The herb rosmarinus officinalis may look stern and spiky but it has a long, romantic history. Rosmarinus is the Latin for “dew of the sea”, which refers to its pale blue flowers, while the Greeks knew it as antos – “the flower of excellence”. A native of the warmer Mediterranean parts of Europe, rosemary is now cultivated around the world, and found in a large number of British gardens. It landed in England from the continent in the 14th century, part of the retinue of Queen Philippa of Hainault, wife of Edward III.
First mentioned by the ancients in 500 BC, rosemary has held a central place in European herbal medicine ever since. It was said to have a special affinity with the human head – and was used to treat everything from hair loss and headaches to fading memory, depression and ageing. When burnt with juniper berries it served as an antibacterial remedy used in WWII hospital wards and when slid between linen it saw off insects. With preservative qualities higher than some food additives, rosemary was also used to keep meat and fish fresh.
Culinary references to rosemary didn’t appear until much later, thought to be because of its otherwise paramount position in sacred rituals. In Spain it is believed that rosemary was one of the bushes that gave shelter to the Virgin Mary on the flight into Egypt – hence its local name romero or “Pilgrim’s Flower”.
For growing, a warm sunny border is best, light, dry soil with good drainage and a sheltered position. A dense evergreen perennial, the herb is made up of stiff stems covered in tough brown bark, liberally sprouted with sharp, grey-green leaves and quantities of small blue flowers. And being a rich source of iron, calcium, and vitamin B6, it is also said to aid digestion, while possessing anti-inflammatory properties that help to soothe pain and irritation.
Shop the Collection
Explore the products related to this story