Did you know that the name for the herb Rosemary comes from Latin and literally means ‘rose or dew of the sea’? What a whimsically beautiful translation.
I read the other day that rosemary is a very Christmassy herb, which I was quite surprised by. I have never really thought of it as such. Spices like cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves, yes, but I don’t think there is a single herb that I would instinctively think of as being particularly linked to the seasonal festivities of Christmas.
So I started to do a little investigating into rosemary. I know it well as a culinary herb and a very useful essential oil, but why a Christmas herb? Well, it turns out there is a huge amount written about the traditions, customs, folklore and superstitions attached to rosemary. It may well have Christmas associations, but this herb has so many other meanings attached to it besides.
Rosemary has been used since ancient times in marking the key moments in a lifetime – birth, marriage and death. Mythology links it to memory, so it has become symbolic for remembrance and fidelity. Stems of rosemary were often placed in or near the cribs of young infants to ward off evil and nightmares.
A native plant of the Mediterranean and Asia, rosemary is a member of the mint family. The essential oil it provides is used in aromatherapy for its uplifting and stimulating properties. As well as giving us a quick lift when we need to stay alert and fight mental fatigue, it is also great for hair and skin care. It is used in massage to provide pain relief for headaches and sore muscles, and it can also help with chesty colds and respiratory problems when inhaled.
One really significant reason to think of rosemary as an essential Christmas herb is its powerful stress relief potential. Like lavender (another relative from the mint family), it has great relaxation properties. Studies have even shown that inhaling rosemary essential oil can actually decrease our cortisol levels. Cortisol is the stress hormone found in our saliva.
For many people the pressures of Christmas, the change in routine, and the demands of managing sustained periods of family politics can cause stress and cortisol levels to sky rocket. If this sounds familiar, then rosemary may just be your secret weapon.
Small pre-potted rosemary bushes would make great mini Christmas trees once adorned. Keep one in the kitchen for that marathon cooking session on Christmas day, decorate the dining table with them, put one in the bathroom for when you just need to escape above all else (we’ve all been there haven’t we?)! Just rub the leaves to release the oils, close your eyes and inhale deeply for a few minutes. You’ll feel refreshed and ready to face the next round in no time!
The antibacterial and health giving properties have long been believed in, and science is increasingly catching up with folkloric beliefs. According to one website I read, rosemary was highly coveted as a form of protection against bubonic plague, which swept through England at the start of the 17th Century. Against plague, rosemary sadly didn’t stand a chance, but desperate Londoners quite literally turned it into green gold for a temporary period in time:
“In 1603, when bubonic plague killed 38,000 Londoners, the demand was so high that the price increased from one shilling for an armful of branches to six shillings for a handful. To put that price increase in perspective, one price list from 1625 indicated that one could obtain 18 gallons of good ale or double beer with carriage (delivery?) for only 3 shillings or an entire ‘fat pig’ for 1 shilling.”
I did also find some very particular folklore, linking rosemary to Christmas, at this website. You may need a pinch of salt on the side, but they are quite fascinating nonetheless:
- A rosemary plant with grow upwards for up to thirty years, until it reaches the height of Jesus Christ at his tallest. After that time the plant will grow no taller.
- Rosemary flowers were originally white. They turned blue when Mary sought temporary comfort and shelter during their flight to Egypt, draping her blue cloak over a rosemary bush. The aromatic scent of Mary’s cloak also transferred to the bush.
- Mary dried the baby Jesus’ freshly washed clothes on a fragrant rosemary bush. The plant’s name, rosemary (the Rose of Mary), and its blue flowers are in remembrance of its humble service to the Holy family.
- Anyone who smells rosemary on Christmas Eve will have happiness for the coming year.
- I also read on this brilliantly named site that rosemary was used along with holly and mistletoe for yule decorations, and was given as a New Years Day gift, along with a clove-studded orange.
So there you have it, whether you are using rosemary for its therapeutic and de-stressing powers, its culinary magic with lamb or potatoes, or just for decorative purposes, rosemary definitely deserves a place in your home this Christmas! Perhaps it has one already?