Monday, July 23, 2012

Rosemary for Remembrance

If origanum, the species that includes oregano and marjoram,
is the prince of herbs, then surely, rosemary must be the king.
There is no herb more intensely fragrant
nor more attractive in a garden hedge than rosemary.
So it's the best one for ending the eight-day series on herbs.


A fourteenth-century manuscript (cited in Coats)
gives some idea about how beloved this herb has been through the centuries.
I'm reproducing it here using modern orthography:

of the best shall be our speech
that ever was found in book of kind
man, at need have it in mind
this herb is called rosemary
of virtue that is good and fine.

Coats tells us that rosemary was cultivated in England prior to the eleventh century, 
and it is described in the Old Saxon and later herbals
as a cure for a number of ailments,
including those caused by evil spirits, "foul" dreams,
gout, tooth decay, and of course, the plague.
Inhaling its scent was said to keep one youthful.

Coats and other sources confirm that rosemary
has long been associated with remembrance, both literally and symbolically.
Students in Greece entwined rosemary in their hair as an aid to memory,
and in the Elizabethan era, Sir Thomas More described it as
"sacred to remembrance and therefore to friendship."

Rosemary figures large in herbal histories
which recount its use not just for ailments and aiding memory,
but also using the oldest wood for crafting combs,
musical instruments, and carpenter's rules.

My favorite rosemary reference from Coats
is the one she ends her section on rosemary with.
Unfortunately, she doesn't mention the source of this tradition:

It seems that women with marriage on their minds
are warned against a man who
"passeth by the rosemary
and careth not to take a spray"
because such a man will never care about  love.

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