The smell of rosemary brings back special memories of my childhood. I remember my mother pruning herbs in her garden, wearing a large white hat with a purple bow. She would talk to me about how healthy herbs were for us to eat, drink, and smell. She always had rosemary in her garden. And she always would rub a sprig between her hands and smell it. I remember that smell like it was yesterday.
Rosemary holds a special place in my heart, but it was revered in ancient societies. Rosemary branches were burned on the altars of the gods in ancient Greece. Romans and Egyptians also considered it to be sacred. For example, traces of rosemary were found in the pharaohs’ tombs. In France, rosemary branches were burned in hospitals to clean the air until the 20th century. It was also used to preserve meat because of its antiseptic properties. Could rosemary really be that powerful? Have we largely overlooked a sacred herb that has natural healing powers?
Health Benefits Rosemary contains compounds that can improve digestion, stimulate circulation, and enhance your immune system. Additionally, rosemary can produce a calming effect that might help with anxiety, sadness, and fatigue. It can also increase blood flow to the brain thereby improving concentration and memory. In fact, rosemary is traditionally used for enhancing memory. The ancient Greeks believed so strongly in the ability of rosemary to help with memory that students put rosemary in their hair while studying. Rosemary also was placed in graves to symbolize remembrance of loved ones. In Old England, rosemary played an important role in attire, decorations, and gifts at weddings. They believed the memory enhancing power of rosemary translated into fidelity. Rosemary also was used in cosmetics during the 14th century when rosemary oil was first extracted. It has a rejuvenating effect by strengthening the capillaries in the skin.
Researchers now believe that rosemary contains antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agents that may help defend against cancer and age-related skin damage, including wrinkles. They may also help with diabetes, asthma, liver disease, and heart disease.
Nutrient Value Rosemary comes from an evergreen shrub that is related to the mint family. The leaves are green and flat like pine needles. Rosemary is a good source of iron, calcium, and dietary fiber. For example, two teaspoons of rosemary contains roughly 4% of your Daily Value of fiber, nearly 4% of iron, and 3% of calcium.
Applications in the kitchen Rosemary is a versatile herb. It is used to flavor chicken, pork, lamb, and fish as well as soups, stews, and sauces. Plus, it is an evergreen so it is available throughout the year.
Prior to cooking with rosemary, rinse the herb under cool water and pat dry. The leaves are easily removed from the stem, but you can also add the whole sprig to stews, soups, and meat dishes. Be sure to remove the sprigs prior to serving.
Selecting and Storing Rosemary Choose fresh rosemary, as opposed to dried, whenever possible. Fresh rosemary contains roughly 25% more manganese compared with dried. To avoid pesticide residues and irradiated rosemary, choose organic over conventional. When rosemary is irradiated, the amount of carotenoids may decrease.
Dried rosemary can be stored for roughly six months if sealed in a container in a cool, dark, dry location. To prolong the life of fresh rosemary, wrap it in a damp paper towel and store in the refrigerator. If you plan to use it later in a soup or stew, you can store rosemary in the freezer by place it in ice cube trays covered with stock or water.
Bottom Line: Rosemary is a delicious way to flavor your food while also providing health benefits from the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
Dr. Sina McCullough has a PhD in Nutrition and Exercise from the University of California at Davis. She is a freelance writer and nutrition consultant (www.personalizeyourdiet.com).