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Rosmarinus officinalis, rosemary


Though harmful only in certain very particular circumstances, which have not been known to arise in modern times, rosemary has an important substance abuse message as well as the most contentious story of all.


Lamiaceae or Labiatae (the Mint family)

Meaning of the Name

Latin ‘ros’, ‘dew’ or ‘water-spray’ and ‘marinus’, ‘sea’. The plant was found on sea cliffs in southern Europe.
From the Latin for workshop or office and, thus, given to the species of a plant which was sold in shops or pharmacies and, by extension, a useful plant.

Common Names and Synonyms


How Poisonous, How Harmful?

The essential oil, used in aromatherapy, can produce miscarriage.


Because aromatherapists are warned of the potential, there are no reported cases of miscarriage.

There are a number of reports of dermatitis arising from handling the plant.

Folklore and Facts

It would be impossible to eat enough rosemary to be harmed but, clearly, misuse of the essential oil could be devastating to a young woman in the early stages of pregnancy. What decides whether rosemary is harmful or not is how we, the human race, choose to use it. In this way, the rosemary has an important message in substance abuse education.

Rosmarinus officinalis, rosemary

Rosmarinus officinalis, rosemary

Rosemary flowers were once white but, while fleeing Herod’s troops, the Virgin Mary draped her cloak over a bush and the blooms took on the blue colour from her garment. This is used to explain the plant's lifespan of no more than 33 years, Christ's time on earth.

Sprigs placed under the pillow were used to ward off daemons and prevent bad dreams. It was woven into brides' bouquets and thrown into graves as a sign that the dead person would not be forgotten.

As well as producing a pleasant smell  burning rosemary was used as a disinfectant.

The phrase 'Rosemary that's for remembrance' is about the second best known quote from 'Hamlet, Prince of Denmark'. This association remains to this day and a sprig of rosemary is used in Australia to remember those killed in war in the way that the poppy is displayed in Britain.

A study conducted by the University of Northumbria looked into the effects of aromatherapy on cognitive function. 144 participants were exposed to the aroma of lavender or rosemary or no aroma and asked to carry out a series of tests widely used for assessing the cognitive performance of Alzheimer’s patients. The study found that lavender caused reduced performance of working memory, and ‘impaired reaction times for both memory and attention based tasks’ whereas 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’.

Aromatherapy is one of the wide range of so-called 'alternative' therapies. Though most, such as homeopathy, reiki and reflexology, have nothing more than a placebo effect, it is possible that there is a physical aspect to aromatherapy. This is based on the negative; that is, everyone accepts that unpleasant smells can produce nausea so it could be that other smells can produce pleasant effects.

It's most telling piece of folklore, however, is simply that rosemary in the garden denotes a house where the woman rules.