By Natalia Bell
AN AROMATIC, WOODY HERB USED WIDELY IN MEDITERRANEAN CUISINE
From the Latin “ros marinum”, meaning dew of the sea, rosemary was historically associated with memory enhancement. Ancient Greek students wore rosemary garlands while studying for exams, and ate rosemary to improve their memory. Rosemary sprigs were placed on coffins and graves, in the hope that the deceased’s memory would never fade from the minds of the living.
Shakespeare referred to rosemary as the herb of remembrance; in Hamlet, Ophelia said “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance. Pray you, love, remember.” Interestingly, recent studies have suggested that a compound in rosemary, 1,8-cineole, may be responsible for enhancing memory performance and cognitive function.
Rosemary tea has been used since ancient times to aid digestion and relieve heartburn. Queen Isabella of Hungary is said to have created a rosemary-based tonic in the 14th century. Some say that it was used as a cosmetic product to preserve the Queen’s beauty, while others say that it had medicinal purposes and was used to relieve her headaches.
Whilst there is currently no scientific evidence to show that rosemary can cure headaches or other ailments, studies have shown that when rosemary essential oil is taken in combination with analgesic drugs, it can have a therapeutic effect on pain management. Rosemary essential oil also has aromatherapy purposes, and canprovide stress and anxiety relief.
Romans believed that the green colour of rosemary’s leaves symbolised eternity, and, in fact, a recent study has suggested that consumption of the herb does correlate with a higher life expectancy. In 2016, researchers at University of California, San Diego and La Sapienza University of Rome, carried out a study on nonagenarians and centenarians (those aged over 90 and 100 years old) in a number of villages in the South of Italy.
The study investigated “the possible impact of various factors on human longevity and age-related diseases”, and was published in May 2020. One of the villages that was studied was Acciaroli in Campania, Italy. There, there were a high number of centenarians; over 300 of the 2000 inhabitants were over 100 years old – more than one in 10 of the population. This was said to be the place with the highest percentage of centenarians in the world.
It was noted that, in general, the centenarians in Acciaroli had a low rate of heart disease and Alzheimer’s. All the subjects were active, walking regularly in the nearby hills, and ate a diet rich in seasonal fruits and vegetables, fresh locally caught fish, and olive oil. Curiously, it was noted that many of the residents consumed rosemary every day.
Rosemary is grown abundantly in Acciaroli and the surrounding hills, and is a key ingredient in locals’ dishes. They credit rosemary for their longevity. Life expectancy in Italy is consistently high; in 2021, Italy was the country with the highest life expectancy in Europe, after Switzerland.
Following a Mediterranean diet, exercising daily, spending time with family and loved ones, and enjoying a mild climate and slow way of life, are said to be factors contributing to Italy’s high life expectancy. What makes the inhabitants of Acciaroli stand out, though, is that rosemary seems to be playing a part in their longevity.
Whether it is true that rosemary will provide eternity, we should all be incorporating more of the herb into our diets, and I hope these recipes provide you with some inspiration.
This article was first published in Issue 16