Merry for Rosemary

by Julie Barnes

A live rosemary plant pruned as a Christmas tree is a great decorative holiday gift. For those who like to cook, the aromatic leaves can be used as flavoring in holiday meals. Rosemary is also used in teas, or in potpourri with its pungent, piney, aroma. This scented herb grows naturally as a sturdy, evergreen plant that has needle shaped leaves and is one of the many culinary members of the mint family including basil, thyme, lavender, savory, lemon balm, marjoram, oregano, and sage. It is native to the dry, rocky areas along the coast of the Mediterranean where its name is derived from the Latin ros meaning "dew," and marinus, meaning "sea." Together with beautiful periwinkle flowers, rosemary is known as the "Dew of the Sea."

Rosemary is steeped in Christmas tradition. Over two thousand years ago, it commonly grew in its native Middle East. There are two legends that involve The Blessed Mary arranging garments over a rosemary plant. During the Holy Family's flight to Egypt, one version had it that when they stopped to rest, Mary draped her blue cloak over a rosemary shrub and its flowers turned from their original white to blue. According to another account, a pleasant scent was bestowed upon this herb after Mary used a rosemary bush as a place to hang the cleaned clothing of the Christ Child. In the Middle Ages rosemary was spread on the floor of the home at Christmas so a fragrance could be released when it was walked upon. A whiff of rosemary on Christmas Eve was believed to safeguard health as well as promote happiness in the upcoming year. Rosemary was also used to ward off evil spirits, or as a disinfectant against illnesses. In the language of flowers Rosemary symbolizes remembrance. At funerals it has been given to grieving relatives to signify that the deceased will not be forgotten. Rosemary is also known to represent friendship and fidelity. At weddings, Rosemary would be wound into a bride's bouquet or a groom's boutonniere to remind participants of their vows. Sometimes brides would wear a rosemary wreath as a gesture of their love, happiness and loyalty. Not only does aromatic Rosemary make the holiday season merry for flavoring and decorating but, many cultures have known for millennia of rosemary's many therapeutic values:

• Rosemary has amazing antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-carcinogenic properties that support the immune system.

• Rosemary has been notoriously linked to memory. Carnosic acid produced in its leaves can actually protect the brain from free radical damage while its other compounds promote healthy blood flow to brain tissue to stimulate the mind.

• As a de-stressor, the scent of rosemary may reduce stressful cortisol levels.

• As a digestive aid, rosemary tea can alleviate cramps, bloating, constipation, or indigestion.

• By steaming Rosemary sprigs, airway inflammation caused by allergies or asthma may be lessened by catching the herbal vapor under a towel over a bowl.

• When this herb is made into rosemary-infused oil, it can be massaged over your chest and throat to relieve chest congestion, or used as an analgesicby rubbing it into sore muscles or aching arthritic areas.

• A few drops of rosemary-oil added to your daily body lotion can be used as an antiseptic for soothing skin Irritations.

• A handful of fresh rosemary thrown into hot bath water has been used to treat stiff, painful joints for centuries.

• It has also been a popular natural migraine treatment achieved by vigorously rubbing a sprig of Rosemary to release and inhale the fragrance.

What a gift to learn that this merry herb could do so much curing.