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Remarkable Rosemary

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Location: Blue Ridge Mountains
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Remarkable Rosemary

While Rosemary is generally thought of as simply a culinary herb, it is powerfully medicinal, with a fascinating history of use.  Perhaps most important during the cold, flu and COVID season (my, how the world has changed), is its anti-viral properties.  Rosemary has long been a feature in apothecaries and Kitchen Medicine.  Rosemary was mentioned on Cuneiform stone tablets dating to around 5,000 BC. It was used in the burial rights of ancient Egypt.  It was written about by Pliny the Elder and Dioscorides.  This history of this herb is remarkable.  Its modern medicinal use is well summed up by Plants for A Future:

Rosmarinus officinalis

Medicinal use of Rosemary: Rosemary is commonly grown in the herb garden as a domestic remedy, used especially as a tonic and pick-me-up when feeling depressed, mentally tired, nervous etc. Research has shown that the plant is rich in volatile oils, flavanoids and phenolic acids, which are strongly antiseptic and anti-inflammatory. Rosmarinic acid has potential in the treatment of toxic shock syndrome, whilst the flavonoid diosmin is reputedly more effective than rutin in reducing capillary fragility. Rosmarol, an extract from the leaves, has shown remarkably high antioxidant activity. The whole plant is antiseptic, antispasmodic, aromatic, astringent, cardiac, carminative, cholagogue, diaphoretic, emmenagogue, nervine, stimulant, stomachic and tonic. An infusion of the flowering stems made in a closed container to prevent the steam from escaping is effective in treating headaches, colic, colds and nervous diseases. A distilled water from the flowers is used as an eyewash. The leaves can be harvested in the spring or summer and used fresh, they can also be dried for later use. This remedy should not be prescribed for pregnant women since in excess it can cause an abortion. An essential oil distilled from the stems and leaves is often used medicinally, that distilled from the flowering tops is superior but not often available. The oil is applied externally as a rubefacient, added to liniments, rubbed into the temples to treat headaches and used internally as a stomachic and nervine. The essential oil is used in aromatherapy. Its keyword is "Stimulant".

Now, let’s dive into the history!  Pliny listed eighteen remedies using Rosemary:

There are two kinds of rosemary; one of which is baren, and the other has a stem with a resinous seed, known as "cachrys." The leaves have the odour of frankincase.1 The root, applied fresh, effects the cure of wounds, prolapsus of the rectum, condylomata, and piles. The juice of the plant, as well as of the root, is curative of jaundice, and such diseases as require detergents; it is useful also for the sight. The seed is given in drink for inveterate diseases of the chest, and, with wine and pepper, for affections of the uterus; it acts also as an emmenagogue, and is used with meal of darnel as a liniment for gout. It acts also as a detergent upon freckles, and is used as an application in diseases which require calorifics or sudorifics, and for convulsions. The plant itself, or else the root, taken in wine, increases the milk, and the leaves and stem of the plant are applied with vinegar to scrofulous sores; used with honey, they are very useful for cough.

Dioscorides described Rosemary under the name “Libanotis”:

Libanotis the Romans call rosmarinus and those who plait wreaths for the head use it. The shoots are slender, around which are small leaves — thick, somewhat long, thin, white on the inside, but green on the outside, with a strong scent. It is warming and cures jaundice. It is boiled in water and given to drink before exercises, and then he who exercises bathes and is drenched with wine. It is also mixed with remedies for the removal of fatigue, and in gleucinum  ointments.

Rosemary was one of the herbs grown in the Physick Gardens of the Benedictines (hence the name, officinalis) and was mandated to be grown by the Holy Roman Emperor, Charlemagne.  Abbot Walafrid Strabo included Rosemary in his Hortulus:

Would it not be a shame if this spicy herb escaped the attention of the gatherer for the household apotheca? Rosemary is an excellent stomachic.

Prepared as tea, it cleanses the stomach from phlegm, gives a good appetite and good digestion. Whoever likes to see the medicine glass, this comforter in illness, shining on his tahle, let him fill it with rosemary-tea, and take from two to four tablespoonfuls morning and evening.

The stomach will soon become sensible, i.e. will not stick fast much longer in phlegm.

Rosemary-wine, taken in small doses, has also proved an excellent remedy against heart-infirmities. It operates in a sedative manner, and in cases of heart -dropsy it works strongly on removal through the urine. Such wine renders the same service in dropsy in general.

Against both complaints, three or four tablespoonfuls, or a small wine-glassful, of this pleasant drink are taken daily, morning and evening.

The preparation of this wine is exceedingly simple. A handful of rosemary is cut up as small as possible, put into a bottle, and good, well-kept wine poured upon it; white wine is preferable. Even after half a day's standing, it may be used as rosemary-wine. The same leaves may be used a second time.

Approximately 1,100 years later, Rosemary was still prominent in the practice of Monastic Medicine, recommended by Brother Aloysius:

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) - Used for stomach disorders, promotes digestion, stimulates appetite, cleanses the stomach, recommended for fainting, dizziness, stroke, diarrhea, mucus, heart complaints, hydrothorax, dropsy, to strengthen the nerves, expels gas, as a diaphoretic, for kidney and liver disorders, rheumatism, ascites and anascare (edema).

Gerard described Rosemary:

Rosemary is hot and dry in the second degree, and also of an astringent or binding quality, as being compounded of divers parts, and taking more of the mixture of the earthy substance.

The Virtues.

A. Rosemary is given against all fluxes of blood; it is also good, especially the flowers thereof, for all infirmities of the head and brain, proceeding of a cold and moist cause; for they dry the brain, quicken the senses and memory, and strengthen the sinewy parts.

B. Serapio witnesseth, that Rosemary is a remedy against the stuffing of the head, that cometh through coldness of the brain, if a garland thereof be put about the head, whereof Abin Mesue giveth testimony.

C. Dioscorides teacheth that it cureth him that hath the yellow jaundice, if it it be boiled in water and drunk before exercise, & that after the taking thereof the patient must bathe himself & drink wine

D. The distilled water of the flowers of Rosemary being drunk at morning and evening first and last, taketh away the stench of the mouth and breath, and maketh it very sweet, if there be added thereto, to steep or infuse for certain days, a few cloves, mace, cinnamon, and a little aniseed.

E. The Arabians and other physicians succeeding, do write, that Rosemary comforteth the brain, the memory, the inward senses, and restoreth speech unto them that are possessed with the dumb palsy, especially the conserve made of the flowers and sugar, or any other way confected with sugar, being taken every day fasting.

F. The Arabians, as Serapio witnesseth, give these properties to Rosemary: it heateth, say they, is of subtle parts, is good for the cold rheum which falleth from the brain; driveth away windiness, provoketh urine, and openeth the stoppings of the liver and milt.

G. Tragus writeth, that Rosemary is spice in the German kitchens, and other cold countries. Further, he saith, that the wine boiled with Rosemary, and taken of women troubled with the mother, or the whites, helpeth them, the rather if they fast three or four hours after.

H. The flowers made up into plates with sugar after the manner of sugar roset and eaten, comfort the heart, and make it merry, quicken the spirits, and make them more lively.

I. The oil of Rosemary chemically drawn, comforteth the cold, weak and feeble brain in most wonderful manor.

K. The people of Thuringia do use the wild Rosemary to provoke the desired sickness.

L. Those of Marchia use to put it into their drink the sooner to make their clients drunk, and also do put it into chests and presses among clothes, to preserve them from moths or other vermin.

[The virtues in the last two places properly belong to the Rosmarinum sylvestre of Matthiolus, which is the Chamæpeuce of Cordus, and is described in the 11th place of the foregoing chapter, by the name of Cistus ledum silesiacum.]

Culpepper wrote of Rosemary:

The sun claims privilege in it, and it is under the celestial Ram. It is an herb of as great use with us in these days as any whatsoever, not only for physical but civil purposes. The physical use of it (being my present task) is very much used both for inward and outward diseases, for by the warming and comforting heat thereof it helps all cold diseases both of the head, stomach, liver, and belly. The decoction thereof in wine, helps the cold distillations of rheum into the eyes, and all other cold diseases of the head and brain, as the giddiness or swimmings therein, drowsiness or dullness of the mind and senses like a stupidness, the dumb palsy, or loss of speech, the lethargy, and fallen- sickness, to be both drank, and the temples bathed therewith. It helps the pains in the gums and teeth, by rheum falling into them, not by putrefaction, causing an evil smell from them, or a stinking breath. It helps a weak memory, and quickens the senses. It is very comfortable to the stomach in all the cold griefs thereof, helps both retention of meat, and digestion, the decoction or powder being taken in wine. It is a remedy for the windiness in the stomach, bowels, and spleen, and expels it powerfully. It helps those that are liver-grown, by opening the obstructions thereof. It helps dim eyes, and procures a clear sight, the flowers thereof being taken all the while it is flowering every morning fasting, with bread and salt. Both Dioscorides and Galen say, That if a decoction be made thereof with water, and they that have the yellow jaundice exercise their bodies directly after the taking thereof, it will certainly cure them. The flowers and conserve made of them are singularly good to comfort the heart, and to expel the contagion of the pestilence; to burn the herb in houses and chambers, corrects the air in them. Both the flowers and leaves are very profitable for women that are troubled with the whites, if they be daily taken. The dried leaves shred small, and taken in a pipe, as tobacco is taken, helps those that have any cough, phthisic, or consumption, by warming and drying the thin distillations which cause those diseases. The leaves are very much used in bathings; and made into ointments or oil, are singularly good to help cold benumbed joints, sinews, or members. The chymical oil drawn from the leaves and flowers, is a sovereign help for all the diseases aforesaid, to touch the temples and nostrils with two or three drops for all the diseases of the head and brain spoken of before; as also to take one drop, two, or three, as the case requires, for the inward griefs. Yet must it be done with discretion, for it is very quick and piercing, and therefore but a little must be taken at a time. There is also another oil made by insolation in this manner: Take what quantity you will of the flowers, and put them into a strong glass close stopped, tie a fine linen cloth over the mouth, and turn the mouth down into another strong glass, which being set in the sun, an oil will distil down into the lower glass, to be preserved as precious for divers uses, both inward and outward, as a sovereign balm to heal the disease beforementioned, to clear dim sights, and to take away spots, marks, and scars in the skin.

Hungary water is made by distilling a pure spirit from the tops of this plant: or in a coarser way, by mixing a few drops of its oil in such a spirit.

Mrs. Grieve tells us much about the historical use of this herb:

The Ancients were well acquainted with the shrub, which had a reputation for strengthening the memory. On this account it became the emblem of fidelity for lovers. It holds a special position among herbs from the symbolism attached to it. Not only was it used at weddings, but also at funerals, for decking churches and banqueting halls at festivals, as incense in religious ceremonies, and in magical spells.

At weddings, it was entwined in the wreath worn by the bride, being first dipped into scented water. Anne of Cleves, we are told, wore such a wreath at her wedding. A Rosemary branch, richly gilded and tied with silken ribands of all colours, was also presented to wedding guests, as a symbol of love and loyalty. Together with an orange stuck with cloves it was given as a New Year's gift - allusions to this custom are to be found in Ben Jonson's plays.

Miss Anne Pratt (Flowers and their Associations) says:

'But it was not among the herbalists and apothecaries merely that Rosemary had its reputation for peculiar virtues. The celebrated Doctor of Divinity, Roger Hacket, did not disdain to expatiate on its excellencies in the pulpit. In a sermon which he entitles "A Marriage Present," which was published in 1607, he says: "Speaking of the powers of rosemary, it overtoppeth all the flowers in the garden, boasting man's rule. It helpeth the brain, strengtheneth the memorie, and is very medicinable for the head. Another property of the rosemary is, it affects the heart. Let this rosmarinus, this flower of men ensigne of your wisdom, love and loyaltie, be carried not only in your hands, but in your hearts and heads." '

Sir Thomas More writes:

'As for Rosmarine, I lett it runne all over my garden walls, not onlie because my bees love it, but because it is the herb sacred to remembrance, and, therefore, to friendship; whence a sprig of it hath a dumb language that maketh it the chosen emblem of our funeral wakes and in our buriall grounds.'

In early times, Rosemary was freely cultivated in kitchen gardens and came to represent the dominant influence of the house mistress 'Where Rosemary flourished, the woman ruled.'

The Treasury of Botany says:

'There is a vulgar belief in Gloucestershire and other counties, that Rosemary will not grow well unless where the mistress is "master"; and so touchy are some of the lords of creation upon this point, that we have more than once had reason to suspect them of privately injuring a growing rosemary in order to destroy this evidence of their want of authority.'

Rosemary was one of the cordial herbs used to flavour ale and wine. It was also used in Christmas decoration.

'Down with the rosemary and so,

Down with the baies and mistletoe,

Down with the holly, ivie all

Wherewith ye deck the Christmas Hall.'


In place of more costly incense, the ancients used Rosemary in their religious ceremonies. An old French name for it was Incensier.

The Spaniards revere it as one of the bushes that gave shelter to the Virgin Mary in the flight into Egypt and call it Romero, the Pilgrim's Flower. Both in Spain and Italy, it has been considered a safeguard from witches and evil influences generally. The Sicilians believe that young fairies, taking the form of snakes, lie amongst the branches.

It was an old custom to burn Rosemary in sick chambers, and in French hospitals it is customary to burn Rosemary with Juniper berries to purify the air and prevent infection. Like Rue, it was placed in the dock of courts of justice, as a preventative from the contagion of gaol-fever. A sprig of Rosemary was carried in the hand at funerals, being distributed to the mourners before they left the house, to be cast on to the coffin when it had been lowered into the grave. In many parts of Wales it is still a custom.

One old legend compares the growth of the plant with the height of the Saviour and declares that after thirty-three years it increases in breadth, but never in height.

There is a tradition that Queen Philippa's mother (Countess of Hainault) sent the first plants of Rosemary to England, and in a copy of an old manuscript in the library of Trinity College, Cambridge, the translator, 'danyel bain,' says that Rosemary was unknown in England until this Countess sent some to her daughter.

Miss Rohde gives the following quotation from Banckes' Herbal:

'Take the flowers thereof and make powder thereof and binde it to thy right arme in a linnen cloath and it shale make theee light and merrie.

'Take the flowers and put them in thy chest among thy clothes or among thy Bookes and Mothes shall not destroy them.

'Boyle the leaves in white wine and washe thy face therewith and thy browes, and thou shalt have a faire face.

'Also put the leaves under thy bedde and thou shalt be delivered of all evill dreames.

'Take the leaves and put them into wine and it shall keep the wine from all sourness and evill savours, and if thou wilt sell thy wine thou shalt have goode speede.

'Also if thou be feeble boyle the leaves in cleane water and washe thyself and thou shalt wax shiny.

'Also if thou have lost appetite of eating boyle well these leaves in cleane water and when the water is colde put thereunto as much of white wine and then make sops, eat them thereof wel and thou shalt restore thy appetite againe.

'If thy legges be blowen with gowte, boyle the leaves in water and binde them in a linnen cloath and winde it about thy legges and it shall do thee much good.

'If thou have a cough drink the water of the leaves boyld in white wine and ye shall be whole.

'Take the Timber thereof and burn it to coales and make powder thereof and rubbe thy teeth thereof and it shall keep thy teeth from all evils. Smell it oft and it shall keep thee youngly.

'Also if a man have lost his smellyng of the ayre that he may not draw his breath, make a fire of the wood, and bake his bread therewith, eate it and it shall keepe him well.

'Make thee a box of the wood of rosemary and smell to it and it shall preserve thy youth.'

From the Grete Herbal:

'ROSEMARY. - For weyknesse of ye brayne. Against weyknesse of the brayne and coldenesse thereof, sethe rosemaria in wyne and lete the pacyent receye the smoke at his nose and keep his heed warme.'

Medicinal Action and Uses---Tonic, astringent, diaphoretic, stimulant. Oil of Rosemary has the carminative properties of other volatile oils and is an excellent stomachic and nervine, curing many cases of headache.

It is employed principally, externally, as spiritus Rosmarini, in hair-lotions, for its odour and effect in stimulating the hair-bulbs to renewed activity and preventing premature baldness. An infusion of the dried plant (both leaves and flowers) combined with borax and used when cold, makes one of the best hairwashes known. It forms an effectual remedy for the prevention of scurf and dandruf.

The oil is also used externally as a rubefacient and is added to liniments as a fragrant stimulant. Hungary water, for outward application to renovate the vitality of paralysed limbs, was first invented for a Queen of Hungary, who was said to have been completely cured by its continued use. It was prepared by putting 1 1/2 lb. of fresh Rosemary tops in full flower into 1 gallon of spirits of wine, this was allowed to stand for four days and then distilled. Hungary water was also considered very efficacious against gout in the hands and feet, being rubbed into them vigorously.

A formula dated 1235, said to be in the handwriting of Elizabeth, Queen of Hungary, is said to be preserved in Vienna.

Rosemary Wine when taken in small quantities acts as a quieting cordial to a weak heart subject to palpitation, and relieves accompanying dropsy by stimulating the kidneys. It is made by chopping up sprigs of green Rosemary and pouring on them white wine, which is strained off after a few days and is then ready for use. By stimulating the brain and nervous system, it is a good remedy for headaches caused by feeble circulation.

The young tops, leaves and flowers can be made into an infusion, called Rosemary Tea, which, taken warm, is a good remedy for removing headache, colic, colds and nervous diseases, care being taken to prevent the escape of steam during its preparation. It will relieve nervous depression. A conserve, made by beating up the freshly gathered tops with three times their weight of sugar, is said to have the same effect.

A spirit of Rosemary may be used, in doses of 30 drops in water or on sugar, as an antispasmodic.

Rosemary and Coltsfoot leaves are considered good when rubbed together and smoked for asthma and other affections of the throat and lungs.

Rosemary is also one of the ingredients used in the preparation of Eau-de-Cologne.

Fr. Kneipp praised Rosemary, as well:

Rosemary. (Rosmarinus officinalis L.)

Would it not be a shame if this spicy herb escaped the attention of the gatherer for the household apotheca? Rosemary is an excellent stomachic.

Prepared as tea, it cleanses the stomach from phlegm, gives a good appetite and good digestion. Whoever likes to see the medicine glass, this comforter in illness, shining on his table, let him fill it with rosemary-tea, and take from two to four tablespoonfuls morning and evening.

The stomach will soon become sensible, i.e. will not stick fast much longer in phlegm.

Rosemary-wine, taken in small doses, has also proved an excellent remedy against heart-infirmities. It operates in a sedative manner, and in cases of heart -dropsy it works strongly on removal through the urine. Such wine renders the same service in dropsy in general.

Against both complaints, three or four tablespoonfuls, or a small wine-glassful, of this pleasant drink are taken daily, morning and evening.

The preparation of this wine is exceedingly simple. A handful of rosemary is cut up as small as possible, put into a bottle, and good, well-kept wine poured upon it; white wine is preferable. Even after half a day's standing, it may be used as rosemary-wine. The same leaves may be used a second time.

With all of the amazing medicinal properties of Rosemary, you may think that I would use it in teas and tinctures… but, I rarely if ever do.  I like to incorporate it in my diet as much as possible.  Rosemary is excellent with meats, but my favorite use is with bread.  I love focaccia bread heavily flavored with Rosemary.  Here is a great focaccia bread recipe: Focaccia - Lidia (lidiasitaly.com)

I also include rosemary in my pizza sauce recipe (which can also be used to dip focaccia bread sticks in):

Put some olive oil in a pot over medium heat.

Sweat down finely diced onions

Add crushed garlic

Add a pinch of dried, crushed hot pepper

Toss in a good pinch each of Rosemary, Oregano, Basil... and a dash of Thyme if you like

Add a few spoonsful of crushed tomatoes and let them brown slightly and blend with the herbs a

Then add the rest of the tomatoes

Salt and black pepper to tase

This sauce is spicy and rich with a natural brightness from the tomatoes.  It is also a good anti-viral formula!

Author: Judson Carroll.  Judson Carroll is an Herbalist from the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. His weekly articles may be read at http://southernappalachianherbs.blogspot.com/

His weekly podcast may be heard at: www.spreaker.com/show/southern-appalachian-herbs

He offers free, weekly herb classes: https://rumble.com/c/c-618325

His New Book is Herbal Medicine for Preppers, Homesteaders and Permaculture People

You can read about and purchase Herbal Medicine for Preppers, Homesteaders and Permaculture People here: southernappalachianherbs.blogspot.com/2021/10/herbal-medicine-for-preppers.html

Also available on Amazon: Herbal Medicine for Preppers, Homesteaders and Permaculture People: Carroll, Judson: 9798491252923: Amazon.com: Books

His other works include:

Look Up: The Medicinal Trees of the American South, An Herbalist's Guide: https://southernappalachianherbs.blogspot.com/2021/06/paypal-safer-easier-way-to-pay-online.html

The Herbs and Weeds of Fr. Johannes Künzle: https://southernappalachianherbs.blogspot.com/2021/05/announcing-new-book-herbs-and-weeds-of.html


The information on this site is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease or condition. Nothing on this site has been evaluated or approved by the FDA. I am not a doctor. The US government does not recognize the practice of herbal medicine and their is no governing body regulating herbalists. Therefore, I'm just a guy who studies herbs. I am not offering any advice. I won't even claim that anything I write is accurate or true! I can tell you what herbs have "traditionally been used for." I can tell you my own experience and if I believe an herb helped me. I cannot, nor would I tell you to do the same. If you use any herb I, or anyone else, mentions you are treating yourself. You take full responsibility for your health. Humans are individuals and no two are identical. What works for me may not work for you. You may have an allergy, sensitivity or underlying condition that no one else shares and you don't even know about. Be careful with your health. By continuing to read my blog you agree to be responsible for yourself, do your own research, make your own choices and not to blame me for anything, ever.
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