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Susan Wittig Albert's Plant Mysteries

Don’t Forget Rosemary!
by Susan Wittig Albert
November 12, 2000

There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance. Pray, love, remember.
--William Shakespeare

Rosemary is not only one of the best-beloved herbs in human history, but it has an astonishing number of uses. The fragrant evergreen leaves of this fascinating herb have not only been used to flavor food but to help people improve their memories. For centuries, this shrubby perennial (which can grow to a height of 5-6 feet) has been a much-loved symbol of love and faithfulness at both weddings and funerals. The early Greeks realized that the resinous, piney-smelling leaves could be used to preserve their favorite meat, lamb, while the early Egyptians used this herb to embalm dead bodies. And it makes a great, deer- and rabbit-proof landscape perennial. An all-around versatile plant, wouldn’t you say?
For centuries, rosemary has been legendary for its ability to retard the decay of everything from meat to memory--a characteristic that has recently been demonstrated by modern science. Researchers in Germany have demonstrated that rosemaary works better than chemicals to preserve food. Other scientists, testing rosemary’s reputed ability to strengthen mental processes, have suggesteda that it may be useful in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. How is it that rosemary can be used in such apparently different ways?
The answer to this question may lie in the mysteries of oxidation, the natural breakdown that occurs with the aging of any organic substance. The decay of food and the aging of our bodies both involve the oxidative process. And Alzheimer’s, which is connected with the breakdown of choline and acetylcholine in the brain, involves both oxidative and inflammatory processes. What is there about rosemary that might inhibit oxidation and inflammation?
Rosemary’s ability to slow aging depends on its dozen or so powerful antioxidants and compounds. It also contains rosmarinic acid, which is both antiinflammatory and antioxidant. Several of these natural chemicals are capable of being absorbed by the skin, and some can cross the blood-brain barrier.
What does this mean to you? Herbalist Dr. James A. Duke suggests that all of us might benefit from rosemary’s mysterious ability to slow the aging process. Try using the herb more often in food (it tastes good, too, especially in the rosemary biscuit recipe below).

Rosemary Biscuits... 2 cups flour, 1 tblsp baking powder, 1 tblsp sugar, 6 tblsp cold shortening, ¾ cup buttermilk, 1 whole egg, 2 tblsp fresh rosemary, or 1 tblsp, dried, chopped fine, Sift dry ingredients together. Cut in shortening. Stir in remaining ingredients. Turn out onto floured board and knead 10-12 times. Cut out 2" rounds and place close together on ungreased baking sheet. Bake in 375 degree oven for 12-14 minutes. Serve warm with butter and honey.

Enjoy a cup of rosemary tea (add a teaspoon of the fresh or dried herb to your favorite green or black tea, brew for three minutes.) You can even rinse your hair with rosemary tea and add rosemary to your bath. And if you enjoy its piney scent of rosemary, why not keep a plant handy to touch and sniff, or use the oil in a scent dispenser? As you do, remember--rosemary for remembrance, and for long life!

Susan Wittig Albert is the author of the China Bayles Herbal Mysteries. The series features China Bayles, a former attorney who owns an herb shop. Each of the mysteries has an herbal theme and an herb-related title. The latest is Lavender Lies. You can find out more about Susan's books and read one of her free web mysteries at

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