We feel it in the air: the heat waves of summer have passed, and the coolness of autumn begins. The smokey smell from wood-burning fireplaces turns my attention toward the fullness of fall, and with fall, more indoor activities: many of us turn toward cooking as a pleasant indoor pastime. Thanksgiving is fast approaching which means Christmas gift giving, family get-togethers, and cooking will soon be upon us. So this month, as we start to settle in for the winter, let’s talk about rosemary. Most of us are familiar with the fresh, almost lemony-pine-like fragrance of rosemary. But did you know that rosemary has a traditional legacy in rituals, healing, as well as culinary uses?
Rosemary's Historical Significance
Rosemary seems to have an unusually rich political, romantic, mystical, and medicinal history for an herb, not to mention the deep appreciation of chefs all over the world. Rosemary got it name because it was originally most often found growing by the ocean. Rosemary literally means "dew of the sea”.
Regarded as the symbol of friendship, loyalty, and remembrance, rosemary is also thought of as having magical properties. However, other than it is mentioned as having “magickal” properties, little specifically was provided in the resources I searched. Of the herbs we’ve covered in this series to date, rosemary has a greater wealth of historical uses and importance documented. “Our Herb Garden” is a recent find on the rich history and some of the folklore of herbs. A few excerpts on rosemary are listed below.
The folklore and medicinal uses of rosemary include such oddities as protection from plague to a cure for the common thief. Uses include:
- Association with fairies and witches
- Finding husbands to marry
- Memory retention
- Making wooden instruments and tools
- Thwarting the occasional thief
- Removing evil spirits
- Healing gout
- Even protecting one from the bubonic plague.
As a part of the wedding ritual, rosemary was often entwined into a wreath, dipped in scented water and worn by brides at the altar. The wreath symbolized fidelity, love, abiding friendship and remembrance of the life the woman had led prior to her marriage. For example, Anne of Cleves (1515 – 1557), Henry the Eighth’s 4th wife, wore a rosemary wreath at their wedding.
It was also customary for wealthy bridal couples to present a gilded branch of rosemary to each wedding guest.
Using rosemary in today's weddings is still practiced by many modern brides. Not too long ago this medieval tradition was carried out at the wedding of a contemporary of mine and we all walked away with sachet bags filled with this aromatic herb.