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Background Information

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Rosemary in flower
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Magnoliophyta
Class: Magnoliopsida
Order: Lamiales
Family: Lamiaceae
Genus: Rosmarinus
Species: R. officinalis
Binomial name
Rosmarinus officinalis
Rosemary (dried)
Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)
Energy 804 kJ (192 kcal)
Carbohydrates 64.1 g
- Sugars 0.0 g
- Dietary fibre 42.6 g
Fat 15.2 g
Protein 4.9 g
Thiamine (vit. B1) 0.5 mg (43%)
Riboflavin (vit. B2) 0.4 mg (33%)
Niacin (vit. B3) 1.0 mg (7%)
Pantothenic acid (B5) 0.0 mg (0%)
Vitamin B6 1.7 mg (131%)
Folate (vit. B9) 307 μg (77%)
Vitamin C 61.2 mg (74%)
Calcium 1280.0 mg (128%)
Iron 29.2 mg (225%)
Magnesium 220.0 mg (62%)
Phosphorus 70.0 mg (10%)
Potassium 955 mg (20%)
Zinc 3.2 mg (34%)
Percentages are relative to
US recommendations for adults.
Source: USDA Nutrient Database

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 has nothing to do with the rose or the name Mary, but derives from the Latin name rosmarinus, which literally means "dew of the sea", though some think this too may be derived from an earlier name.


Forms range from upright to trailing; the upright forms can reach 1.5 m tall, rarely 2 m.

The leaves are evergreen, 2-4 cm long and 2-5 mm broad, green above, and white below with dense short woolly hairs.

The flowers are variable in colour, being white, pink, purple, or blue.

Cultivation and uses

The fresh and dried leaves are used frequently in traditional Mediterranean cuisine as an herb; they have a bitter, astringent taste, which complements a wide variety of foods. A tisane can also be made from them. They are extensively used in cooking, and when burned give off a distinct mustard smell, as well as a smell similar to that of burning which can be used to flavor foods while barbecueing.

Rosemary is extremely high in iron, calcium, and Vitamin B6.

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 is easily pruned into shapes and has been used for topiary. When grown in pots, it is best kept trimmed to stop it getting too 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 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
  • Arp- leaves light green, lemon-scented
  • Aureus- leaves speckled yellow
  • Benenden Blue - leaves narrow, dark green
  • Blue Boy - dwarf, small leaves
  • Golden Rain - leaves green, with yellow streaks
  • Irene - lax, trailing
  • Lockwood de Forest - procumbent selection from Tuscan Blue
  • Ken Taylor - shrubby
  • Majorica Pink - pink flowers
  • Miss Jessop's Upright - tall, erect
  • Pinkie - pink flowers
  • Prostratus
  • Pyramidalis (a.k.a Erectus) - pale blue flowers
  • Roseus - pink flowers
  • Salem - pale blue flowers, cold hardy similar to Arp
  • Severn Sea - spreading, low-growing, with arching branches; flowers deep violet
  • Tuscan Blue - upright

Traditional and Medicinal Uses

Hungary Water was first prepared for the Queen of Hungary to "renovate vitality of paralysed limbs" and to treat gout. It was used externally and prepared by mixing fresh rosemary tops into spirits of wine.

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, probably as a result of this reputation. 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." 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.

Another study indicated 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.

Health Precautions: Rosemary in culinary or therapeutic doses is generally safe; 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 if pregnant or breastfeeding.

Rosemary may also be useful in the prevention and treatment of headlice.

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