Rosmarinus officinalis (*)
Rosmarinus officinalis L., 1753
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) is a woody, perennial herb with fragrant evergreen needle-like leaves. It is native to the Mediterranean region. It is a member of the mint family Lamiaceae, which also includes many other herbs.
The name rosemary derives from the Latin name rosmarinus, which is from "dew" (ros) and "sea" (marinus), or "dew of the sea" because in many locations it needs no other water than the humidity carried by the sea breeze to live.
Rosmarinus officinalis is one of only two species in the genus Rosmarinus. The other species is the closely related but less commercially viable Rosmarinus eriocalyx, of the Maghreb of Africa and Iberia. The herbs are a member of the large mint family Lamiaceae.
Named by the 18th century naturalist and founding taxonomist Carolus Linnaeus, it has not undergone much taxonomical change since.
Forms range from upright to trailing; the upright forms can reach 1.5 m (5 ft) tall, rarely 2 m (6 ft 7 in).
The leaves are evergreen, 2–4 cm (0.8–1.6 in) long and 2–5 mm broad, green above, and white below with dense short woolly hair.
Flowering, very common in a mature and healthy specimen, blooms in summer in the north; but can be everblooming in warm-winter climates and is variable in color, being white, pink, purple, or blue.
Coming from the Latin words Ros Marinus rosemary translates into Dew of the Sea. It was said to be draped around Aphrodite when she rose from the sea and was originally born of Ouranos's semen. Today the goddess Aphrodite is associated with rosemary, as is the Virgin Mary, who was supposed to have spread her cloak over a white-blossomed rosemary bush when she was resting; according to legend, the flowers turned blue, the color most associated with Mary.
Since it is attractive and tolerates some degree of drought, it is also used in landscaping, especially in areas having a Mediterranean climate. It is considered easy to grow for beginner gardeners, and is pest-resistant.
Rosemary grows on friable loam soil with good drainage in an open sunny position, it will not withstand water logging and some varieties may be susceptible to frost. It grows best in neutral to alkaline conditions pH (pH 7–7.8) with average fertility.
Rosemary is easily pruned into shapes and has been used for topiary. When grown in pots, it is best kept trimmed to stop it getting straggly and unsightly, though when grown in a garden, rosemary can grow quite large and still be attractive. It can be propagated from an existing plant by clipping a shoot 10–15 cm (4–6 in) long, stripping a few leaves from the bottom, and planting it directly into soil.
Numerous cultivars have been selected for garden use. The following are frequently sold:
* Albus – white flowers
The fresh and dried leaves are used frequently in traditional Mediterranean cuisine; they have a bitter, astringent taste and are highly aromatic, which complements a wide variety of foods. A tisane can also be made from them. When burned they give off a distinct mustard smell, as well as a smell similar to that of burning which can be used to flavor foods while barbecuing.
Rosemary is extremely high in iron, calcium, and Vitamin B6.
Rosemary extract has been shown to improve the shelf life and heat stability of omega-3 rich oils, which are prone to going rancid.
Don Quixote (Chapter XVII, 1st volume) mixes it in his recipe of the miraculous balm of Fierabras with revolting results.
Rosemary has a very old reputation for improving memory, and has been used as a symbol for remembrance (during weddings, war commemorations and funerals) in Europe and Australia. Mourners would throw it into graves as a symbol of remembrance for the dead. In Shakespeare's Hamlet, Ophelia says, "There's rosemary, that's for remembrance." (Hamlet, iv. 5.) One modern study lends some credence to this reputation. When the smell of rosemary was pumped into cubicles where people were working, those people showed improved memory, though with slower recall.
In the Middle Ages, rosemary was associated with wedding ceremonies - the bride would wear a rosemary headpiece and the groom and wedding guests would all wear a sprig of rosemary, and from this association with weddings rosemary evolved into a love charm. Newly wed couples would plant a branch of rosemary on their wedding day. If the branch grew it was a good omen for the union and family. In ‘A Modern Herbal’, Mrs Grieves says “A rosemary branch, richly gilded and tied with silken ribands of all colours, was also presented to wedding guests, as a symbol of love and loyalty.” Another example of rosemary’s use as a love charm was that a young person would tap another with a rosemary sprig and if the sprig contained an open flower, it was said that the couple would fall in love. Rosemary was used as a divinatory herb-several types of herbs were grown in pots and assigned the name of a potential lover. Then they were left to grow and the plant that grew the strongest and fastest gave the answer. Rosemary was also stuffed into poppets (cloth dolls) in order to attract a lover or attract curative vibrations for illness. It was believed that placing a sprig of rosemary under a pillow before sleep would repel nightmares, and if placed outside the home it would repel witches. Somehow, the use of rosemary in the garden to repel witches turned into signification that the woman ruled the household in homes and gardens where rosemary grew abundantly. By the 16th century, this practise became a bone of contention; and men were known to rip up rosemary bushes to show that they, not their wives, ruled the roost.
Potential medicinal use
The results of a study suggest that carnosic acid, found in rosemary, may shield the brain from free radicals, lowering the risk of strokes and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's and Lou Gehrig's.
Rosemary may have some anti-carcinogenic properties. A study where a powdered form of rosemary was given to rats in a measured amount for 2 weeks showed reduction in the binding of a certain carcinogen by 76%, and greatly reduced the formation of mammary tumors. 
Rosemary contains a number of potentially biologically active compounds, including antioxidants such as carnosic acid and rosmarinic acid. Other bioactive compounds include camphor (up to 20% in dry rosemary leaves), caffeic acid, ursolic acid, betulinic acid, rosmaridiphenol, and rosmanol. Rosemary antioxidants levels are closely related to soil moisture content. The market for these medicinal use of rosemary is currently small but there is a market for rosemary antioxidants and under the right conditions rosemary production could be profitable and sustainable.
Potential side effects
When rosemary is harvested appropriately and used within recommended guidelines, side effects are minimal. A few instances of allergic skin reactions to topical preparations containing rosemary have been reported.
Recent European research has shown that rosemary interferes with the absorption of iron in the diet, which indicates that it should not be used internally by persons with iron deficiency anemia.
Health precautions and toxicology
Rosemary in culinary or therapeutic doses is generally safe. A toxicity studies of the plant on rats has shown hepatoprotective and antimutagenic activities; however, precaution is necessary for those displaying allergic reaction or prone to epileptic seizures. Rosemary essential oil may have epileptogenic properties, as a handful of case reports over the past century have linked its use with seizures in otherwise healthy adults or children. Rosemary essential oil is potentially toxic if ingested. Large quantities of rosemary leaves can cause adverse reactions, such as coma, spasm, vomiting, and pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs) that can be fatal. Avoid consuming large quantities of rosemary especially if pregnant or breastfeeding.
1. ^ "Rosmarinus officinalis information from NPGS/GRIN". www.ars-grin.gov. http://www.ars-grin.gov/cgi-bin/npgs/html/taxon.pl?32207. Retrieved 2008-03-03.
* Calabrese, V.; et al. (2000). "Biochemical studies of a natural antioxidant isolated from rosemary and its application in cosmetic dermatology". International Journal of Tissue Reactions 22 (1): 5–13. PMID 10937349.
Source: Wikipedia, Wikispecies: All text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License