The history of rosemary is one that is rich with ties to ancient goddesses, Greek physicians, religious lore and medieval witchcraft. In fact, one old myth suggests that the best rosemary cannot be purchased or cultivated from seed, but must be stolen from a witch's garden.
Rosemary is an evergreen shrub with fragrant, pine-tree like needles that have been used for medicinal, magical and culinary purposes for centuries. It originates from the Mediterranean region and was carried to America by early settlers who used the herb for flavoring and preserving food and for its powerful medicinal qualities. According to an article written by Master Gardener Madeline Wajda, the first known reference to rosemary is on a cuneiform stone tablet from the fifth millennium B.C., and the plant was often recommended by the first century Greek physician, Dioscorides.
Another old adage about rosemary states “Where rosemary grows, the misses is master.” Perhaps this sentiment comes from the fact that rosemary has been associated with some popular and powerful female figures throughout history. The Latin title “Rosemarinus” translates to “dew of the sea,” a name that references the abundant blue flowers that adorn the shrub and links the plant to the Venus, the Roman goddess of love. Roman brides once wore wreaths of rosemary as a symbol of their love and fidelity. A magical explanation for the deep blue color of rosemary’s flowers is that Mary, the mother of Jesus in Christian theology, once rested her blue cloak on a rosemary bush. When she removed it, the white flowers had turned blue.
Rosemary was once burned as incense during religious ceremonies and in hospitals and sick chambers for its ability to purify the air. Other medicinal traditions include use as a liniment, as a tea to strengthen a weak heart and cleanse the kidneys and a tincture to stimulate the brain and improve the memory; which may explain another of the many charming sayings about the herb: “rosemary is for remembrance.”