The Rosemary is a well-known, sweet-scented shrub, cultivated in our gardens, and herb beds on account of its fragrance and its aromatic virtues. It came originally from the South of Europe and the Levant, and was introduced into England before the Norman Conquest. The shrub (Rosmarinus) takes its compound name from ros, dew, marinus, belonging to the sea; in allusion to the grey, glistening appearance of the plant, and its natural locality, as well as its odor,
like that of the sea. It is ever green, and bears small, pale, blue flowers.
Rosemary was thought by the ancients to refresh the memory and comfort the brain. Being a cordial herb it was often mentioned in the lays, or amorous ballads, of the Troubadours; and was called "Coronaria" because women were accustomed to make crowns and garlands thereof.
"What flower is that which regal honor craves?
Adjoin the Virgin: and 'tis strewn o'er graves."
In some parts of England Rosemary is put with the corpse into the coffin, and sprigs of it are distributed among the mourners at a funeral, to be thrown into the grave, Gay alludes to this practice when describing the burial of a country lass who had met with an untimely death:
"To show their love, the neighbors far and near
Followed, with wistful looks, the damsel's bier;
Sprigged Rosemary the lads and lasses bore,
While dismally the Parson walked before;
Upon her grave the Rosemary they threw,
The Daisy, Butter flower, and Endive blue,"
In "Romeo and Juliet", Father Lawrence says:
"Dry up your tears, and stick your Rosemary On this fair corse."
The herb has a pleasant scent and a bitter, pungent taste, whilst much of its volatile, active principle resides in the calices of the flowers; therefore, in storing or using the plant these parts must be retained. It yields its virtues partially to water, and entirely to rectified spirit of wine.
In early times Rosemary was grown largely in kitchen gardens, and it came to signify the strong influence of the matron who dwelt there:
"Where Rosemary flourishes the woman rules,"
The leaves and tops afford an essential volatile oil, but not so much as the flowers.
A spirit made from this essential oil with spirit of wine will help to renovate the vitality of paralyzed limbs, if rubbed in with brisk friction. The volatile oil includes a special camphor similar to that possessed by the myrtle. The plant also contains some tannin, with a resin and a bitter principle. By old writers it was said to increase the flow of milk.
The oil is used officially for making a spirit of Rosemary, and is added to the compound tincture of Lavender, as well as to Soap liniment. By common consent it is agreed that the volatile oil (or the spirit) when mixed in washes will specially stimulate growth of the hair. The famous Hungary water, first concocted for a Queen of Hungary who, by its continual use, became effectually cured of paralysis, was prepared by putting a pound and a half of the fresh tops of Rosemary,
when in full flower, into a gallon of proof spirit, which had to stand for four days, and was then distilled.
Hungary water (l'eau de la reine d'Hongrie) was formerly very famous for gout in the hands and feet. Hoyes says, the formula for composing this water, written by Queen Elizabeth's own hand in golden characters, is still preserved in the Imperial Library at Vienna.
An ounce of the dried leaves and flowers treated with a pint of boiling water, and allowed to stand until cold, makes one of the best hair washes known. It has the singular power of preventing the hair from uncurling when exposed to a damp atmosphere. The herb is used in the preparation of "Eau de Cologne".
Rosemary wine, taken in small quantities, acts as a quieting cordial to a heart of which the action is excitable or palpitating, and it relieves ally accompanying dropsy by stimulating the kidneys. This wine may be made by chopping up sprigs of Rosemary, and pouring on them some sound white wine, which after two or three days, may be strained off and used. By stimulating the nervous system it proves useful against the headaches of weak circulation and of languid health. "If a
garlande of the tree be put around the heade it is a remedy for the stuffing of the head that cometh from coldness."
The green-leaved variety of Rosemary is the sort to be used medicinally. There are also silver and gold-leaved diversities. Sprigs of the herb were formerly stuck into beef whilst roasting as an excellent relish. A writer of 1707 tells of "Rosemary-preserve to dress your beef."
The toilet of the Ancients was never considered complete without an infusion, or spirit of Rosemary; and in olden times Rosemary was entwined in the wreath worn by the bride at the altar, being first dipped in scented water. Anne of Cleves, one of Henry the Eighth's wives, wore such a wreath at her wedding; and when people could afford it, the Rosemary branch presented to each guest was richly gilded.
The custom which prevailed in olden times of carrying a sprig of Rosemary in the hand at a funeral, took its rise from the notion of an alexipharmick or preservative powder in this herb against pestilential disorders; and hence it was thought that the smelling thereof was a powerful defense against any morbid effluvia from the corpse.
For the same reason it was usual to burn Rosemary in the chambers of the sick, just as was formerly done with frankincense, which gave the Greeks occasion to call the Rosemary Libanotis. In the French language of flowers this herb represents the power of rekindling lost energy. "The flowers of Rosemary," says an old author, "made up into plates (lozenges), with sugar, and eaten, comfort the heart, and make it merry, quicken the spirits, and make them more lively."
"There's Rosemary for you--that's for remembrance! Pray you, love, remember!" says "Ophelia in Hamlet". The spirit of Rosemary is kept by all druggists, and may be safely taken in doses of from twenty to thirty drops with a spoonful or two of water. Rosemary tea will soon relieve hysterical depression. Some persons drink it as a restorative at breakfast. It will help to regulate the monthly flow of women. An infusion of the herb mixed with poplar bark, and used every night,
will make the hair soft, glossy, and strong.
In Northern Ireland is found the Wild Rosemary, or Marsh Tea (Ledum palustre), which has admirable curative uses, and from which, therefore, though it is not a common plant in England, a medicinal tincture (H.) is made with spirit of wine.
The herb belongs to the Rock Rose tribe, and contains citric acid, leditannic acid, resin, wax, and a volatile principle called "ericinol."
This plant is of singular use as a remedy for chilblains, as well as to subdue the painful effects of a sting from a wasp or bee; also to relieve gouty pains, which attack severely, but do not cause swelling of the part, especially as regards the fingers and toes. Four or five drops of the tincture should be taken for a dose with a tablespoonful of cold water, three or four times in the day; and linen rags soaked in a lotion made with a teaspoonful of the tincture added to
half a tumblerful of cold water, should be kept applied over the affected part.
It equally relieves whitlows; and will heal punctured wounds, if arnica, or the Marigold, or St. John's Wort is not indicated, or of use. When tested by provers in large doses, it has caused a widespread eruption of eczema, with itching and tingling of the whole skin, extending into the mouth and air passages, and occasioning a violent spasmodic cough. Hence, one may fairly assume (and this has been found to hold good), that a gouty, spasmodic cough of the bronchial
tubes, attended with gouty eczema, and with pains in the smaller joints, will be generally cured by tincture or infusion of the Wild Rosemary in small doses of a diluted strength, given several times a day, the diet at the same time being properly regulated. Formerly this herb was used in Germany for making beer heady; but it is now forbidden by law.
The Primitive Simplers presented here show the way of life in other generations, it is not suggested or recommended trying them yourself.
History of Herbs
Herbs for Beginners
Drying & Preserving Herbs
Indoor Herb Gardening
Hints & Tips
Oil and Vinegar
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