pierre laszlo

Rosmarinus officinalis (Lamiaceae)

Why this name ? Does it refer to the Virgin Mary, to be honored with roses ? Such an existing interpretation is mistaken, with both its apparent referents, roses and Mary. The name ‟rosemary‟ refers to Greek mythology, not to Christian religion. When Venus Aphrodite arose from the waves, as in the famous painting by Botticelli, her nudity was supposedly covered with branches of rosemary. The name of the plant in Latin, rosmarinus, meant ‟ marine dew‟.

Thus, the Roman named it. Was the plant endemic to Italy ? Indeed it is native to Mediterranean coastlines, Italy among them.

Given its uses, as an herb for cooking and also as an herbal remedy, rosemary became cultivated in many parts of the world. About 50 different varieties are known nowadays.

Rosemary, a hardy, highly adaptable evergreen shrub, belongs to the family of lamiaceae. It shows accordingly a stem with a square section. Needle-like leaves are very aromatic. Tiny, two-lipped, pale blue to white flowers bloom in axillary clusters along the shoots of the prior year’s growth. Bees are assiduous in collecting nectar from the flowers and rosemary honey enjoys a high reputation.

Hungary water from rosemary was first made for Queen Elizabeth of Hungary (1207-1231) to " ... renovate vitality of paralyzed limbs ... " and to treat gout. Used externally — please take note—, it was prepared by mixing fresh rosemary tips in spirits of wine.

This plant strongly defends itself from herbivores. Which is why gardeners sometimes plant it in deer-infested areas. The defense is chemical. The essential oil of rosemary is rich in eucalyptol (an analgesic and anti-inflammatory, also a mucolytic), α- and β-pinene. It has also antibacterial activity.

This essential oil, although very toxic — it induces epileptic-like seizures — has the reputation among herbalists of enhancing memory. They even suggest it for patients beset with dementia, a use all the more absurd that there are no fewer than 12 different brain pathologies, with distinct causes, gathered under this single name.

Shakespeare could be blamed for this mythical virtue. When the indeed crazed Ophelia offers rosemary flowers to her brother, she tells him

‟There's rosemary, that's for remembrance; pray,love, remember: and there is pansies. that's for thoughts.‟ (Hamlet, 4.V)

The Bard was a constant punster, as these lines show. The wordplay they involve, I submit, is from the French, romarin and mémoire are near-anagrams, while the French name for both the pansy and the thought is pensée. The former pun, and greed, account for dozens of commercial sites on the Web hawking rosemary oil to improve memory.

This is only a scam, subjects convince themselves that essential oils do them good. 
Were it not for the rather acute toxicity of rosemary oil, such a psychosomatic influence might be considered beneficial.

It is better, I submit, to confine rosemary as an herb for the kitchen. My wife, Valerie — who incidentally edits all these pieces of mine for their English —, prepares a most delicious dish of rosemary potatoes. I leave it to her to insert here, as a treat for the readers, her recipe for it.

‟in heated olive oil, sauté crushed garlic (one or two cloves), add thinly sliced cooked potatoes and the green tips from fresh rosemary. Dried rosemary won’t work. It is like adding small wooden sticks and the flavor won’t come through. Sauté the mix and turn until golden brown. Salt and pepper to taste.‟

Thus, rosemary can safely (and delightfully) be ingested. The heat of the frying pan vaporizes most of the toxic chemicals, yet a trace of them lingers, enough to aromatize this dish or others also flavored with rosemary.