Rosemary ~ Rachel

Only one of my readers suggested any spices (thanks, Jaclyn) and luckily enough, I was thinking about starting with rosemary even before she left a comment!

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Rosemary Clooney is in one of my all time favorite movies, White Christmas.

My very first cassette tape was Simon & Garfunkel’s Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme.

The Aveda body wash I use is Rosemary & Mint.

My florist is including some rosemary in my bridal bouquet.

Rosemary is pretty awesome…and I haven’t even started talking about food 🙂

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Before I get into the benefits of rosemary, I want to put forth my disclaimer. I am not a medical doctor and this is not medical advice. I’m getting most of my information from the book Healing Spices that was written by a renowned biochemist who has done a lot of cancer research. He cites research studies in the book but does not give the actual article citation. If he did, I would be more inclined to read the actual medical literature and critique it because as an epidemiologist, that’s what I do….you know, in all my spare time. Anyways, I figured that even if the research is flawed and the benefits of rosemary (and other spices) are exaggerated, there is no harm here in the use of these spices. What’s the worst that can happen…you enjoy a meal that’s more flavorful than what you normally consume?

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History of Rosemary: The story of rosemary is apparently a holy one. In an old Christian story, the Virgin Mary threw her robe over a bush with white flowers when she was fleeing Egypt with the baby Jesus. When she went back to get the robe, the flowers had turned the same color of her robe (the same blue color of the flowers on rosemary plants today). “Robe of Mary” became rosemary.  In ancient Greece and Rome, rosemary was used in bridal bouquets as a sign of fidelity (Must be a good sign I picked it for my bouquet before knowing this!) and was placed in the hands of corpses (and on graves) as a symbol of remembrance.  In Europe, rosemary was burned in hospitals to purify the air and burned as incense in English courtrooms to protect people from catching disease from the prisoners.

The blue flowers of the rosemary plant

Buying/Growing Rosemary:  Most of the rosemary we import is from Spain but rosemary is very easy to grow in your backyard or in containers. This is one of the two plants I’ve actually been successful in keeping alive!  You can buy fresh rosemary or dried…there isn’t a huge difference between them…it actually retains its flavor and oils when it is ground. It is important to dry your rosemary immediately after harvesting it , however, to preserve those oils. Hang the fresh branches upside down in a warm and dark space for a few days.

Cooking with Rosemary: Rosemary is very strong so take care not to over do it or your meal will be dominated by the rosemary. Rosemary is so strong that it doesn’t lose its flavor in long, slow cooking. It dissolves quickly in fatty liquids like olive oil because it actually contains its own fair share of oil. It seems like the best way to use rosemary is to throw it into the dish at the end. Because rosemary is a powerhouse, it goes really well with poultry, pork, lamb, tomato sauce and pizza.

Health Benefits of Rosemary: Rosemary has several antioxidants that have carcinogen-killing powers: rosmarinic acid, carnosic acid and carnosol. Apparently, the combination of those antioxidants make rosemary quite powerful. Here is a list of the potential health benefits of rosemary:

  • Can decrease the amount of heterocyclic amines (HCAs) that are produced when cooking/grilling/frying/broiling/smoking certain foods. HCAs have been linked to some cancers (colon, breast, prostate) so it’s not a bad idea to get rid of them! You can have your meat and eat it too…just throw some rosemary on it
  • Sniffing rosemary essential oil can reduce levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) and thereby decrease levels of oxidative stress in your body
  • Can reduce the effects of radiation sickness
  • Is great for your skin: may act as a shield against UV radiation, may guard against skin tumors and may reduce the growth of melanomas
  • The smell of rosemary may enhance cognition and aid in memory recall
  • May improve blood flow in the carotid artery to the brain and inhibit the clumping of blood platelets (which then helps avoid blood clots)
  • May decrease the pain and inflammation associated with arthritis
  • May help lower blood sugars…one study showed the drop in blood sugar in both “normal” and diabetic rats.
  • May help treat depression….rosemary extract worked as effectively as Prozac in treating depression-like symptoms in animals
I think that list is sufficient for now. Because of the antioxidants in rosemary, it really is a powerhouse spice/herb. Don’t be afraid to make it a staple in your cooking…it probably is most comfortable in autumn/winter dishes more so than summer ones but check out my next post for a dinner that will please the palate any time of the year!
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