Updated: Mar 1, 2022
Many herbs have a place in magical folklore, going back through the ages - and Rosemary is no exception. As with several of the herbs highlighted this month, Rosemary was thought to be a resting place for fairies, and the Scandanavian word for Rosemary was 'ellegrin' - elfin-plant. The botanical name for Rosemary, rosmarinus, comes from the Latin 'ros' and 'marinus', which prettily means the 'dew of the sea', as it was often found growing along coastlines - a pretty place for a fairy to rest indeed. Like many of the herbs used in the middle ages, it was thought to scare away witches and keep away evil, and to prevent bad dreams.
It has religious significance as well - in Spain, the plant was called 'romero', or 'pilgrim-plant'. It was believed that the flowers were orginally white, yet they turned blue after the Virgin Mary placed her coat on a rosemary bush, resting under it while fleeing Egypt. And speaking of Egypt, traces of rosemary have even been found in the tombs of ancient Egyptian mummies.
In 16th century Europe, it was a decorative plant and was even the christmas 'tree' of choice, until being superceded by the traditional pine tree we use today. I found one story that I just love - in 1800s England, the planting of rosemary in 'kitchen gardens' was becoming widespread, so much so that it came to represent the woman of the house - a healthy, flourishing rosemary bush meant that the wife, not, in fact, the husband, was the master of the house. Well, heaven forbid! This was such an affront that many men took to damaging or destroying the plant, feeling it threatened their status and meant they were not in control of their houses. Not for them the whispered gossip and jibes of their distinguished fellows! Take that, rosemary bush!
Like many other herbs and plants, such as juniper, rosemary sprigs were smoked to purify the air in hospitals and to protect against disease, such as typhus and the plague - physicians of the time carried sprigs in the hollow heads of their canes. It was thrown onto coffins and placed in the hands of the dead as a symbol of rememberance, and Greek scholars wore garlands of rosemary on their heads to help their memory during their exams. This symbolism continues today with the wearing of rosemary on ANZAC and Rememberance day, and I have known of many a modern day student vaporising rosemary essential oil in the lead up to exam time.
However, it was not all doom, gloom, plague and death - rosemary also symbolised love, happiness, fidelity and friendship, and as such was incorporated into weddings and other happy celebrations as well, sprigs tied with colourful ribbons being given to guests. It was also often used in love charms.
Traditionally, Rosemary has had many medicinal uses. Culpeper states it is useful for 'all cold diseases, both of the head, stomach, liver and belly' - including watering from the eyes, cognitive sluggishness, teeth problems and for the warming of cold, numb body parts. Further back, Greek physicians prescribed rosemary for the stomach and liver, and it was known to be an effective mental stimulant.
Today, there are three chemotypes used in aromatherapy, CT1 Camphor, CT2 Cineole and CT3 Verbenone. Each has a higher content of the correspondingly named consituent, but each also contains all three of these constituents. In very simple terms, CT1 Camphor is more indicated for treating neuromuscular issues, CT2 Cineole is best for respiratory problems and is also the most stimulating of the three, and CT3 Verbenone, the most gentle of the three types, is best for complaints of the gall bladder and liver.
Rosemary is also often seen in hair care products to help stimulate hair growth.
So if you want to see fairies in your yard or attract a lover - or women, to be the boss of your household (as if you aren't already ;) ) - you simply must plant some rosemary. And the essential oil, in all its chemotypes, is a very important part of an aromatherapists' toolkit.
Battaglia, S. The Complete Guide to Aromatherapy, 3rd Ed, Vol. 1, 2018. Black Pepper Creative Pty Ltd.
Culpeper, N. Culpeper's Complete Herbal. 2019. Sterling Publishing Co., Inc.
Guba, R. Essential Therapeutics Professional Reference Guide. Essential Therapeutics.
Holmes, P. Aromatica, Volume 1. (2016) Singing Dragon.