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Rosemary Essential Oil

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Rosemary is an herb in the labiatae (mint) family. In its native habitat it grows in rocky Mediterranean soils as a shrubby, evergreen plant that can grow to six feet tall in sheltered areas. However, conditions on the windswept slopes of the region usually keep the bush smaller. Rosemary's name is fitting given its wild growing conditions: the Latin word ros means "dew", and marinus means "sea". The aromatic green and silver, needle-like leaves of rosemary are often sprayed by the sea mists blowing in from the Mediterranean.

In early spring, rosemary bears clusters of mottled, sky blue flowers on the previous season's growth. The flowers contain large amounts of a sweetly pungent essential oil with an aroma reminiscent of pine needles.

Cultivated forms of rosemary include plants with decorative golden foliage, pink and white flowered forms, and interesting bonsai-like sprawling plants. The chemical make-up of the essential oils varies in the many different cultivars.

Rosemary has a long history of culinary and medicinal use, it's also been used in magic and religious ritual. Like many other pungent herbs, rosemary has antibacterial properties. In the days before refrigeration, herbs like rosemary, thyme and hyssop were rubbed into fresh meat to prevent spoilage. The flavoring possibilities of many herbs were most likely discovered through this preservative effect. Today rosemary is widely used in cooking, especially with roasted meats like lamb.

The 17th-century herbalist Gerard gives us an indication of how rosemary was regarded in early medicine:

Rosmarie is given against all fluxes of bloud; it is also good, especially the floures thereof, for all infirmities of the head and braine, proceeding of a cold and moist caufe; for they drain the brain, quicken the senses and memorie . . .

An old French term for rosemary was incensier. This may refer to the use of rosemary as a substitute for expensive frankincense or myrrh-based incense in ancient Greece and Rome. Rosemary was the incense of the poor or lower classes, being easily harvested from the wild. The upper class and nobility could afford the more costly imported resins and aromatic spices for their rituals.

Before the advent of modern medicine, rosemary was burned, along with juniper berries, as a disinfectant in French hospitals.

Gerard's reference to rosemary being used to quicken the memory comes from an ancient belief that rosemary can sharpen the memory and inspire fond remembrance. In Shakespeare's Hamlet, Ophelia says:

There's rosemary, that's for remembrance; pray love, remember . . .

This tradition of regarding rosemary as the herb of remembrance has been carried on by brides carrying sprigs of the plant in their wedding bouquets. In some European countries it is still a custom to carry rosemary in funeral processions and to cast the herb into the grave at the burial ceremony.

Rosemary's rich and varied history is attributable to its fragrant essential oil. The main constituents include cineole, camphor and camphene, which give the oil its medicinal eucalyptus-like aroma. Pinene and small amounts of bornyl acetate, borneol and linalool produce the foresty, sweet undertone of the oil.

When steam distilled, the fresh, flowering branchlets of rosemary produce about 0.6% essential oil. Today most distillation takes place in Spain and Tunisia. The distillation season coincides with the blooming of the plants in spring. The flowers and leaves produce the highest quality oil with a better balance of camphoraceous and sweet aroma constituents. The woody, non-flowering portions of the plant produce a lesser grade essential oil, with a pronounced camphor aroma.

At one time an expensive rosemary flower oil was produced in Spain and France by distilling only the leaves and fresh flowers. These were carefully stripped by hand from the woody stems. This sweetly scented, expensive oil was especially good for use in perfumes, forest-type colognes and lavender scented products. Today it's much cheaper to blend isolated constituents such as linalool with a standard quality rosemary to achieve a similar effect.

Current commercial uses for rosemary include the scenting of colognes and aftershaves, soaps, detergents and disinfectants.

Aromatherapists use rosemary's briskly energizing aroma to combat nervous exhaustion and fatigue. This effect can be so powerful that rosemary is not recommended for use by people with epilepsy or high blood pressure.

Rosemary oil acts as an astringent and will help regulate or decrease oily secretions of the hair folicles. For this reason rosemary hair care preparations are often used by people with greasy hair and dandruff.

Energizing Rosemary Hair Oil
Rosemary oil acts as an astringent and will help regulate or decrease oily secretions of the hair folicles. For this reason rosemary hair care preparations are often used by people with greasy hair and dandruff.

Refreshing Eau de Cologne Mist
Aromatherapists use rosemary's briskly energizing aroma to combat nervous exhaustion and fatigue. This effect can be so powerful that rosemary is not recommended for use by people with epilepsy or high blood pressure.

Grow your own aromatherapy. Inhaling the fragrance of fresh, living rosemary is the most natural way to enjoy the therapeutic effects of this aromatic herb. Rosemary is easy to grow year round on a sunny south-facing window sill. Give the plant as much light as possible and keep the soil slightly moist. As the plant grows, pinch out the growing tips for use.

 

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