The earth’s patterns are cycles. Our bodies and Mother Nature ebb and flow with the changing seasons, and each time of year offers its own bounty. Autumn is often misjudged as a time of decay when the flowers stop blooming, the leaves start falling, and the earth seems to slowly shut down in preparation for hibernation. However autumn is the traditional season of harvest, with the fall equinox marking the time for gathering and making winter preparations.
While each season has its own bounty, each herb has its optimal season. Because of this, a seasonal monthly spotlight on herbs is being introduced for the Home Herbalist community. Rosemary begins the seasonal herbal spotlight series, as it still thrives during the autumn months when most other herbs are dwindling.
Bright, piney, with floral and slightly citrusy back notes, Rosemary, or Rosmarinus Officinalis, is one of the most commonly used medicinal plants, and has been in use for centuries by cultures all over the world. In Latin, the name Rosmarinus means ‘dew of the sea’ as the plant is commonly found on coastal cliffs around the Mediterranean. Rosemary is a member of the mint family, Lamiaceae. Despite its Mediterranean roots, rosemary grows quite well in most conditions, but thrives in direct sun with well-draining, preferably sandy, soil. If you are planting, it is best to plant late spring/ early fall. It may be slow to grow in its first year but will thrive in its second if it is healthy. It will flower in April/May but may flower again in late August. If you trim back the fresh tips every few weeks, the plant will grow much fuller - the fresh tips will be your harvest and can be dried or used fresh, and this is the perfect time to harvest the last of your crop before winter!
Hang your harvest in the kitchen to dry, and you will be connecting with ancient traditions: In the middle ages, rosemary was thought to bring protection from evil spirits, and would be hung in doorways and placed under pillows. The ancient Greeks associated rosemary with the goddess of love, Aphrodite. In Victorian times, the practice of floriography, or the symbolic meanings of flowers, identified rosemary as symbolizing remembrance, love, loyalty, and fidelity. Even before this, Shakespeare’s play Hamlet states that rosemary is for remembrance. The symbolic meaning of remembrance has its roots in truth; the many benefits of rosemary backed by modern scientific research include memory enhancement and improved cognitive function. In fact, it is even possible that rosemary could aid in the prevention of Alzheimer’s.
Rosemary’s benefits are due in part to its high levels of antioxidants, vitamins A, C, and B6, as well as thiamin, magnesium, manganese, calcium, copper, and iron. These nutrients make rosemary beneficial for blood health and circulation. It also aids in wound healing and has antibacterial, antimicrobial, anti-fungal, and antiseptic properties. The external benefits also include help with eczema, clear skin, and healthy hair. It is said to stimulate hair growth and balances the PH of the scalp. The essential oil also acts as an insect repellent, perfect when spending warm autumn evenings in the garden.
In Ayurveda, rosemary’s constitution is hot/dry. It is an excellent herb for increasing what Ayurveda calls ‘Pitta’, the fire/water constitution. In traditional Chinese Medicine, rosemary represents Yang energy and pairs with the lungs and large intestine. Western medicinal science backs this up, by demonstrating rosemary’s help with digestion, appetite stimulation, heartburn, and overall gut health, due in part to its anti-inflammatory properties. It can also be used as a liver detox and to balance hormones. Many recommend avoiding large amounts of rosemary while pregnant, as its blood stimulation effects could negatively impact the pregnancy.
As is the case with all herbal medicines, it is important to be aware of possible interactions with other medications. Because of rosemary’s anti-inflammatory properties and the effects on blood and circulation, be wary if you are taking other anti-inflammatories and anti-coagulants, blood thinners, or over-the-counter pain medications such as Aspirin and Advil. If so, it is always wise to talk to a professional about the balance of these medications and herbal supplements.
Tune into your body’s needs: herbs can be potent and powerful medicine. While it is important to know how to take care of yourself with the remedies that nature has made available, and is fun to experiment with making lotions and potions, herbal and supplementary remedies should not be taken lightly. The earth has given us a bounty and it is our jobs to respect and to nurture these gifts.
Rosemary Infused Oil + Salve
Rosemary infused oil can be used for cooking, as a deeply nourishing hair treatment, or in the bath. If consuming, make sure you use a food grade oil. The salve is great to rub on muscles, headaches, chapped skin, or dabbed on as a bug repellent.
* heaping handful of rosemary
* any carrier oil of your choice, I prefer coconut but sweet almond and olive are great too
* Beeswax, or carnauba wax for vegans, ratio 4 parts oil to 1 part wax (i.e. 1 cup oil to 1/4 cup wax)
1. Heat oil gently over da ouble boiler. Add rosemary and let simmer for a few hours, being careful not to let it get too hot or to burn the delicate herb. You can also combine both in a jar and let them infuse for a couple weeks in a sunny spot.
2. If making a salve, heat the wax over a double boiler till melted, then stir in the infused oil. Pour into storage jar then pop it into the fridge to cool.
Rosemary Hair Rinse
A super simple and nourishing rinse after you’ve done your usual hair routine.
* handful of dried or fresh rosemary
* 4 cups water
1. Bring mixture to a boil for at least 20 minutes. Let cool.
2. After your usual hair routine, pour rinse through hair. Do not rinse out, style as usual.
Culpepper’s Complete Herbal
Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Herbs