Botany and Production
Rosemary, Rosmarinus officinalis, belongs to the family of Labiatae or Lamiaceae. It is an evergreen, bushy woody shrub native to the Mediterranean region and can grow to 1.5 meter tall. Its leaves are needle-like, green above and silvery below, 2-4 cm. The small flowers are most often pale bluish, but can also be whitish or lilac. It is peculiar to Rosemary, that it can flower almost all year, different bushes setting flowers at different times here in Crete. What provokes Rosemary to bloom at any given time and without any regularity is not known...it seems to have a mind of its own about that.
The name Rosmarinus comes from the latin 'ros', dew, and 'marinus' of the sea. The name is attributed to Pliny the Elder (AD 23-79), and often interpreted to refer to its habitat near the Mediterranean sea coasts, where it would be near the spray of the sea. However, it does not typically live near the sea , and probably the name also can refer to the silverish colour of the leaves' underside or to the colour of the flowers instead.. Its English name Rosemary, is sometimes alleged to a legend. The virgin Mary on her way to Egypt sought refuge under a Rosemary bush and placed her blue cloak over it, which turned the plants former white flowers to blue and made it become the Rose of Mary...
According to the British Pharmacopoeia, the oil should be distilled from the flowering tops of Rosemary, which yield a superior oil compared to the stems and leaves. However, commercial oils are usually distilled from the stems and leaves. Commercial Rosemary oils are distilled mainly in Spain, France, Tunisia.
Rosemary oils are also frequently found adulterated. One of the worlds most experienced essential oil analysts, Dr Brian Lawrence, whom we were fortunate to have as a teacher, has found several commercial samples of reputed French origin to be "doctored" with a "coupage". As well, it is reported, that Rosemary oils are often stretched with lower priced oils such as Eucalyptus globulus and Cinnamomum camphora, or the synthetic equivalents of their main components, 1.8 cineole and camphor. It remains difficult to obtain a true oil of Rosemary.
We collect the flowering tops of Rosemary when in full flower during hot and dry periods between May and September near our distillery around Modi, Kydonias. It is the young flexible tops we cut for distillation. We always prune out old woody, tired branches as we collect the tops, to encourage development and vitality. Collecting and pruning Rosemary is really an ecological operation, if not pruned for old branches, the plants slowly degenerate.
The flowering tops are dried for a few days to a week, according to their content of humidity before distillation. Distillation lasts for about 5-6 hours with a medium yield of about 0.8%. The oil has a bright, uplifting scent, very balanced, with underlying sweet but fresh floral tones.
There exist three chemotypes (CT) of Rosmarinus officinalis essential oils. 'Chemotype' refers to a plant of a defined species, which can produce different essential oil compositions due to genetic, geographical or environmental factors. In Rosemary essential oils, the existence of three chemotypes was recognized by Granger already in 1971. These chemotypes do not refer to an entirely different composition, but mainly to a different quantitative relation between compounds. Within natural Rosmarinus officinalis essential oils, we distinguish a CT camphor, a CT verbenone and a CT 1.8 cineole.
Our oil belongs to the latter, and is typically composed of the main components: a-pinene (12.4%), camphene (3.7%), b-pinene (4.2%), limonene (3.7%), 1.8 cineole (45.2%), p-cymene (1.8%), camphor (10.1%), terpinen-4-ol (5.8%), a-terpineol (2.8%), b-caryophyllene (0.9%), verbenone (0.3%), along with minor compounds.
Rosemary, the herb itself,is reported to have a low oral toxicity level.
As Rosemary essential oil stimulates the body, it is usually recommended not to use it when suffering from epilepsy or with extremely high fever. It is said to avoid the oil with high blood pressure, however, there is no clinical evidence. The oil can potentially cause skin irritations in very sensitive individuals, it is classified as "very mildly irritant". Rosemary oil should be used sparingly during pregnancy and avoided altogether in massages during the first few months. However, the evaporation of the oil does not harm.
Rosemary essential oil should not be ingested in larger amounts than advised. To flavour a stew, only a few drops are required.
Principle of Action
Antibacterial, antiseptic, circulatory stimulant (peripheral), antioxidant, carminative, astringent. Since Antiquity considered a sacred herb, related to remembrance, sincerity and faithfulness.
Rosemary is stimulating, rejuvenating, purifying and uplifting to spirit mind and body. As such it removes stagnation, encourages circulation in the body, beneficial for muscle tension and rheumatism as well as for hair loss.
Rosmarinus officinalis is another herb with a long and outstanding reputation since antiquity. Probably, the first ancient mentioning of it was found in the Sumerian cuneiform tablets, discovered 1920 near Nineveh and dated to approx. 1700 BC. Few herbs throughout history, had as much symbolism attached to it, as Rosemary has.
It was considered a sacred plant to the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, associated with love, death (renewal), immortality, purity and remembrance. Traces of Rosemary were found in Egyptian tombs dating from 3000BC, as it was among the herbs used for embalming. In ancient Greece, it was used to fumigate temples and as a herb for garlands worn on the heads of scholars to improve memory and invigorate the spirit. Rosemary was associated with Athena, the goddess of wisdom, poetry and arts. The nine daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne (memory), the muses, are often depicted with sprigs of Rosemary in their hands.
Throughout the centuries, Rosemary was believed to strengthen memory and mental clarity, uplift the spirit, protect against evil influences from around, and evil thoughts within. Rosemary became a symbol of stability, fidelity and friendship, used throughout the ancient world in rituals and ceremonies, such as funerals and weddings. In Crete, Rosemary was, and is, a symbol for sincerity.
In the first and second centuries AD, Pliny the Elder, Dioscurides and Galen all mentioned Rosemarys ability to improve memory.
Pliny the Elder recommends Rosemary also for liver problems, gout, the treatment of wounds and respiratory diseases.
Rosemary oil has a pronounced action on the brain and the central nervous system and is wonderful for clearing the mind and increasing mental awareness, while having excellent brain stimulant properties, as well as improving memory. The age old reputation of Rosemary as a memory enhancing, mentally stimulating and invigorating remedy, is also recognized today. Recent studies showed, that the essential oil improved memory and alertness in office-workers and had a positive effect on anxiety levels of nurse students. Rosmarinus officinalis essential oil has shown to increase beta waves in the brain, associated with alertness, logical thinking and attention. It is not an oil to use when overexcited, rather used when feeling sluggish and exhausted.
It helps with headaches, migraines, neuralgia, mental fatigue and nervous exhaustion. The oil can be evaporated in an aromalamp or diffuser to purify the air, uplift the spirit, clear and focus our minds. In the case of headaches or migraine, one can rub a drop of the oil unto the temples. Its scent imparts clarity and hope, confidence and faith. It has a certain serenity which comes with experience, which allows us to embrace and integrate all memory into a moment of stability, and readies us to move towards renewal and regeneration. Somehow, it stills the waters of negative thoughts and worries, inspires us with clarity, helps us to let go of the clinging to the past. As its flowers teach us, we can bloom any time regardless of patterns or seasons.. we just have to set our mind on it.
Rosmarinus officinalis has a remarkable antimicrobial activity. It was an ingredient in the famous 'four thieves vinegar', a remedy to ward off infection by the plague, the black death. It is said, that a gang of thieves used this remedy in order to ransack the homes of plague victims for valuables, without contracting the disease. When they were finally caught, and asked for their secret, which protected them from the infection, they traded the recipe of their remedy for their freedom and Life. It was a vinegar prepared from Lavender, Thyme, Sage and Rosemary. Doctors in the Medieval used blends of these herbs to protect them from contamination. They wore either special hats, or masks, filled with aromatic herbs, or held a staff with a handle filled with them.
Still today, the essential oils of Rosemary, Lavender, Thyme, Sage can be used for these purposes around the house, and especially in times of epidemics and infectious diseases, evaporated in an aroma-lamp as an air purifier, added to the water when washing floors and surfaces (5-6 drops in a full bucket, adjust accordingly). We have seen clear results from using these oils in this way, both in the rooms of sick people and during epidemics such as flu. Contagious diseases are significantly less occurring, and discoveries usually swifter.
Which oil we would choose at any time for its disinfecting activity around the house, depends on our mood right here and now...We can choose Rosemary, when we want to be spiritually uplifted and alert, have a clear mind and be creative.
Physically, Rosemary aids the respiratory system, and can be helpful in cases of bronchitis, catarrh, sinusitis and coughs.
The oil can stimulate the digestive system, it is helpful for intestinal infections and diarrhea, easing colitis, dyspepsia and flatulence. It can be applied diluted (3-4% in an carrier oil) and massaged in circular, clockwise movements onto the abdomen. Rosemary aids and stimulates the liver as well.
The same diluted oil as above can relieve pain associated with rheumatism, arthritis, muscular pain and gout. It warms the muscles, releases tension and encourages peripheral blood-circulation. You can also add Rosemary to a bath, use 5-6 drops of the oil in 200-500ml full fat dairy cream, add to your full bathtub and stir. For localised joint or muscle pains, you can employ compresses as well, adding 1-2 drops of Rosmarinus officinalis essential oil.
"Smell it often, and it will keep you young and preserve your youth..." it is said in Banckes herbal, published in 1525.
In Skincare and especially in haircare, the oil is very useful. It works probably not only by increasing blood circulation, other factors might be involved as well. It has been successfully used to promote hair-growth, prevent and treat hair-loss, to control dandruff and other scalp disorders. Scalp massages with Rosemary oil have shown to improve clinical cases of alopecia significantly.
We have seen in practice, that the oil substantially improves hair health. You can add a drop or two of the oil to your hairbrush (freshly washed and made of natural materials!), it will not only beautify your hair, but also lend a delightful scent to it. You can add a few drops to your shampoo... Best results are obtained by massaging the oil regularly into the scalp, either neat (1 drop on your fingertips) or diluted in a light carrier oil. A truly luxurious mask, leaving the hair beautifully healthy and shiny, can be prepared by beating a raw egg with approximately 30 ml of olive- and/or avocado oil into a kind of mayonnaise and adding 4 drops of each Bay Laurel- and Rosemary essential oil. If you have longer hair, you might have to make a larger portion. This is then well applied to dry hair, covered with cling film and then a towel. Leave for about an hour, then wash well out. We have seen excellent results.
Rosemary was a main ingredient in the "Queen of Hungary Water". This famous "water" is associated with Elizabeth, Queen and legendary beauty of Hungary during the 14th century. It is reported, that the formula was created in her lifetime, to free her from rheumatism and gout, as well as to preserve her beauty. It seems it was successful, as the queen near the end of her life was proposed to by a king of only 25 years of age, so tells us legend..
The earliest recipes state, that it was prepared of only Rosemary. It would then probably be one of the first recorded alcohol based perfume recipes. Here the simple recipe: 3 parts of 4-times distilled alcohol, 2 parts of flowers and tops of Rosemary are put in a well closed vessel and allowed to macerate 2.5 days in a warm place and subsequently distilled in an alambic. We must confess, we haven't tried this tempting recipe yet.. The amount of macerate to prepare, in order to fill our still would be prohibitive..
The original formula was greatly appreciated and records of "Queen of Hungary Water", as being a distillation of solely Rosemary can be literally followed back to at least the 17th century. Nicholas Culpepper, in the 'Pharmacopoeia Londoniensis' from 1683 praises the virtues of this formula greatly as a 'cure-all'.
Later through history, there have been several modern recipes, including also lemonpeel, mint, roses and orange flowers, lately even calendula and comfrey, lemonbalm and chamomile. Nowadays, there are many recipes found (and commercially marketed), however, we have never seen the original distilled version as yet.
However, Rosemary added to a facial cream or a facial oil i small quantities (2 drops to 50ml), helps to reduce congestion, puffiness and swelling, sagging skin. Because of its astringent quality, it decreases permeability and fragility of the cappillaries as well. Added to a massage-oil either alone or in a blend, it can, with time, reduce cellulitis.
Finally, Rosemary essential oil can also be used in the kitchen, a few drops in marinades (especially for lamb-dishes) stews, sauces, salsas and dressings. You can add a few to flavour olive oil, use it for salads, for baking potatoes. Rosemary has long been used to preserve foods.
The Rosemary plants do grow close the distillery, unlike most of the plants we collect. Unlike most of the plants we collect, it also is a stable sight.. Being an evergreen, the leaves are always deep green and silvery, and there is always some plants blooming, all year through. For our cooking we collect fresh Rosemary, so we visit the plants often all year around. They always greet us with serenity and happiness, upright and strong they are, so full of life. Rosemary really cherishes to be taken care of, freed from old and dead woody branches, from rangled woody parts which do not have the strength anymore to carry many leaves and which take the life from the bush. In our climate, the best time for thorough pruning is in autumn. The plants respond with masses of new upright shoots, which will flower the following year.
Rosemary truly is a symbol of stability through rejuvenation.. he shows us, not to fear change, but welcome it as a chance to prosper and flourish. He expresses himself through constant regeneration, for even if his branches get born, flower and die over times, his inner being, life force and wisdom respects death as well as birth as a part of his being. And he remains centered into this his being with bright clarity. He teaches us, in his solemn humble way, that to preserve our youth even into wisdom and experience, we need to renew every day and let go of our old branches...
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