The facts surrounding rosemary can be quite striking. Despite being a humble herb, in reality, it hides uses and history that might leave speechless many. Do you know that rosemary was the favorite Napoleon herb? Well, if so, you belong to a minority of people. Let’s discover from A to Z what this plant has to tell us.
Many might tell you that Rosemary has been used since 500 before Christ. This is, of course, incorrect. Indeed, it dates as far as 7000 years ago: the time of Egyptian. Indeed, you know that rosemary was so important for Egyptians that were among the few objects placed on the sarcophagus (the Egyptian tombstone) to accompany the death in his travel beyond life? For Egyptian covered a sacred role.
However, rosemary is more famous for being adopted by Romans and Greeks a few thousand of years later (around 500bc). Among Greek, it was used due to its believed magical properties. For instance, if you were living at those times, you would have received a mix of rotten milk, honey, and some alcohol with rosemary to cure any heart problems.
They liked rosemary so much that they also write a book “De Materia Medica” (here to have a look, probably the very first herbal book) in which rosemary covers an important position.
It gets even better:
If you were struggling with your studies, it would not be uncommon to wear some kind of rosemary branches on your hat to improve your memory and concentration! Unfortunately, it is not that easy to score higher grades!
Among Romans, rosemary had similar success. It was part of the majority of outdoor gardens. Or well, to be precise, only in the garden of the “right” people. Among the power attributed to rosemary, there was also the one to not develop in the presence of negative influence. Hence, if your rosemary did not grow in your garden, people might start having suspicious of you at the Romans’ times.
Rosemary, at the time of Greek, was also associated with the goddess of fertility, Aphrodite. Indeed, some versions of the legends describe their birth as totally covered in Rosemary, as discussed here.
Here you can find some of the uses of Rosemary among Greeks and Romans a few thousands of years ago:
- Headache reliever
- Joint pain reliever
- To address nervous system problems
- Enhance memory
The healing properties of rosemary are under investigation, and some of them start having the first proof. Nonetheless, the industry populates with healing rosemary products that are having great success in the market. Just have a look at this therapeutic essential oil for thinning hair, humidifier, weight loss, and so on.
Your home rosemary might look like a simple herb, however, what might surprise you is that its market volume was above 210 million USD in 2019. Spain is the major rosemary producer, with 100 m3 of oil a year, source. Based on the most reliable forecast, given the great success of rosemary, its market is expected to grow up to 260 million, a 25% increase in 2024.
Based on the most recent statistics, around half of the whole market comes from rosemary in powder form (mainly for culinary application). However, around 30% is covered by liquid-based rosemary products. For instance, this famous essential rosemary oil on Amazon is claimed by its users to thicken the skin, body cream, and toilet spray even anesthetic. Essentially, here the sky’s the limit.
But here is the kicker
All this massive market might have been originated by Napoleon and its great (well-known) interest to rosemary. Read the next fact to know more.
3. Rosemary as First Perfume
I would say that I do not know anyone that does not wear a kind of fragrance or perfume. This can be through a proper perfume or even shampoo or shower gel. Perfume is everywhere. However, do you know that the perfume industry started with Rosemary?
As detailed by the perfume society rosemary distilled oil, was used as the first “modern perfume” in Hungary. However, rosemary as a way to add a pleasant aroma to your body as way earlier with a less complex technique.
Napoleon Bonaparte (yes, the famous one, more on his life here) used to wear hundreds of rosemary perfumed water each month, sources. Napoleon also used to claim that people that did not like such scent were low-quality lovers, source. Even royal authority asked their attendance to bath themself in rosemary water before entering their mansion, as a way to purify themselves.
Nowadays, rosemary is a widely used herb in the perfume industry. Just have a look at this one, for instance, pretty popular on Amazon nowadays.
Going to a wedding to celebrate your friend’s best day? Well, it is not uncommon that, at least the future wife bouquet has some rosemary in it.
In the past: the tradition to carry (most of the time for the bride) rosemary is a tradition that dates from the Romans. Rosemary was usually carried out by the brides and wedding guests. This herb symbolizes love, virtue, and purification.
Rosemary kept being adopted for similar purposes during weddings in the medieval era as well until the Victoria one (1900) with the meaning of commemoration. It was not uncommon to find it in incense or in the bride wreath or on the bride’s bed, or simply exchanged between groom and bride for mutual protection, as discussed in the herb society. Sometimes
Rosemary, for the same ideal, was widely used, by the Egyptians, in the tombstones of their loved ones. This tradition, as strange it might sound, survived for thousands of years.
You know that rosemary was tossed in the tombstone of Juliet in the world-wide famous Juliet and Romeo play from Shakespeare? This was more than 6000 years after the Egyptians. Even recently, in the UK, people still used to drop some rosemary branches in the tombstone of their loved ones.
Nowadays: This herb still symbolizes remembrance, and it can be found paired with a large number of other herbs (like sage and peony, here 15 herb bouquets ideas).
As far as I am aware, rosemary is not used anymore during funerals, although some flowering companies still propose it as a part of the Condolence bouquets.
You know that rosemary has the capability to slow down the rate to which food decay. Indeed, as stated by the same European Food and Safety Authority, rosemary (or better its extract) holds antioxidative function. Oxidation, in this context, is correlated with decay so, if something has antioxidant properties, it means that somehow it can slow down such decay process.
Rosemary extract has been proven to exert antioxidative functions – European Food and Safety Authority
After intensive tests, the rosemary extracts were found safe for food applications. Nowadays, you can find it in a few products under the name of E392. According to research, this natural additive is not very widespread due to its bitterness that can significantly affect the food to which it is added. However, if you are curious, just check some of your food labels at home, chances are that you will find the E392 abbreviation in a few of them!
5. Rosemary Uses
Rosemary has always been seen in the distant past as an herb for multiple curative purposes. However, only in recent years, science is backing up this myth.
This is crazy
Do you remember when I told you students, at the Greek times, were used to wear rosemary inside their as a way to improve their academic performance and increase their memory?
Rosemary diterpenes have also been shown in recent years to inhibit neuronal cell death induced by a variety of agents both in vitro and in vivo – Source.
Well, authoritative recent studies clearly stated the rosemary benefits for our brains. It was found able to reduce neuronal cell death. Inhibiting neuronal cells implies younger brains for longer. Moreover, rosemary is seen as a potential ally against serious illnesses like Alzheimer’s, as discussed in the same study.
The benefits do not stop here.
Other studies claimed that rosemary (through inhalation) increased short-term memory while this study highlighted the antioxidant property on animals. This is only the point of the iceberg, many more studies are available on the subject.
However, here is a word of caution. I would not believe whatever I read on the internet if not backed up by at least academic documents like the one I mentioned before. Indeed, for the large size of the rosemary market discussed before (especially for the health-related product), it is not uncommon to find people just interested in selling their rosemary-based products by advertising properties they do not have.
6. Infused Rosemary Honey
Perhaps you believe that rosemary can be used mainly to give a great flavor to your steak or to prepare a great tea? Well, you can do way more than that. Do you know that there are people that do honey with it?
Here the catch
How can you do that? Easy:
- Place dried rosemary branch(es) inside a glass (transparent better for a nice visual effect)
- Fill the jar with honey covering the herb entirely. This can be a supermarket honey. Just make sure it is runnier and transparent. The clove type, like this one here in Walmart, is ideal.
- Close the jar and place it on a windowsill. The light will accelerate the infusion process
- Taste it after 2 weeks. At this time the taste should be strong enough (but not too much)
Here a great video explaining even more.
7. Rosemary For Your Cocktail Party
Perhaps you are not a honey fan (that will be unusual). However, you might have a passion for gin or vodka. Well, rosemary can help here as well. Indeed, rosemary is well-known to be a great ingredient in a large variety of cockatiels. Here we can name a few (with the corresponding link to the best videos for you to learn):
- Gin and tonic with smoked rosemary: trapping the smoke of the burning rosemary for the best flavor – YouTube
- Cranberry vodka with rosemary: here you need to boil your herb – YouTube
- Fireside grapefruit and rosemary with vodka: an easy cocktail with fresh rosemary – YouTube
- The Manhattan: get ready to burn your rosemary for a smoky flavor – YouTube
Interestingly, looking at just a few of these great recipes, rosemary can be used fresh, dry, and even burnt!
Really the list is endless, and the sky in rosemary based cocktail is the limit.
8. Rosemary Shampoo for Hair Growth?
Again, rosemary is a surprise. It is indeed also used in some more expensive shampoo products. Why? There are a lot of talks and (a bit of research) on the benefits of rosemary oil. For more details, I do recommend this reading, quite in-depth and interesting.
Essentially, a few years ago, a team of researchers found that rosemary oils can stimulate hair growth as well as less friendly and well-known products. However, these results, as unfortunately happens when the information goes through the news, get distorted. Indeed, as Rob clearly explained here, rosemary can help in hair growth, but its effects, at least at the moment, are really limited.
Hence, at the end of the story, rosemary will not allow you to recover years of hair loss but can be a great ally in combination with other hair recovery strategies.
9. Environmentally Friendly Christmas Tree
In many EU countries and USA regions, it is quite common to buy a conifer during Christmas. As strange as it might sound, this originally Protestant Christmas symbol, has now been adopted by all Christian countries.
The problem with conifer is the before and after environmental impact. Indeed, usually, there are two choices:
- Buy a plastic tree: so can be used year after year
- Buy a real tree: this is the choice for those that prefer the smell and texture of a real woody tree
In the USA alone, according to the National Christmas Association, 32 million real trees were purchased against the 23 million plastic ones.
I need to be clear, both choices are harming the environment. The plastic one, contrary to expectation, is the one with the largest footprint as detailed discussed here. Indeed, the amount production of plastic is a pretty energy-consuming (carbon-intensive) process.
However, in recent years, rosemary herbs, due to their woody stem, are shaped to resemble a miniature version of conifer and sold as a Christmas tree. Of course, these are way smaller than their traditional counterparts. However, as a symbol of Christmas, many people (including myself) start to realize that they do not really need a massive tree taken away from its forest that will be then disposed of after a week (well, let’s be honest, burnt).
Hence, why not a small rosemary tree that you can keep indoor, with little maintenance (it can easily thrive in dry soil) and that very likely will be there for the next Christmas to come.
Do you know the best part? Rosemary is a famous herb for its aromatherapy effects. Hence, if you have the luck to have a rosemary herb around, take advantage of it. Read the next fact to know more.
10. An Aromatherapy Ally
Aromatherapy is pseudo therapy. Essentially, it claims (although not scientifically demonstrated,) that it can relieve a variety of issues through simply smelling some specific scent produced from herbs essential oils. Another, within the realm of aromatherapy, is to apply them on the skin through massage. Among the most used herbs in aromatherapy, rosemary is at the very top with chamomile and lavender.
Indeed, do you remember what I said in one of the previous facts? Among the benefits attributed to rosemary, we have memory improvement, hair growth, pain relief, better skin, and an improved nervous system. Although the majority have not been scientifically proven, the market at the moment is massive (worth more than 200 million dollars as discussed in fact #2).
Hence, it is quite common to find rosemary-based aromatherapy products. Just have a look at this inexpensive, quite famous brand of pure essential oil on Amazon. Of course, do not believe in whatever you read, but such products smell extremely good, and definitely, they will not harm you.
Here is an interesting video showing you all the steps on how to use essential oils during a massage from an expert.
11. Turn it in a Bonsai
Everyone has probably seen those tiny tree-like plants called bonsai. However, very few of you perhaps wondered which plant you need. Well, the good news is that rosemary can be used as a bonsai.
Growing bonsai is an art that requires not only watering and choosing the right plant but also growing, pruning, and recreating a scene that can be seen naturally in the environment in which the bonsai will grow.
Just a head’s up
Bonsai requires a massive amount of patience and due diligence. However, the results can be really impressive.
12. Clone Your Rosemary
That is a bit crazy: cloning is a controversial topic when animals are involved. However, gardeners have cloned herbs for hundreds of years, and rosemary is one of them.
Have a look at this detailed article on propagation by cutting (this is the name of the technique).
Without getting into many details, what you need to do is just to cut a less woody rosemary branch, remove some of the bottom leaves and place it in water. After 1-2 weeks, you should notice some roots of 1-2 inches. Now you should be ready to place it in a container. Here is a detailed guide on how to do it.
13. Rosemary Can Last More than 30 years
If you have ever grown basil, you know very well that independently from your effort, it will not last more than a season. However, rosemary is a perennial. Hence, for definition, it lasts (if treated properly) for more than 2 years. However, the question is, how long can it last?
Here the crazy bit! There are gardeners claiming that their rosemary is 30 years old or 20 and still growing. At the moment, I did not find any data on the maximum rosemary lifespan but, given the evidence, I would not be surprised to hear someone with a rosemary herb (that gets closer to a tree) half a century old.
14. Can Get Taller Than You!
Here is my point. When we talk about rosemary, 9 out of 10 among you might think of the rosemary you find at the supermarket. This is called the “Officinalis” variety. However, there are many other types of rosemary.
Among them, there is the ‘Tuscan Blue’ rosemary. This variety is famous for its flowers, like dark blue (that appears at the end of winter to April) and quite impressive to be honest. However, the second most striking feature is its height. It can reach up to 8 feet of height (2.4m) and 5 feet wide (1.5m). However, if starting from seeds, this might take around a decade, as stated by the RHS herb database.
Of course, given its size, it should be moved outside after a few years.
15. Shiny Metal Beetles as Worst Enemy
Every herb has its enemy. From insects to earthworms to even fungi and bacteria. However, here where nature gets crazy.
Do you know that the most fearsome rosemary enemy looks like a tiny metal shiny robot?
Yes, this strange insect is called rosemary beetles or metal beetles. These metal green with purple stripes and feed on rosemary leaves. A leaf will die if a beetle chewed it.
To get rid of such insects, the easiest way is just to shake the plant and collect the beetles will fall beneath. Place a piece of paper or towel (I recommend a white one) below the herb to make your life easier in spotting them. Do this for a week or so just to be totally sure that nothing is remaining on the herb. If you want to be 100% sure, just use an insecticide for edible herbs (not a common one, as you want to eat your rosemary at some point).
16. A Name Coming from the Sea
As Latin was one of the official languages of the Roman empire, where rosemary was widely used, it should not be a surprise that its name is actually the fusion of two Latin words.
One is Rose that means dew, and the other is Marinus, which means from the sea. This is because Italy, as the center of the Roman empire, was rich in coasts where rosemary was thriving. Here the origin of its that means droplet of the sea.
Nowadays, in English-speaking countries (the UK, the USA, and Australia mainly) Rosemary is also a commonly used person name, often abbreviated informally as Mary.
17. Against the Evil and as a Purification
Rosemary and magic/spells? As you can imagine, everything started with the Romans. Indeed, these herbs (thanks also their pleasant scent) were used as incense in religious practices by roman priests. Hence, no surprise that rosemary is associated with purification. Indeed, it was not uncommon, at those times, that the houses of people who died of illnesses (potentially contagious) were burned with rosemary in them. A practice to purify the area and avoid the illness spreading.
And here where it gets interesting
The use of rosemary as a way of protection against “evil” influences survived until very recently. Indeed, in 1800, (around 3000 years later) in Spain for instance, it was very common to place on clothes (in the inner part of the hat for instance) rosemary branches as a way to protect from misfortune (from the book “The Bible in Spain”). It was also a witcher repellent. Many indeed used to plant it around their houses as a way to keep witches away.
Nowadays, there is quite a large community of people that still, after millennia, attributes magical powers to rosemary. More often than not, in these rituals, rosemary is burnt with charcoal and other herbs. The smoke so produced is meant to purify a closed space.
Nowadays, rosemary is widespread more or less all over the world. However, it is interesting to notice that depending on where you are, some users are more widespread than others. For instance, accordingly, to the European Medicine Agencies, rosemary was used, in the following countries, as:
China: headache reliever;
India: enhance athletic performance
Greece: treat long term chronic illnesses.
Brazil: to stop a pregnancy
This is, of course, a small fraction of all countries in which rosemary is used. However, even in others, it is very likely that the main users are the same as those are the main I encountered reading quite a lot of documents around (of course I am not mentioning all those correlated with “folklore” and “magic”).
19. Rosemary Scientific Name Changed (2017)
Rosemary until 2017 was called Rosemary officinalis. However, the scientific committee responsible for the biology name of plants decided to change it to Salvia Rosmarinus.
20. Rosemary is Part of the Mint Family
Rosemary is part of the mint or sage (Lamiaceae) family. This family of plants of over 7,000 unique species is widely known around the world for their distinctive smell and taste.
Rosemary (Salvia rosmarinus) belongs to the same family as:
- Basil (Ocimum basilicum)
- Bee balm (Monarda fistulosa)
- Catnip (Nepeta cataria)
- Common mint (Mentha spicata)
- Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis)
- Lavender (Lavandula spica)
- Marjoram (Origanum majorana)
- Oregano (Origanum vulgare)
- Sage (Salvia officinalis)
- Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)
- Winter savory (Satureja montana)
In fact, the main reason why the scientific name of Rosemary was changed is that scientists found out that it was actually closely related to the Russian sage (Salvia yangii).Although the live rosemary plant looks vastly different compared to most other plants in the group Lamiaceae family, they do share some similarities.
Similar to the rest of the flowering plants in the Lamiaceae family, rosemary is a very versatile herb. It has applications in virtually all spheres of life—culinary, medicinal, ornamental, and even cosmetics—all of which I have briefly discussed in previous sections.
21. Rosemary Has Antibacterial Properties
You will hear stories all around the world about the supposed medicinal benefits we can get from rosemary. Some stories remain unsubstantiated to this day. But others have been proven true by science!
Scientists have proven that rosemary indeed has substantial antibacterial properties against a variety of different bacteria. There are also some studies that show that rosemary inhibits fungi and yeast too.
A quick google search will provide you with several in-depth studies that test the limits of rosemary in fighting off many nasty—and unwanted—bacteria.
Rosemary oils have been studied to prevent the growth and/or kill the following:
- Bacillus cereus—causes acute food poisoning marked by diarrhea and vomiting
- Bacillus subtilis—may give rise to pneumonia and septicemia
- Escherichia coli—is known to cause many illnesses like urinary tract infections
- Micrococcus luteus—has been linked to serious conditions such as meningitis
- Salmonella enteritidis—causes gastroenteritis due to salmonellosis
- Salmonella typhi—causes a life-threatening disease referred to as typhoid fever
- Shigella sonnei—could cause bloody diarrhea, stomach aches, and bowel problems
- Staphylococcus aureus—causes skin and respiratory problems that could be fatal
However, fresh rosemary won’t be as effective. What you need are extracted rosemary oils such as borneol, camphor, and verbenone. If you’re planning on using rosemary for any medicinal purpose, remember to consult with your doctor first!
22. Rosemary Attracts a Lot of Pollinators
The flowers of rosemary plants contain a significant amount of nectar which is attractive for numerous pollinators, including bumblebees and honey bees among others.
Looking for a little help with making sure your gorgeous plants get properly pollinated? Then make sure you have some live rosemary plants around! Rosemary is great for attracting and maintaining pollinators in all types of gardens—be it indoor or outdoor.
By planting rosemary around your yard or distributing potted ones in your balcony or patio garden, numerous pollinators will find your greens more inviting and even give you a hand with pollinating all of your other plants.
Here are common pollinators that are attracted by rosemary:
It’s all about reciprocity, give them shelter and they will give you assistance. Plus, compared to other flowering plants that draw in pollinators to your garden, rosemary is arguably a lot more manageable to grow!
23. Rosemary is a Nutrient-Rich Herb
A single teaspoon of freshly harvested rosemary has a significant amount of vitamins, minerals, and many other nutrients. More specifically, rosemary is a good source of water, carbohydrate, fiber, fat, and even protein.
There is a whole lot more to rosemary than its aroma and flavor. Rosemary is chock-full of nutrients like potassium, calcium, iron, and even vitamin C! But that doesn’t even cover half of its wonders.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s FoodData Central, fresh rosemary is rich in various micro and macronutrients. Below is a table detailing the complete nutritional value of a single teaspoon (about 0.02 ounces or 0.7 grams) of freshly picked rosemary.
|Nutrients in Rosemary||Content in 1 tsp|
|Energy||0.917 kcal (3.84 kJ)|
|Dietary Fiber||0.099 g|
|Potassium (K)||4.68 mg|
|Calcium (Ca)||2.22 mg|
|Magnesium (Mg)||0.637 mg|
|Phosphorus (P)||0.462 mg|
|Sodium (Na)||0.182 mg|
|Iron (Fe)||0.047 mg|
|Zinc (Zn)||0.007 mg|
|Manganese (Mn)||0.007 mg|
|Copper (Cu)||0.002 mg|
|Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C)||0.153 mg|
|Pantothenic Acid (Vitamin B5)||0.006 mg|
|Niacin (Vitamin B3)||0.006 mg|
|Pyridoxine (Vitamin B6)||0.002 mg|
|Riboflavin (Vitamin B2)||0.001 mg|
|Thiamin (Vitamin B1)||0 mg|
|Retinoid (Vitamin A)||1.02 µg|
|Folate (Vitamin B9)||0.763 µg|
|Cobalamin (Vitamin B12)||0 µg|
|Saturated Fatty Acids||0.02 g|
|Monounsaturated Fatty Acids||0.008 g|
|Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids||0.006 g|
|Trans Fatty Acids||0 g|
|Glutamic Acid||0.003 g|
|Aspartic Acid||0.003 g|
So the next time you include some rosemary in your recipe, make sure to fully appreciate it for what it is!
24. Rosemary Grows Best in Warm and Dry Climate
Rosemary, despite being widely distributed across the globe nowadays, is native to the Mediterranean region. In other words, rosemary plants naturally favor a warmer and drier environment for optimal growth, like what is generally experienced in California.
There’s a commonly held belief that persists about rosemary. Some people believe that rosemary bushes that grow wildly and widely in a garden are a sign that the head of the household is a woman.
As amusing as that sounds, science actually has a perfectly simple explanation for why rosemary can become unruly. In reality, excessively watering rosemary—regardless of whether done intentionally or not—will make your plant hard to manage.
So to avoid having unruly rosemary plants, remember not to over-water them! As a matter of fact, it would do quite well in desert-like climates (e.g., Arizona). Remember to also pinch the tips of young rosemary plants, and regularly—but lightly—prune and thin older ones.
25. Not All “Rosemary” Plants are Real Rosemary
Several plants that have “rosemary” as part of their common name are not at all related to the ever-popular culinary herb rosemary (Salvia rosmarinus). For instance, rosemary pines (Pinus spp.) are large trees and not herbs.
Plant names can be really confusing, as you might have already realized from frequent changes in scientific names and taxonomic classifications. But common names for plants can be just as—if not more—problematic for beginner gardeners when it comes to correctly identify plants.
Below are some plants named “rosemary” but are not real rosemary plants:
- Bog rosemary or marsh andromeda (Andromeda polifolia)
- Cumberland rosemary or Cumberland false rosemary (Conradina verticillata)
- Coastal rosemary or coastal westringia (Westringia fruticosa)
- Desert rosemary, frosted mint, or hoary rosemary mint (Poliomintha incana)
- False rosemary, wild rosemary, beach rosemary, conradina, or short-leaved false rosemary (Conradina canescens)
- Florida rosemary, sandhill rosemary, or sand heath (Ceratiola ericoides)
- Rosemary pine, loblolly pine, bull pine, or North Carolina pine (Pinus taeda)
- Rosemary pine, old-field pine, yellow pine, or short-leaf pine (Pinus echinata)
- March rosemary, sea lavender, statice, or caspia (Limonium spp.)
Most of these closely resemble rosemary at first glance, which adds a lot to the confusion. But some plants are obviously nothing like the rosemary herb.
When does rosemary flower? Although the majority of rosemary varieties bloom in spring, this is not always true. Here is a list of the most common rosemary type and their blooming period:
- Rosmarinus officinalis in spring
- Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Roseus’ in spring
- Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Foxtail’ in spring
- Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Jekka Blue’ spring and autumn
- Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Jekka Blue’ in late winter
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