"For the sickly take this wort rosemary, pound it with oil, smear the sickly one, wonderfully thou healest him."

Saxon MS. Herbal.

"The rosemary has all the virtues of the stone called Jet."

The Physicians of Myddvai.

"Make thee a box of the wood of rosemary and smell to it and it shall preserve thy youth."

The Little Herball, 1525-

"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 a dumb language."


Of all fragrant herbs rosemary and lavender hold perhaps the foremost place, but of the former how little real use is made! How many people know the taste of rosemary wine or rosemary cordial? In the French language of flowers rosemary represents the power of rekindling lost energy, and in olden days it was held in the highest repute for its invigorating effects both as a scent and a cordial.

The name rosemary means "dew of the sea," and the plant which grows naturally near the sea always has the smell of it. What is more beautiful in winter than its glistening grey-green foliage and delicious fragrance? One rarely sees a large bunch of its graceful long stems as a decoration in a room, but what a joy it is when one does!

Formerly the aromatic scent of the plant was highly valued for its protective power against infection. It was carried at funerals, burnt in sick rooms, used in spells to ward off black magic, and for festival days in churches; and banqueting halls and ordinary living-rooms were lavishly decorated with long boughs of it.

An old French name for rosemary is incensier, because it was so often used instead of incense when the latter was too costly. In the British Museum there is an interesting old MS. on the virtues of rosemary, which was sent by the Countess of Hainault to her daughter, Queen Philippa of England. In it one reads of rosemary, "it mighteth the boones and causeth goode and gladeth and lighteth alle men that use it. The leves layde under the heade whanne a man slepes, it doth away evell spirites and suffereth not to dreeme fowle dremes ne to be afeade. But he must be out of deedely synne for it is an holy tree. Lavender and Rosemary is as woman to man and White Roose to Reede. It is an holy tree and with ffolke that been just and Rightfulle gladlye it groweth and thryveth."

In this MS. there is recorded an old tradition I have never seen elsewhere: that rosemary "passeth not commonly in highte the highte of Criste whill he was man in Erthe," and that when the plant attains thirty-three years in age it will increase in breadth, but not in height. Perhaps there was no time when rosemary was more loved than in Tudor times. At every wedding branches of gilded rosemary were given by the bridesmaids to the bridegroom. A bunch of it was a pretty New Year gift; and sprigs were thrown "for remembrance" into the grave by the dead persons friends and relatives.

Hentzner mentions in his Travels (1598) that in English gardens the walls were frequently covered with rosemary, and at Hampton Court he says: "it was so planted and nailed to the walls as to cover them entirely."

Gerard tells us "wild rosemary groweth in Lancashire in divers places, especially in the fielde called Little Reede amongst the Hurtleberries near unto a small village called Mandslay, there found by a learned gentleman often remembered in our History (and that worthily), Master Thomas Hesketh."

The double-flowered rosemary is mentioned by Parkinson in his Paradisi, but he adds that it is "more rare than all the other because few have heard thereof, much less seene it and myself am not aquainted with it but am bold to deliver it upon credit. It hath stronger stalks, not so easie to breake, fairer, bigger and larger leaves of a faire greene colour and the flowers as double as the Larkes heele or spurre. This I have only by relation which I pray you accept untill I may by sight better enforme you." He describes the wood of rosemary being used to make lutes "or such like instruments," and also carpenters' rules.

Rosemary flowers are, as every one knows, one of the most exquisite shades of blue imaginable, and the Spaniards say that the flowers were white originally, but that ever since the Virgin Mary threw her robe over them they have preserved the memory of her having thus honoured them by turning the colour she wore.

According to another tradition rosemary was one of the bushes near which she sheltered during the flight into Egypt, and the Spanish name of the plant romero (the pilgrim's flower) preserves this legend.

Throughout Spain it is valued for its supposed power against magic, and Borrow in the Bible in Spain described an incident showing the widespread belief of the Spanish peasants in its protective power against the evil eye.

It would be possible to fill a book with all the old herbalists have to say about rosemary, but I give only what one enthusiastic lover of this beautiful herb tells us of how it should be used.

"Take the flowers thereof and boyle them in fayre water and drinke that water for it is much worthe against all manner of evils in the body.

"Take the flowers thereof and make powder thereof and binde it to thy right arme in a linnen cloath and it shale make thee lighte and merrie,

"Take the flowers and put them in thy chest among thy clothes or among thy Bookes and Mothes shall not destroy them.

"Boyle the leaves in white wine and washe thy face therewith and thy browes and thou shalt have a faire face.

"Also put the leaves under thy bedde and thou shalt be delivered of all evill dreames.

"Take the leaves and put them into wine and it shall keepe the Wine from all sourness and evill savours and if thou wilt sell thy wine thou shalt have goode speede.

"Also if thou be feeble boyle the leaves in cleane water and washe thyself and thou shalt wax shiny.

"Also if thou have lost appetite of eating boyle well these leaves in cleane water and when the water is colde put thereunto as much of white wine and then makes sops, eat them thereof wel and thou shalt restore thy appetite againe.

"If thy legges be blowen with gowte boyle the leaves in water and binde them in a linnen cloath and winde it about thy legges and it shall do thee much good.

"If thou have a cough drink the water of the leaves boyld in white wine and ye shall be whole,

"Take the Timber thereof and turn it to Coales and make powder thereof and rubbe thy teeth thereof, and it shall keep thy teeth from all evils. Smell it oft and it shall keep thee youngly.

"Also if a man have lost his smelling of the ayre that he may not draw his breath, make a fire of the wood and bake his bread therewith, eate it and it shall keepe him well."


Take the rosemary and the flowers in the middest of May, before sunne arise, and strippe the leaves and the flowers from the stalke, take four or five elecampane roots and a handful or two of sage, then beate the rosemary, the sage and the rootes together, till they be very small, and take three ounces of cloves, three ounces of mace, one and a half pounds of aniseed and beat these spices every one by itself. Then take all the hearbes and spices and put therein foure or five gallons of good white wine, then put in all these hearbes and spices and wine into an earthen pot, and put the same pot in the ground the space of sixteen days, then take it up and still in a Still with a very soft fire.

The Good Housewife's Jewell, 1585.


Dissolve refined or double-refined sugar, or sugar-candy itselfe, in a little Rose-water; boile it to a reasonable height: put in your roots or flowers when your sirup is eyther fully cold, or almost cold: let them rest therein till the sirup have pierced them sufficiently: then take out your flowers with a skimmer, suffering the loose sirup to runne from them so long as it will: boile that sirup a little more, and put in more flowers, as before; divide them also: then boile all the sirup which remaineth, and is not drunke up in the flowers, putting in more sugar if you see cause, but no more Rose-water, put your flowers therein when your sirup is cold, or almost cold and let them stand till they candy.

Sir Hugh Platt, Delights for Ladies, 1594.


Take two Pound of Rosemary-flowers, the same weight of fine Sugar, pownd them well in a Stone-Mortar; then put the Conserve into well-glaz'd Gallipots. It will keep a Year or two.



Take a quarter of a Pound of Rosemary when it is at its Prime, Flowers and Leaves, a quarter of a Pound of Elecampane-root, half a handful of Red Sage, six Ounces of Anniseeds, and one Ounce and a half of Cloves; beat the Herbs together, and the Spices each by themselves, put them to a gallon of White Wine; and let them stand a Week to infuse, then distill them.



Take to every gallon of Brandy, or clean Spirits, one handful of Rosemary, one handful of Lavender. I suppose the handfuls to be about a Foot long a-piece; and these Herbs must be cut in Pieces about an Inch long. Put these to infuse in the Spirits, and with them, about one handful of Myrtle, cut as before. When this has stood three Days, distil it, and you will have the finest Hungary-Water that can be. It has been said the Rosemary-flowers are better than the Stalks; but they give a faintness to the Water, and should not be used, because they have a quite different smell from the Rosemary, nor should the Flowers of Myrtle be used in lieu of the Myrtle, for they have a scent ungrateful, and not at all like the Myrtle.

R. Bradley, The Country Housewife and Lady's Director, 1732.

1 In the Imperial Library at Vienna there is still preserved the receipt for the famous "Hungary-Water," which was invented for Queen Elizabeth of Hungary, who suffered from paralysis, and who is said to have been cured by being rubbed every day with it. Tradition says that a hermit gave the Queen this receipt.


Gather a Pound and a half of the fresh Tops of Rosemary, cut them into a Gallon of clean and fine Melasses Spirit, and let them stand all Night; next Day distill off five pints with a gentle Heat: this is of the nature of Hungary-Water, but not being so strong as that is usually made, it is better for taking inwardly: A Spoonful is a dose, and it is good against all nervous Complaints.

From The Receipt Book of Elizabeth Cleland, 1759-


Take a quart of thick Creame, and five or six whites of Eggs, a saucer full of Sugar finely beaten and as much Rose-water, beat them all together and always as it riseth take it out with a spoon, then take a loaf of Bread, cut away the crust, set it in a platter, and a great Rosemary bush in the middest of it, then lay your Snow with a Spoon upon the Rosemary, and so serve it.

A Book of Fruits and Flowers, 1653.


One pint of boiling water poured on an ounce of the young tips.


Infuse a bunch of rosemary tips (about six inches long) in sound white wine for a few days, when the wine will be fit to use.

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