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Rosemary is an evergreen perennial shrub native to the Mediterranean region, Portugal and Spain. It has silvery, needle-like foliage and delicate flowers. Blue, pink or white varieties are available, and they range in habit from creeping to mounding to upright.
Long known as the herb of remembrance, rosemary symbolizes loyalty and friendship, and has traditionally been associated with both weddings and funerals. Believing the gift came from Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty, brides wore it in wreaths as a symbol of their fidelity.
This ancient perennial's romantic legend grew in the 14th century, when 72-year-old Queen Elizabeth of Hungary used rosemary as a medicine for her rheumatism and gout. Her potion of rosemary and lavender supposedly so enhanced her health and beauty that it fanned the passions of the 26-year-old King of Poland, who requested her hand in marriage. The potion became known as Budapest or Hungary water and was the beauty aide of choice for women for hundreds of years.
Rosemary has been used in pest control, and throughout much of history was thought to be the cure for many ills, ranging from gout to the plague. An age-old superstition led people to bind rosemary to their legs in an attempt to relieve the pain of gout.
Ancient Greeks and Romans knew this shrub well. In their world, it enjoyed a reputation for improving memory and rejuvenating the spirits. Greek scholars wore garlands of rosemary during examinations in order to improve their memory and concentration. Shakespeare also wrote that it improved recollection.
Christians called rosemary the “Holy Herb” and associated it with Mary, who, according to Spanish legend, draped her cloak over a rosemary bush on the Holy Family’s flight to Egypt, turning the color of the blossoms from white to blue.
In traditional European medicine, rosemary was used internally as a tonic, stimulant, and as a carminative to treat flatulence. It also treated dyspepsia, mild gastrointestinal upsets, colds, headaches, and nervous tension. In India and China, rosemary leaves attacked headaches.
Early in American history, rosemary found use as an antispasmodic, appetite stimulant, and digestion aid.
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