Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)

J.S. Peterson @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database
Rosemary, a perrenial dicot and evergreen shrub, member of the family Lamiaceae (otherwise known as the mint family), is an "aromatic perennial herb beloved by peoples surrounding the Mediterranean for its pungent scent, culinary, and decorative value. One of the oldest cultivated herbs, Rosmarinus officinalis or 'dew of the sea' has served mankind for thousands of years and been used for a multitude of purposes" (Growing).

Botanical Information:

"Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) comes from a shrubby plant with needle-like leaves" (Ogorzaly 202). Its foliage is dark green and its flowers blue. Rosemary grows at a moderate rate, sprouts multiple stems, and reaches a mature height of around five feet. The species' bloom period is in mid-spring, but it is routinely available commercially. "The long needle-like leaves are tough and oily, but they store well. To dry, strip the leaves from the stems just before blooming" (Growing).

Kingdom Plantae -- Plants
Subkingdom Tracheobionta -- Vascular plants
Superdivision Spermatophyta -- Seed plants
Division Magnoliophyta -- Flowering plants
Class Magnoliopsida -- Dicotyledons
Subclass Asteridae
Order Lamiales
Family Lamiaceae -- Mint family
Genus //Rosmarinus// L. -- rosemary P
Species //Rosmarinus// //officinalis// L. -- rosemary P

Lamiaceae -- The Mint Family:

The mint family is native to the "northern and eastern edges of the Mediterranean" (Ogorzaly). Lamiales, or members of the mint family, have simple, opposite, estipulate, usually punctate and aromatic leaves (Keil 398). The flowers of the members of this family are perfect and irregular, with five sepals, five petals, two or four stamens, two carpels, a superior ovary, and one style (398). Lamiaceae includes 3200 species that grow in diverse habitats at almost all latitudes (399). "Many have tiny glands containing scented compounds on the leaves, stems and flowers" (399).

The mint family includes many of the world's most used and most commonly known herbs.
Some such herbs are: Basil, Chervil, Marjoram, Oregano, Peppermint, Sage, Spearmint, Thyme, et cetera.


State Distributional Map for Rosmarinus officinalis L.
State Distributional Map for Rosmarinus officinalis L.

"Rosemary is found in rocky sites and woodland and scrub in the Mediterranean region, Portugal, and northwestern Spain" (Sara's Super Herbs). Today, it is produced mainly in China, France, Morocco, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Tunisia, United Kingdom, and United States (Map of Essential). Rosemary cultivation, however, is not limited to these areas, as it is able to grow in varying climates. Preferring the coast, like its place of origin, rosemary flourishes along the US pacific coast in California and Oregon, among other places.


Rosemary has been used throughout time in many ways. In ancient times it was used as incense and was used through the middle ages at funerals, being placed atop coffins at burial (The Secret). Because the herb's leaves (the part used) are so pungent, very little is needed to flavor a meal. In cooking, rosemary is most often used with fish, pork, and chicken, but is often included in flavoring lamb, beef, salads, deserts, and more. Virtually any course a meal can include rosemary. To find some great recipes using rosemary, visit :
Rosemary is not only used in the kitchen, however. The leaves of rosemary, being very aromatics are ery often dried and used either whole or crushed in a number of common products. Along with lavender, jasmine, and other herbs, Rosemary is used in aromatherapy (see an excerpt on aromatherapy on the Herbs and Spices main page for more information). Rosemary can be found in potpourris, teas, shampoos, soaps, candles, oils, et cetera. Check out rosemary's medicinal qualities at: Rosemary is traditionally used with other garlnds at Christmastime, (and less often now) during weddings and at funerals.

Rosemary in Literature and Lore:


Some legends have come to surround Rosemary. Though not mentioned in the Bible, its various tales are connected to Jesus and Mary, His Virgin Mother. Also called, "Rose of the Sea, Dew-of-the-Sea, and Rose of Mary" (The Secret Garden), one legend explains "why rosemary has blue flowers. When the holy family fled into Egypt, a weary Mary spread her cloak on a white flowered rosemary.The flowers miraculously changed to the blue of Mary's cloak. The Spanish name for rosemary is romero, or pilgrim's plant, and derives from this legend" (The Secret Garden). Other legends say that rosemary will never exceed six feet so as not to be taller than man, and will never outlive Jesus, in the belief that he died at the age of 33.
"A sprig of rosemary placed in a buttonhole is said to bring good luck and improve memory" (The Secret Garden).


Sir Thomas Moore-

"As for rosemary, I lette it runne all over my garden walls,
not onlie because my bees love it,
but because it is the herb sacred to remembrance and to friendship,


whence a sprig of it hath dumb language."

William Shakespeare- (Hamlet)

"There's Rosemary for you, that's for remembrance! Pray you, love, remember."

William Shakespeare- (Romeo and Juliet)

"Sticke your Rose-marie On this faire Course, and as the cutome is,
And in her best array beare her to Church"

Bringing it all together...

"Rosemary" by: Marianne Moore

Beauty and Beauty's son and rosemary -
Venus and Love, her son, to speak plainly -
born of the sea supposedly,
at Christmas each, in company,
braids a garland of festivity.
Not always rosemary -

since the flight to Egypt, blooming indifferently.
With lancelike leaf, green but silver underneath,
its flowers - white originally -
turned blue. The herb of memory,
imitating the blue robe of Mary,
is not too legendary

to flower both as symbol and as pungency.
Springing from stones beside the sea,
the height of Christ when he was thirty-three,
it feeds on dew and to the bee
"hath a dumb language"; is in reality
a kind of Christmas tree.

Marianne Moore's brings together fact, lore, and literary quotations in her poem, "Rosemary." She calls the plant the son of "Venus and Love." She gives it qualities of passion, love, and aroma. "Born of the sea" refers to rosemary's origin along the Mediterranean, tying in the herb's history. To comment on its uses, Moore says, "at Christmas time. . . braids a garland of festivity." Referring to the legend about Mary's veil turning its white flowers blue, the second stanza of Moore's poem gives a physical description of the leaves and flowers of the "herb of memory" as it is referred to in Shakespeare's Hamlet. A reader may be thrown off by "is not too legendy" ending that second stanza. However, the thought continues on the following line, "to flower both as symbol and as pungency," for the plant, unlike some noted to folklore is not strictly symbolic. Rosemary, aside from its beauty and history, has a long list of uses (see above). Another common legend is adressed in the third stanza. "The height of Christ," no more, at death. The poem continues with a quote from Sir Thomas Moore, stating that rosemary "'hath a dumb language.'" The plant, to both poets, is a silent force. It has a language of its own, but that language is dumb, that is, it speaks without ever saying a word. And with no need, the legend, the uses, the history, and the plant's botanical family and qualities say it all. The sense of smell leaves no need for words for one to sompletely appreciate and understand the herb's beauty to all the senses. Moore's last line, simply says, "a kind of christmas tree." Its simplicity can be overshadowed however with its double purpose. Not only is rosemary used in Christmas garlands, but Moore also adresses the plant's botanical features in pointing out, that like a Christmas tree, Rosemary is naturally an evergreen shrub.

Throughout literary and folklore history, rosemary has been a plants asscoiated with the mind, with remembrance, with the spirit, and with the Virgin Mother. Its multiple meanings from the one symbol suggest a rich relationship with the humans it affects. Michael Pollan (author of The Botany of Desire and The Omnivore's Dilemma) might suggest that becuase of its usefulness, its beauty, and its aroma, we have cultivated it and kept the herb alive. Maybe, rather than us controlling its fate, it has worked its magic on us; soothing us, flavoring our food, and nestling itself in our literature and legends. Rosemary made its name and is her to stay.


1. Growing Rosemary. A versatile and beutiful herb for landscaping and cooking.
2. Keil, David; Murrell, Zack; and Walters, Dirk. Vascular Plant Taxonomy, Fifth Edition. 2006. Kendall/Hunt, Dubuque, Iowa.
3. Levetin, Estelle and McMahon, Karen. Plants and Society, Fourth edition. 2006. McGraw-Hill, NY.
4. Map of essential oils.
5. Ogorzaly, Molly and Simpson, Beryl. Economic Botany, Third Edition: Plants in our World. 2001. McGraw-Hill, NY.
6. Sara's Super Herbs. Rosemary.
7. The Secret Garden. Rosemary.
8. USDA, NRCS. 2007. The PLANTS Database (, 3 December 2007). National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-449 USA.