a residue containing constituents identified as those that could only have come from the herb rosemary reveal

 one of the most longstanding of ancient traditions: the making of medicinal wines. Numerous vessels with this residue were found littering the ground around taverns in Nubian villages of the period, demonstrating how wine had gone from a beverage of the pharaohs to one of commoners, who were also buried with it.

In Europe as far back as the Middle Ages, rosemary was believed to be offensive to evil spirits and thought to grow only in gardens tended by women pure of heart. So great was the belief in its power that for centuries rosemary was put under pillows at night, hung on walls, strewn on floors, and burned as incense to protect against evil. It has a strong yet delicate pine-like scent that is robust in the upright varieties and less so in the prostrate cultivars, which prefer growing over rocky walls and ledges. Women have also used rosemary since the beginning of time as an abortifacient. If the timing of a pregnancy wasn't right, a woman knew that if she chewed on the fresh leaves and drank an infusion of the sharp, pungent herb, it would cleanse her womb of its contents.

Even though rosemary was used in burial rituals and as a medicine, it was also associated with romantic love and marriage. As a wedding decoration it served as a reminder that even if a couple were leaving friends and family to start a new life, they would never be forgotten.

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