In Hamlet, Shakespeare’s Ophelia dispenses some crazy wisdom in the scene when she hands out flowers and herbs: “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance.” Miss O might’ve been referring to one of rosemary’s properties, known since ancient times—its ability to improve memory. Sprigs of rosemary were used as a symbol of remembrance and fidelity at weddings and war memorials. Also funerals. Shakespeare may be giving us a hint that Miss O will soon exit stage left to go sleep with the fishes.
In a 2003 psychology study in the UK, subjects had the scent of rosemary pumped into their cubicles. “Rosemary produced a significant enhancement of performance for overall quality of memory and secondary memory factors, but also produced an impairment of speed of memory compared to controls.” In other words—better memory, but slower recall. It’s as if the subjects were savoring their memories—rather like rosemary helps us savor our food.
This woody evergreen shares a chemical bond with pine and eucalyptus, making it one of the strongest of the aromatic herbs. Rosemary pairs well with roasted meats and root veggies, especially potatoes. It can even be used as a savory counterpoint in sweet treats like jams or cookies. It’s most potent when used fresh, but if you have an abundance, hang sprigs in a warm, dry place to let air-dry, then remove brittle leaves (discarding stems) and store in an airtight container.
Heidi Lewis writes about farms, bees, and fruit from her home in Sonoma County, CA. She’s been with The FruitGuys since they were FruitKids.