Shakespeare may have been on to something when he penned the words “rosemary is for remembrance” in a famous scene from Hamlet.
Actually, the exact words were, “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance; pray, love, remember.”
The words were spoken by an unbalanced Ophelia, who talks, sings and babbles about her father’s death. Shortly afterwards, Ophelia dies, so many interpretations of the scene revolve around a convention at the time of placing rosemary on the bodies of the dead. In this manner. Shakespeare is said to have been foreshadowing Ophelia’s impending demise.
Myths and Folklore
The perrenial herb has a long tradition as a symbol for remembrance during weddings, war commemorations and funerals by ancient Egyptians, early Greeks and Romans. Mourners would throw it into graves as a symbol of remembrance for the dead.
Greek scholars often wore a garland of the herb on their heads to help their memory during examinations. In the ninth century, Charlemagne insisted that the herb be grown in his royal gardens. The Eau de Cologne that Napoleon Bonaparte used was made with rosemary.
The Virgin Mary is said to have spread her blue cloak over a white-blossomed rosemary bush when she was resting, and the flowers turned blue. The shrub then became known as the 'Rose of Mary.'
It was believed that placing a sprig of rosemary under a pillow before sleep would repel nightmares, and if placed outside the home it would repel witches. Somehow, the use of rosemary in the garden to repel witches turned into signification that the woman ruled the household in homes and gardens where rosemary grew abundantly. By the 16th century, men were known to rip up rosemary bushes to show that they, not their wives, ruled the roost.
All of the above looked at somewhat suspiciously by we moderns, right?
But wait!Recent research suggests a connection between rosemary and remembrance in people who are very much alive. Several studies evaluating aromatherapy found that rosemary actually stimulates memory and may preserve some cognitive function.
If these studies are accurate, a sprig of rosemary is not the harbinger of doom that it was for poor Ophelia. Instead, it may be an aromatic preserver of the thoughts people hold dear.
From the Telegraph,9 April 2013
"Essential oil of rosemary boosted healthy adults' ability to recall past events and remember to perform future tasks, which could include taking medication or sending a birthday card, at the correct time.
The improvement was unrelated to the participants' mood, suggesting it was having a chemical influence which improved their memory, the study found.
Researchers, who will present their findings at the British Psychological Society's annual conference in Harrogate on Tuesday, said the results could improve the everyday lives of people with age-related memory loss.
Previous studies had already suggested that compounds in rosemary aroma could improve long-term memory and mental arithmetic, by inhibiting enzymes which block normal brain functioning.
Dr Mark Moss, who led the study, said: 'We wanted to build on our previous research that indicated rosemary aroma improved long-term memory and mental arithmetic.
'We focused on prospective memory, which involves the ability to remember events that will occur in the future and to remember to complete tasks at particular times this is critical for everyday functioning.'
Sixty six participants were divided into two groups and asked to wait in different rooms, one of which had been scented with rosemary essential oil.
The volunteers then completed a series of memory tests, which included hiding objects and finding them again at a later stage, or passing a specified object to a researcher at a particular time which had been specified earlier.
People who had been assigned to the rosemary-scented room performed better at both types of test, and were also found to have higher levels of 1,8-cineole, a compound found in rosemary oil, in their blood.
The compound has previously been shown to influence chemical systems in the body which impact on memory.
Jemma McCready, a research intern who carried out the study, said: "These findings may have implications for treating individuals with memory impairments.
'Remembering when and where to go and for what reasons underpins everything we do, and we all suffer minor failings that can be frustrating and sometimes dangerous. Further research is needed to investigate if this treatment is useful for older adults who have experienced memory decline.' ”
So go ahead. Buy a rosemary plant or essential oil, make sachets, take a rosemary aromatheraphy bath.
Add rosemary to the shopping lists, before we forget!