Plant Lore-Rosemary

ROSEMARY.—Rosmarinus, the botanical name of Rosemary, signifies the "dew of the sea," and has been applied to the plant on account of its fondness for the sea-shore. Formerly it was called Rosmarinus coronarius because of its use in chaplets and garlands, with which the principal guests at feasts were crowned. In place of more costly incense, the ancients often employed Rosemary in their religious ceremonies, and especially at funeral rites. The Romans ornamented their Lares, or household gods, with this plant, and at the Palilia, or festival held in honour of Pales, the purification of the flocks was made with the smoke of Rosemary. But the plant is essentially funereal in its character: its aroma serves to preserve the corpse of the departed, and its leaves, ever green, symbolise immortality: hence, like the Asphodel and Mallow, it was frequently planted near tombs :—

"Come funeral flower ! who lov'st to dwell,
With the pale corse in lonely tomb.
And throw across the desert gloom

A sweet decaying smell."—Kirk* While.

In the Northern counties, mourners at funerals often carry a branch of Rosemary, and it is still customary in some rural districts to distribute sprigs of the plant at funerals, in order that those attending may cast them into the grave. Gay refers to this custom in his ' Shepherd's Week ':—

"Sprigg'd Rosemary the lads and lasses bore,
While dismally the parson walked before.
Upon her grave the Rosemary they threw,
The Daisy, Butter-flower, and Endive blue."

Sprigs of Rosemary were, however, in olden times, worn at weddings, as well as at funerals. Herrick says :—

"Grow for two ends, it matters not at all,
Be't for my bridal or my burial."

Shakspeare and others of our old poets make frequent mention of
Rosemary as an emblem of remembrance, and as being worn at
weddings, possibly to signify the fidelity of the lovers. Thus
Ophelia says :—

"There's Rosemary for you, that's for remembrance; pray you, love, remember."

Sprigs of Rosemary mingled in the coronal which bound the hair of the unfortunate Anne of Cleves on the occasion of her nuptials with King Henry VIII. In olden times, Rosemary garlanded the wassail bowl, and at Christmas the dish of roast beef, decked with Rosemary and Bays, was ushered in with the carol beginning—

"The boar's head in hand bring I,
With garlands gay and Rosemary."

The silvery foliage of this favourite plant mingled well with the Holly, Mistletoe, and Bays employed in decking rooms, 4c, at Christmas-tide—a custom which may perhaps be accounted for by a Spanish tradition that the Rosemary (like the Juniper in other legends) afforded shelter and protection to the Virgin Mary during her flight with the infant Saviour into Egypt. The plant is said to flower on the day of the Passion of our Lord because the Virgin Mary spread on a shrub of Rosemary the under linen and little frocks of the infant Jesus; and according to tradition, it brings happiness on those families who employ it in perfuming the house

on Christmas night. In Germany, there exists a curious custom

of demanding presents from women on Good Friday, at the

same time striking them with a branch of Rosemary or Fir.

It is a common saying in Sicily, that Rosemary is the favourite plant of the fairies, and that the young fairies, under the guise of

snakes, lie concealed under its branches. In the rural districts

of Portugal, it it called Akcrim, a word of Scandinavian origin {Ellegrim), signifying Elfin-plant. Rosemary occupied a prominent place in monastic gardens, on account of its curative properties, and in Queen Elizabeth's time, its silvery foliage grew all over the walls of the gardens at Hampton Court. Now-a-days the plant is rarely seen out of the kitchen garden, and indeed a common saying has arisen that " Rosemary only grows where the mistress is master." The plant was formerly held in high estimation as a "comforter of the brain," and a strengthener of the memory. In Kngland, Rosemary worn about the body is said to strengthen the memory, and to afford successful assistance to the wearer in anything he may undertake. In an ancient Italian recipe, the

flowers of Rosemary, Rue, Sage, Marjoram, Fennel, Quince, &c, are recommended for the preservation of youth. In Bologna, there is an old belief that the flowers of Rosemary, if placed in contact with the skin, and especially, with the heart, give gaiety and sprightliness. Spirit of wine distilled from Rosemary produces the true Hungary water. By many persons Rosemary is used as tea for headaches and nervous disorders. An Italian legend, given in the Mythologie des Plantes, tells that a certain queen, who was childless, one day, whilst walking in the palace gardens, was troubled with a feeling of envy whilst contemplating a vigorous Rosemary-bush, because of its numerous branches and offshoots. Strange to relate, she afterwards gave birth to a Rosemary-bush, which she planted in a pot and carefully supplied with milk four times a day. The king of Spain, nephew of the queen, having stolen this pot of Rosemary, sustained it with goat's milk. One day, whilst playing on the flute, he saw to his astonishment a beautiful

he fell desperately in love with this strange visitor; but being obliged to depart to fight for his country, he commended the Rosemary-bush to the special care of his head gardener. In his absence, his sisters one day amused themselves by playing on the king's flute, and forthwith the beautiful princess emerged once more from the Rosemary. The king's sisters, tormented by jealousy, struck her; the princess forthwith vanished, the Rosemary began to droop, and the gardener, afraid of the king's wrath, fled into the woods. At the midnight hour, he heard a dragon talking to its mate, and telling her the story of the mystic Rosemary-bush. The dragon let fall the fact, that if the Rosemary was to be restored, it could only be by being fed or sprinkled with dragons' blood: no sooner did the gardener hear this, than he fell upon the male and female dragons, slew them, and carrying off some of their blood, applied it to the roots of the king's Rosemary. So the spell was broken: the king returned, and soon after married the charming Princess

Rosa Marina. A curious charm, or dream-divination, is still

extant in which Rosemary plays an important part; the mode of procedure is as follows:—On the eve of St. Magdalen, three maidens, under the age of twenty-one, are to assemble in an upper room, and between them prepare a potion, consisting of wine, rum, gin, vinegar, and water, in a ground-glass vessel. Into this each maid is then to dip a sprig of Rosemary, and fasten it in her bosom; and after taking three sips of the potion, the three maids are silently to go to sleep in the same bed. As a result, the dreams of each will reveal their destiny. Another elaborate spell for effecting the same result on the first of July, consists in the gathering of a sprig
of Rosemary, a red Rose, a white Rose, a blue flower, a yellow flower, nine blades of long Grass, and a sprig of Rue, all of which are to be bound together with a lock of the maiden's hair who wishes to work the spell. This nosegay is to be sprinkled with the blood of a white pigeon and some salt, and laid beneath the maid's head when she retires to rest. Her dreams will then portend her fate. Rosemary is deemed a herb of the Sun.
Plant lore, legends, and lyrics: Embracing the myths, traditions ...
By Richard Folkard


(1) Perdita. Reverend Sirs,

For you there's Rosemary and Rue; these keep
Seeming and savour all the winter long;
Grace and remembrance be to you both.1

Winter's Tale, act iv, sc. 4 (73).

(2) Bawd. Marry, come up, my dish of chastity with Rosemary

and bays. Pericles, act iv, sc. 6 (159).

(3) Edgar. Bedlam beggars, who, with roaring voices

Strike in their numb'd and mortified bare arms
Pins, wooden pricks, and sprigs of Rosemary.

Lear, act ii, sc. 3 (14).

(4) Ophelia. There's Rosemary, that's for remembrance; pray,

love, remember. Hamlet, act iv, sc. 5 (175).

(5) Nurse. Doth not Rosemary and Romeo begin both with a


Romeo. Ay, nurse ; what of that? both with an R.

Nurse. Ah, mocker 1 that's the dog's name ; R is for the

. No; I know it begins with some other

letter :—and she hath the prettiest sententious of it, of you and Rosemary, that it would do you good to hear it.

Romeo and "Juliet, act ii, sc. 4 (219).

(6) Friar. Dry up your tears, and stick your Rosemary

On this fair corse. Ibid., act iv, sc. 5 (79).

The Rosemary is not a native of Britain, but of the seacoast of the South of Europe, where it is very abundant It was very early introduced into England, and is mentioned in an Anglo-Saxon Herbarium under its Latin name of Ros marinus, and is there translated by Bothen, ie. Thyme; also in an Anglo-Saxon Vocabulary of the eleventh century, where it is translated Feld-madder and Sun-dew. In these places our present plant may or may not be meant, but there is no doubt that it is the one referred to in an ancient English poem of the fourteenth century, on the virtues of herbs, published in Wright and Halliwell's "Reliquiae Antiquae." The account of "The Gloriouse Rosemaryne " is long, but the beginning and ending are worth quoting—

1 Grace was symbolized by the Rue, or Herb of Grace, and remembrance by the Rosemary.

"This herbe is callit Rosemaryn
Of vertu that is gode and fyne;
But alle the vertues tell I ne cane,
No I trawe no erthely man.

Of thys herbe telles Galiene

That in hys contree was a quene,

Gowtus and Crokyt as he hath tolde,

And eke sexty yere olde;

Sor and febyl, where men hyr sey

Scho semyth wel for to dey;

Of Rosmaryn scho toke sex powde,

And grownde hyt wel in a stownde,

And bathed hir threyes everi day,

Nine mowthes, as I herde say,

And afterwarde anoynitte wel hyr hede

With good bame as I rede;

Away fel alle that olde flessrhe,

And yowge i-sprang tender and nessche;

So fresshe to be scho then began

Scho coveytede couplede be to man." (Vol. i, 196).

We can now scarcely understand the high favour in which Rosemary was formerly held; we are accustomed to see it neglected, or only tolerated in some corner of the kitchen garden, and not often tolerated there. But it was very different in Shakespeare's time, when it was in high favour for its evergreen leaves and fine aromatic scent, remaining a long time after picking, so long, indeed, that both leaves and scent were almost considered everlasting. This was its great charm, and so Spenser spoke of it as "the cheerful Rosemarie" and "refreshing Rosemarine," and good Sir Thomas More had a great affection for it. "As for Rosemarine," he said, "I lett it run alle over my garden walls, not onlie because my bees love it, but because tis the herb sacred to remembrance, and therefore to friendship; whence a sprig of it hath a dumb language that maketh it the chosen emblem at our funeral wakes and in our buriall grounds." And Parkinson gives a similar account of its popularity as a garden plant: "Being in every woman's garden, it were sufficient but to name it as an ornament among other sweet herbs and flowers in our gardens. In this our land, where it hath been planted in noblemen's and great men's gardens against brick walls, and there continued long, it riseth up in time unto a very great height, with a great and woody stem of that compasse that, being cloven out into boards, it hath served to make lutes or such like instruments, and here with us carpenters' rules and to divers others purposes." It was the favourite evergreen wherever the occasion required an emblem of constancy and perpetual remembrance, such especially as weddings and funerals, at both of which it was largely- used; and so says Herrick of "The Rosemarie Branch "—

"Grow for two ends, it matters not at all,
Be't for my bridall or my buriaU."

Its use at funerals was very widespread, for Laurembergius records a pretty custom in use in his day, 1631, at Frankfort: "Is mos apud nos retinetur, dum cupresso bumile, vel rore marino, non solum coronamus funera jamjam ducenda, sed et iis appendimus ex iisdem herbis litteras collectas, significatrices nominis ejus quae defuncta est. Nam in puellarum funeribus hsec fere fieri solent" (" Horticulturae," cap. vj.).

Its use at weddings is pleasantly told in the old ballad of "The Bride's Good-morrow "—

"The house is drest and garnisht for your sake

With flowers gallant and green;
A solemn feast your comely cooks do ready make,

Where all your friends will be seen:
Young men and maids do ready stand
With sweet Rosemary in their hand—

A perfect token of your virgin's life.
To wait upon you they intend
Unto the church to make an end:

And God make thee a joyfull wedded wife."

Roxburghe Ballads, vol. i.

It probably is one of the most lasting of evergreens after being gathered, though we can scarcely credit the statement recorded by Phillips that " it is the custom in France to put a branch of Rosemary in the hands of the dead when in the coffin, and we are told by Valmont Bomare, in his 'Histoire Naturelle,' that when the coffins have been opened after several years, the plant has been found to have vegetated so much that the leaves have covered the corpse." These were the general and popular uses of the Rosemary, but it was of high repute as a medicine, and still holds a place, though not so high as formerly, in the " Pharmacopoeia." "Rosemary," says Parkinson, "is almost of as great use as Bayes, both for inward and outward remedies, and as well for civill as physicall purposes—inwardly for the head and heart, outwardly for the sinews and joynts; for civile uses, as all do know, at weddings, funerals, &c., to bestow among "friends; and the physicall are so many that you might as well be tyred in the reading as I in the writing, if I should set down all that might be said of it"

With this high character we may well leave this good, old-> fashioned plant, merely noting that the name is popularly but erroneously supposed to mean the Rose of Mary. It has no connection with either Rose or Mary, but is the Ros, marinus, or Ros Maris (as in Ovid—

"Ros maris, et laurus, nigraque myrtus olent

De Arte Aman,, iii, 390),

the plant that delights in the sea-spray; and so the old spelling was Rosmarin. Gower says of the Star Alpheta—

"His herbe proper is Rosmarine ;"

Conf Aman., lib. sept.

a spelling which Shenstone adopted—

"And here trim Rosmarin that whilom crowned
The daintiest garden of the proudest peer."

It was also sometimes called Guardrobe, being "put into chests and presses among clothes, to preserve them from niothes and other vermine."
The plant-lore & garden-craft of Shakespeare
By Henry Nicholson Ellacombe


'T~^\OTH not Rosemary and Romeo both begin

J / with a letter?' asks Juliet's nurse. Yes,

but what did she mean by the query, and by the further remark that 'Juliet hath the prettiest sententions of it, of you and rosemary, that it would do you good to hear it'? For answer we must make some search into the beliefs and customs of the past.

Rosemary is the 'Ros-marinus' of the old herbalists, but it is not a native of Britain, and there is no exact record of when it was introduced here from the South of Europe. Mention of ' Rosmarinus' occurs in an Anglo-Saxon vocabulary of the eleventh century, where it is translated Feldmadder and Sun - dew. There is some doubt whether this has reference to the actual plant now known to us as rosemary, but in no case was it the Rose of Mary, as some have supposed. It is not a rose, and the * Mary' is from 'marinus,' or 'maris.' The old English spelling was Rosmarin, or Rosmarine; in these forms one finds the word used by Gower, and Shenstone, and other old poets.

In the South of Europe the rosemary has long had magic properties ascribed to it. The Spanish ladies used to wear it as an antidote against the evil eye, and the Portuguese called it the Elfin plant, and dedicated it to the fairies. The idea of the antidote may have been due to a confusion of the name with that of the Virgin; but as a matter of fact the ' Ros-marinus' is frequently mentioned by old Latin writers, including Horace and Ovid. The name came from the fondness of the plant for the sea-shore, where it often gets sprinkled with the 'ros,' or dew of the sea, that is to say, seaspray. Another cause of confusion, perhaps, was that the leaves of the plant somewhat resemble those of the juniper, which in mediaeval times was one of the plants held sacred to the Virgin Mary. In the island of Crete, it is said, a bride dressed for the wedding still calls last of all for a sprig of rosemary to bring her luck.

And thus we come to find rosemary in close association with both marriage and death, just as the hyacinth was, and perhaps still is, among the Greeks. It is interesting to trace the connection by which the same plant came to have two such different uses.

One of the earliest mentions of rosemary in English literature is in a poem of the fourteenth century called 'The Gloriouse Rosemaryne,' which begins thus:

'This herbe is callit rosemaryn,
Of vertu that is gode and fyne;
But all the vertues tell I ne can,
Nor, I trowe, no erthely man.'

Nevertheless, the poet proceeds to record at great length many astounding virtues, including the restoration of youth to the aged by bathing in rosemary water.

The 'cheerful rosemarie' and 'refreshing rosemarine' of Spenser was once a great favourite in England, although now it is hardly allowed garden space. Sir Thomas More said: 'I let it run all over my garden walls, not only because my bees love it, but because 'tis the herb sacred to remembrance, and therefore to friendship: whence a sprig of it hath a dumb language that maketh it the chosen emblem at our funeral wakes and in our burial grounds.'

The popularity of the plant was doubtless due to the long-enduring scent and verdure of the leaves. It is one of the most lasting of evergreens, and the pleasant aromatic odour lingers very long after the leaves have been gathered.

Fragrance and endurance, then, are the characteristics of a plant which came to be commonly accepted as an emblem of constancy, and also of loving remembrance. Thus it is that Herrick sings of it:

'Grow for two ends, it matters not at all,
Be't for my bridal or my burial.'

Thus it is that we find Friar Laurence over Juliet's body, saying:

'Dry up your tears, and stick your rosemary
On this fair corse,'

which is certainly not what the nurse meant when she told Romeo of the 'prettiest sententions.'

High medicinal properties were ascribed to the rosemary, so much so that old Parkinson writes: 'Rosemary is almost as great use as bayes, both for outward and inward remedies, and as well for civill as physicall purposes; inwardly for the head and heart, outwardly for the sinews and joynts; for civill uses, as all do know, at weddings, funerals, etc., to bestow among friends; and the physicall are so many that you might as well be tyred in the reading as I in the writing, if I should set down all that might be said of it."

One of the 'physicall' uses was in stirring up the tankard of ale or sack, and at weddings a sprig was usually dipped in the loving-cup to give it fragrance as well as luck.

The virtues of the plant are celebrated in a curious wedding sermon quoted by Hone:

'The rosemary is for married men, the which by name, nature, and continued use, man challengeth as properly belonging to himself. It overtoppeth all the flowers in the garden boasting man's rule; it helpeth the brain, strengtheneth the memory, and is very medicinal for the head. Another property is, it affects the heart. Let this rosmarinus, this flower of man, ensign of your wisdom, love, and loyalty, be carried not only in your hands but in your heads and hearts.'

One does not easily reconcile this laudation with the popular superstition that wherever the rosemary flourished there should the woman be the ruling power. And to this superstition, be it noted, has been ascribed the disfavour into which the plant has fallen among gardeners since Shakespeare's time.

The medical properties may have been overrated by old Parkinson, but some are recognised even to this day. Thus rosemary is used as an infusion to cure headaches, and is believed to be an extensive ingredient in hair-restorers. It is also one of the ingredients in the manufacture of Eau-deCologne, and has many other uses in the form of oil of rosemary. It is said that bees which feed on rosemary blossoms produce a very delicatelyflavoured honey. Perfumers are greatly indebted to it. According to De Gubernatis, the flowers of the plant are proof against rheumatism, nervous indisposition, general debility, weakness of sight, melancholy, weak circulation, and cramp. Almost as comprehensive a cure as some of our modern universal specifics!

The medicinal properties of rosemary have been held by some to account for its funeral uses. At all events, an ingenious writer of the seventeenth century held that the custom of carrying a sprig at a funeral had its rise from a notion of an 'alexipharmick' or preservative virtue in the herb which would protect the wearer from 'pestilential distempers,' and be a powerful defence 'against the morbid efHuvias of the corpse.' For the same reason, this writer asserts, it was customary to burn rosemary in the chambers of the sick, just like frankincense, 'whose odour is not much different from rosemary, which gave the Greeks occasion to call it Libanotis, from Libanos (frankincense).'

The hyssop of the Bible is believed by some to be rosemary, and it is said that in the East it was customary to hang up a bunch in the house as a protection against evil spirits, and to use it in various ceremonies against enchantment. Perhaps there was some connection between this custom and that of the Greeks referred to by Aristotle, who regarded indigestion as the effect of witchcraft, and who used rue as an antidote. The dispelling of the charm was just the natural physical action of the herb.

In Devonshire, however, there was a more mystic use for rosemary in dispelling the charms of witches. A bunch of it had to be taken in the hand and dropped bit by bit on live coals, while the two first verses of the sixty-eighth psalm were recited, followed by the Lord's Prayer. Bayleaves were sometimes used in the same manner; but if the afflicted one were suffering physically, he had also to take certain prescribed medicines. Rosemary worn about the body was believed to strengthen the memory and to add to the success of the wearer in anything he might undertake.

It is as an emblem of remembrance that rosemary is most frequently used by the old poets. Thus Ophelia:

'There is rosemary for you, that's for remembrance;
I pray you, love, remember.'

And in The Winter's Tale:

'For you there's rosemary and rue; these keep
Seeming and savour all the winter long;
Grace and remembrance be with you both.'
And thus Drayton:

'He from his lass him lavender hath sent,

Showing her love, and doth requital crave;
Him rosemary his sweetheart, whose intent
Is that he her should in remembrance have.'

Quotations might be easily multiplied, but the reader will find in Brand's Popular Antiquities numerous references to the plant by writers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

As an emblem of rejoicing, rosemary was also often used. Hone quotes a contemporary account of the joyful entry of Queen Elizabeth into London in 1558, wherein occurs this passage: 'How many nosegays did her Grace receive at poor women's hands? How often times stayed she her chariot when she saw any simple body offer to speak to her Grace? A branch of rosemary given to her Grace, with a supplication by a poor woman about Fleet Bridge, was seen in her chariot till her Grace came to Westminster.' The object of the particular floral offering in this case is not very obvious, unless as an emblematic tribute to the maiden queen.

Rosemary used to be carried in the hand at weddings, as well as strewed on the ground and dipped in the cup. Thus Stow narrates of a wedding in 1560, that 'fine flowers and rosemary were strewed for them coming home'; and Brand cites numerous instances from old plays. In one, 'the parties enter with rosemary, as if from a wedding'; and in Beaumont and Fletcher's Scornful Lady, the question is asked about a wedding, 'Were the rosemary branches dipped?' This dipping, moreover was in scented water as well as in the loving-cup, and hence the allusion in Dekker's Wonderful Year to a bride who had died on her wedding-night:

'Here is a strange alteration; for the rosemary that was washed in sweet water to set out the bridal is now wet in tears to furnish her burial.'

It is on record that Anne of Cleves wore rosemary at her wedding with Henry the Eighth; and in an account of some marriage festivities at Kenilworth, attended by Queen Elizabeth, there is frequent mention of the plant. An idea of how it was sometimes used is given in a description of a sixteenth century wedding quoted by the Rev. Hilderic Friend: 'The bride being attired in a gown of sheep's russet and a kirtle of fine worsted, attired with abillement of gold' (milliner's French even then!); 'and her hair, yellow as gold, hanging down behind her, which was curiously combed and plaited' she was led to church between two sweet boys, with bride-laces and rosemary tied about her silken sleeves. There was a fair bride-cup of silver-gilt carried before her, wherein was a goodly branch of rosemary gilded very fair, and hung about with silken ribands of all colours.'

Coles says that the garden rosemary was called Rosmarinus coronarium, because the women made crowns and garlands of it. Ben Jonson says that it was customary for the bridesmaids to present the bridegroom next morning with a bunch of rosemary. And Brand says that as late as 1698 the custom still prevailed in England of decking the bridal bed with sprigs of rosemary.

In Jonson's Tale of a Tub, one of the characters assembled to await the intended bridegroom says: 'Look an' the wenches ha' not found un out, and do present un with a van of rosemary and bays, enough to vill a bow-pott or trim the head of my best vore-horse; we shall all ha' bride-laces and points, I see.' And again, a country swain assures his sweetheart at their wedding: 'We'll have rosemary and bayes to vill a bow-pott, and with the same I'll trim the vorehead of my best vorehorse '—so that it would seem the decorative use was not confined to the bride, the guests, and the banquet.

As a love-charm the reputation of rosemary seems to have come from the South. There is an old Spanish proverb which runs:

'Who passeth by the rosemarie,

And careth not to take a spray,
For woman's love no care has he,

Nor shall he, though he live for aye.'

Mr. Thiselton-Dyer says that rosemary is used in some parts of the country, as nut-charms are on Halloween, to foretell a lover; only, St. Agnes' Eve is the occasion on which to invoke with a sprig of rosemary, or thyme, with this formula:

'St. Agnes, that's to lovers kind,
Come, ease the troubles of my mind.'

For love-potions, decoctions of rosemary were much employed.

As to funereal uses, those who are familiar with Hogarth's drawings will remember one of a funeral party with sprigs of rosemary in their hands. Misson, a French traveller [temp. William the Third), thus describes English funeral ceremonies: 'When they are ready to set out, they nail up the coffin, and a servant presents the company with sprigs of rosemary. Everyone takes a sprig and carries it in his hand till the body is put into the grave, at which time they all throw their sprigs in after it.' Hence Gay:

'To show their love, the neighbours far and near,
Follow'd with wistful looks the damsel's bier;
Sprigg'd rosemary the lads and lasses bore,
While dismally the parson walk'd before.
Upon her grave the rosemary they threw.'

Whether the fact that the rosemary buds in January has anything to do with its funereal uses admits of conjecture, as Sir Thomas Browne would say; but that fact was certainly present to the writer of the following verses, which were worthily rescued by Hone from a 'fugitive copy,' although the writer's name has been lost:

'Sweet-scented flower! who art wont to bloom

On January's front severe,

And o'er the wintry desert drear
To waft thy waste perfume!
Come, thou shalt form my nosegay now,
And I will bind thee round my brow;

And, as I twine the mournful wreath,
I'll weave a melancholy song,
And sweet the strain shall be, and long—

The melody of death.

'Come, funeral flower! who lov'st to dwell
With the pale corse in lonely tomb,
And throw across the desert gloom

A sweet decaying smell.

Come, pressing lips, and lie with me

Beneath the lonely alder-tree,

And we will sleep a pleasant sleep,

And not a care shall dare intrude

To break the marble solitude,
So peaceful and so deep.

'And hark! the wind-god, as he flies,
Moans hollow in the forest trees,
And, sailing on the gusty breeze,

Mysterious music dies.

Sweet flower! the requiem wild is mine.

It warns me to the lonely shrine—
The cold turf-altar of the dead.

My grave shall be in yon lone spot,

Where, as I lie by all forgot,

A dying fragrance thou wilt o'er my ashes shed.'

In South Wales, in Cheshire, and in Bucks, the custom still obtains, according to Mr. Hilderic Friend, for each mourner to carry a sprig of rosemary to the grave, into which it is thrown. For weddings, rosemary was dipped in scented water, but for funerals in plain water. Hence the reference in an old play, quoted by Hone:

'If there be
Any so kind as to accompany
My body to the earth, let them not want
For entertainment. Prythee, see they have
A sprig of rosemary, dipp'd in common water,
To smell at as they walk along the streets.'

In Dekker's Wonderful Year there is a description of a charnel-house pavement strewed with withered rosemary, hyacinth, cypress, and yew. During the Plague rosemary was in such demand for funerals that, says Dekker, what 'had wont to be sold for twelvepence an armfull went now at six shillings a handfull.' Certainly a remarkable rise. What the price was in 1531 we know not; but in an account of the funeral expenses of a Lord Mayor of London, who died in that year, appears an item, 'For yerbes at the bewyral £0 1 o'—which presumably refers to rosemary.

'Cypresse garlands,' wrote Coles, 'are of great account at funeralls among the gentiler sort; but Rosemary and Bayes are used by the commons both at funeralls and weddings. They are all plants which fade not a good while after they are gathered and used, as I conceive, to intimate unto us that the remembrance of the present solemnity might not die presently, but be kept in minde for many yeares.'

We have now seen something of the many significations of rosemary, and find an explanation of why the same plant was used for both weddings and funerals, in the fact that it emblemised remembrance by its evergreen and fragrant qualities. One may have doubts about the truth of the story of the man of whom it is recorded that he wanted to be married again on the day of his wife's funeral because the rosemary which had been used at her burial would come in usefully and economically for the wedding ceremony. But if the story is too good to be true, there is suggestion enough in the circumstance referred to by Shakespeare, that 'Our bridal flowers serve for a buried corpse.'
Storyology: essays in folk-lore, sea-lore, and plant-lore
By Benjamin Taylor


Herbs played a much more prominent part in the customs, the medicine, and the daily life of our forefathers than they do in the more sophisticated existence of the present day. No herb was in more universal use than rosemary. It was used at festivities of all kinds, at public entertainments, at weddings, and at funerals. It was strowed on the floor, was carried in the hand, and was stuck in the hat. In old collections of popular medical recipes, rosemary continually appears as an ingredient in wonderfully compounded 'waters,' oils, and salves. The works of the older dramatists contain frequent allusions to its various medicinal and symbolical uses. Ophelia's well-known saying, 'There's rosemary, that's for remembrance,' is but one among many such passages. In the Winter's Tale, Perdita, distributing her flowers, says:

For you there's rosemary and rue: these keep
Seeming and savour all the winter long:
Grace and remembrance be to you both,
And welcome to our shearing!

Rosemary was long considered a good medicine for disorders of the head; it was also supposed to clear the head and to strengthen the memory, and so naturally became the symbol of remembrance and fidelity. It is very possible that the enduring nature of the odour of the plant has contributed to its long-standing association with these qualities. In consequence of its symbolic character it was largely used in connection both with funerals and with weddings. Horace and Ovid tell us how the ancients used to strow sprigs and boughs of cypress upon the graves of departed friends; and with the substitution of rosemary, and sometimes sage, for cypress, the custom has been maintained until a very recent date. When the body of Juliet, supposed dead, is

about to be removed to the vault of the Capulets, Friar Laurence says to the distracted friends:

Dry up your tears, and stick your rosemary
On this fair corse.

Bishop Corbet, in his poem on John Dawson, the Christ Church butler, addresses the undertaker's sable band as 'Ye Men of Rosemary.' Mrs Beecher Stowe, in her Poganuc People, tells us how the rugged New-England descendants of the Puritans in the early part of this century used no flowers about their dead, only the tansy and rosemary—bitter herbs of affliction.

It was formerly customary for the mourners as they walked in funeral procession to carry sprigs of the plant in their hands, which they afterwards threw into the grave. Gay, in his SliephercPs Week, describing a rural funeral, says:

To show their love, the neighbours far and near
Followed with wistful look the damsel's bier.
Sprigged rosemary the lads and lasses bore,
While dismally the parson walked before:
Upon her grave the rosemary they threw,
The daisy, butter-flower, and endive blue.

This ancient custom was, until lately, still kept up in Shropshire. The sprigs were distributed to the mourners just before leaving the house, and at the same time each member of the party was helped to a 'funeral cake.' These cakes generally took the form of oblong spongebiscuits, one of which, wrapped in black-edged note-paper and sealed with black wax, was sent to every near relative or friend not present But they are now going out of use, and will soon be, like so many other country customs, things of the past In Germany, not many years ago, rosemary was always used for a death-wreath for any young girl dying shortly before her wedding.

In courtship and bridal, as in death, the plant has for centuries been a popular symbol of fidelity and remembrance. Stow tells us that in the reign of Elizabeth rosemary was strown before brides on their way back from church. The gift of the herb to a man by his sweetheart was considered most significant. An old instance is found in Robert Greene's Never too Late (1590): 'Shee hath given thee a Nosegay of flowers, wherein, as a top gallant for all the rest, is set in Rosemary for remembrance—thou hast wonne her: els had shee not given thee this nosegay.' At weddings, it used to be the custom to (tip a sprig in the cup before drinking to the health of the newly married couple. The famous old beverage of warm ale, sugared and spiced, with a roasted crab or apple floating thereon, known as lamb'swool, was commonly stirred with a sprig of rosemary, to give it an additional flavour. Derbyshire folk have a belief that rosemary worn about the person will strengthen memory and will give success in love. In Spain they have a proverb:
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Mary, when washing one day, hung the clothes of the infant Jesus upon it to dry. It had formerly been a very insignificant plant; but after receiving this honour, it became an evergreen and fragrant. According to Mr J. W. Crombie, an authority on Spanish folklore, it is believed that all the instruments of the Passion can be seen in its flower, and that it puts forth fresh blossoms every Friday, 'as if to embalm His holy body.' If a house be fumigated with it on the night of the Nativity, it is thought that no harm will come to that house the whole year through. Spanish peasants often wear it in their hats as a protection against witches and dangers in travelling. The practice of wearing rosemary in the hat is doubtless connected with the widespread and long-standing belief in the efficacy ot the plant as a medicine for the head and brain and for the nerves generally. Edgar, in King Lear, describes how the 'Bedlam beggars

Strike in their numbed and mortified bare arms
Pins, wooden pricks, nails, sprigs of rosemary.

The following curious prescription for a headache is given in an old Collection of Receipts in Cookery, Physick, and Surgery (1759): 'Dry rosemary before the fire till 'twill crumble to a very fine powder; one pugil (handful) of saffron; and with the powder of rosemary and saffron make the yolk of an egg into a stiff poultis, and lay it as hot as you can endure it to the temples.' The oil of rosemary made from the leaves of the plant is the principal ingredient in the perfume called Hungary Water, which was formerly taken very generally to quiet the nerves. The oil is still extensively used in various preparations for the hair and head. The leaves on their under part are covered with a short whitish gray down, as if dashed with sea-spray, and it is from this fanciful resemblance that the plant is supposed to derive its name, which simply means seadew (rosmarinus).

Rosemary is often given internally in cases of chronic diarrhoea, and is also a common country remedy for coughs and colds. Lyte, in his Dodoens (1578), recommends rosemary for fastening loose teeth ; while another writer of the same period, Andrew Borde, in his Dyetary of Healthe, gives it as a remedy for 'palsies and for the falFynge syckenes, and for the cowghe, and good against colde.' The Plague raged in London in 1603, and so greatly was the demand for flowers and herbs affected thereby, that, as Dekker tells us, rosemary which had usually been sold for twelvepence an armful, was then not to be bought under six shillings a handful. In Yorkshire and Lancashire, and probably in other country districts, there is a saying that rosemary only grows in the gardens of houses where the goodwife 'wears the breeches.' The same is said in Shropshire of parsley. Yorkshire folk also say that mint, on the other hand, will not grow in the gardens of the henpecked.

In the old-time Christmas function of bringing in the boar's head, rosemary always formed part of the coronal of the stately dish that was ceremoniously borne to the table with musical accompaniment quaint and solemn. Scott describes the custom, with many other old Christmas observances, in the introduction to the sixth canto of Marmion. The ancient ceremony is still carefully

performed every Christmas Day in the hall of Queen's College, Oxford, to the accompaniment of the old carol:

The boar's head in hand bear I,
Bedecked with bays and rosemary;
And I pray you, my masters, be merry,
Quot estis in convivio.
Chamber's journal of popular literature, science and arts
By William Chambers, Robert Chambers


The boar's head in hand I bear,

Bedecked with bays and rosemary,

And I pray you my masters, " be merry."

Old Carol.

There's rosemary for you, that's for remembrance; Pray you, love, remember.

Shakespeare, Hamlet.

The rosemary may be called a versatile flower. It has been associated with life and death, with joy and sorrow. It has decorated with its luxuriant foliage the garden walls of proud Hampton Court, and has thriven in many a kitchen garden. It belongs to the mint family and was accorded a most honorable place among the ancients. The Latin calls it rosamarius, meaning dew of the sea, because it grows so luxuriantly near the seashore and also because the foliage has a silvery appearance as if covered with dew. It is said that the gray bushes along the rocky coasts of France and Italy well warrant the name. It was also called Mary's rose and was an emblem of the Virgin. The Greeks and Romans made garlands of it with which they crowned the guests of honor at their feasts. They also burned it as incense at many of their religious ceremonies. During the Palilia, or Shepherd's Festival, which was held in April to celebrate the founding of Rome by the shepherds and husbandmen, rosemary and laurel in large quantities were burned that the smoke might purify the sacred groves and fountains from unintentional pollution by the flocks and herds. It was one of the herbs used by the Romans in embalming their dead and its evergreen leaves symbolized to them the immortality of the soul. When they invaded Briton they brought with them many of their old rites and superstitions, and this may account for its popularity as a funeral emblem. Until comparatively recently in many parts of rural England it was strewn upon the coffin and sprays of rosemary were distributed to all those who attended the service that they might be cast into the grave as a final ceremony, emblematic of the life to come.

One of the most pathetic incidents connected with the funeral of Princess Alice of Hesse was when a poor old peasant woman of the Odenwald timidly laid her little wreath of rosemary beside the rare and costly flowers that covered the casket. In spite of its association with the dead, as an emblem of memory and faithfulness the rosemary was in great demand as a bridal flower. Herrick refers to its double use when he said:

Grow for two ends, it matters not at all,
Be't for my bridal or my burial.

It was customary for the bride to wear several sprays twined in her bridal wreath by some member of her family, to silently remind her to take with her to her new home memories of the dear old roof-tree and the loving hearts she was leaving behind. It was a token of gladness as well as of the dignity of the marriage sacrament. The bridal bed was decked with its sprays. The young men and maidens who attended the happy couple all wore or carried sprigs of rosemary, but it was to be borne in the heart as well as in the hand. Mystically it was thought to strengthen both the memory and the heart and to signify love and loyalty. In an old play is found the question: "Was the rosemary dipped?" This refers to the custom of dipping a spray in the wine cup before drinking to the bridal couple.

In Miss Strickland's description of the wedding of the unfortunate Anne of Cleves to Henry VIII, it is said that the Queen wore a coronet of gold and gems in which was fastened a spray of rosemary, "that herb of grace which was worn by maidens both at weddings and funerals."

At his first appearance on his wedding day the bridegroom was presented by the bridesmaids with a bunch of rosemary tied with white satin ribband, indicating the authority of the bride in the household. Wherever the plant grew in the garden, in that house it was a common saying that the "Mistress was master," or as another proverb expresses it, "Where rosemary flourishes in the garden, the gray mare is the better horse." This superstition may account for the fact that the plant is not now so prominent a feature in gardens as it used to be.

The following charm was said to be very potent: On the eve of St. Magdalene three maidens all under twenty-one must be gathered in the bed chamber of one of the number and together must prepare a mixture of wine, vinegar, and water in a ground glass vessel. Each maid must take three sips of the liquid, into which she must dip a spray of rosemary to be placed in her bosom. They must then all go silently to sleep in the same bed. One spoken word will break the charm. If the conditions were carefully complied with the dream of each, it was said, would reveal her fate.

Among the early Britons the herb was held to be of great importance in the observance of Christmas. The wassail bowl, which was passed around the banqueting hall, was wreathed, the night before, with rosemary, and the boar's head, the first dish to be served on Christmas day, and which was carried» with great state to the central table, was trimmed with the same plant. The association with Christmas may have been suggested by an old Spanish tradition that when the Mother was escaping with the Child Jesus from Herod's soldiers, some of the plants among which they passed rustled and crackled, thus betraying the travelers; but a tall rosemary bush stretched out its branches like arms

and the Mother and Child found refuge in its thick foliage. There is also a legend that the linen and little frocks of the Holy Child were spread upon a rosemary bush to dry. When the Virgin came to get them she found she had hung them upon a sunbeam. Thus it became Mary's rose and was thought to bring peace and good will to every family who numbered it among their Christmas adornments.

The plant was cultivated extensively throughout England in the monastic gardens on account of its curative properties. It was said to be beneficial for all disorders of the liver and for convulsions from any cause. A liniment was made from it that was used for gout. Mixed with honey it was in demand for bronchial troubles.

Cervantes tells a story that a young man was once bitten by dogs at a gipsy camp. The Queen took hairs from the dogs, fried them in oil, and laid the product on the wound. Next she laid on green rosemary, which she had chewed to a pulp, and then binding up the leg with cloth, she made the sign of the cross over the bite, and a quick cure was the result.

Timbs says that rosemary water was called "the bath of life."

In some verses, which are known as The Bride's Good Morrow, its use at marriage is pictured:

Young men and maids do ready stand
With sweet rosemary in their hand,

A perfect token of your virgin's life,
To wait upon you they attend,
Unto the church to make an end,

And God make thee a joyful wife.

In contrast, Gray sets out in rhyme the funeral custom:

To show their love the neighbors far and near, Followed with wistful look the damsel's bier. Sprigged rosemary the lads and lassies bore, While dismally the parson walked before.

Briesly, in his Chronicles, thus vividly described the scene at the burial of a huntsman, whose fellows attended with the dogs:

The old huntsmen gathered round the grave in a solid ring, each holding his dog by the slip, and when the final ashes to ashes, dust to dust was pronounced, the whole strewed their sprigs of rosemary over the coffin, then raising their heads, gave a simultaneous "Yaho! tally-ho!" the sound of which became heightened by the dogs joining their voices -as they rung the last cry over their earthed companion.

In old days the rosemary was sometimes called guard robe, because it was strewn in chests of clothing to keep out the moths.

After the great division in the church the names of many plants were changed in the hope of obliterating the scientific and medical knowledge of the monks. But the name of this flower was too sacred to be taken away.

The Italians recommended it for the preservation of youth and to strengthen the memory, and there was an old belief that if it was used in the bath it would impart gaiety and sprightliness. Young women considered it very effective in the removal of freckles.

In Hungary a medicinal water is distilled from the plant which is esteemed as a remedy for nervous troubles. A fine aromatic oil is obtained from it in America and England which is of value in manufacturing perfumes. The plant is also cultivated for the use of the bees, the honey extracted from it being of an excellent quality.

The fairies, too, claim an interest in the rosemary. In Scandinavia it is called ellegritn, which means elfin plant. It is said that the little elves hide in its branches when they are having their frolics, or when they are caught in a storm. There is no plant that the Italian and Spanish fairies care more for. In fact, with all fairies it is really quite a national flower, and the reason is that it hides and protects them under all circumstances.

Once upon a time there was a Queen who was very unhappy because she had no children. As she was walking in her garden she saw a beautiful rosemary bush and she wept bitterly, saying, " Even this plant has branches and blossoms, while I who long for a child have none." The next morning when she awoke she was surprised to see the plant by her bedside. She had it potted and cared for it herself, spraying it with milk several times a day. Her nephew, who was King of Spain, came to visit her, and noticing what care she took of it imagined that it must be something very rare, so he stole it and took it with him when he returned to his kingdom. One day when he was playing on the flute he was astonished to see a beautiful Princess emerge from the bush. He was so startled that he dropped his flute, and the maiden disappeared. The King was very unhappy for he had immediately fallen desperately in love with his beautiful visitor. Being called by state affairs, he entrusted his precious plant to the special custody of his head gardener, with instructions to guard it most securely. His sisters were in the garden one day and amused themselves by playing on his flute. Again the beautiful young girl stepped out of the rosemary bush. The sisters, who were jealous of her beauty and regarded her as an intruder, struck her. From that time the plant began to droop and wither. The gardener, fearing the anger of the King, fled into the wood, and at midnight he overheard two dragons talking to each other. In the course of the conversation one dragon remarked that the rosemary could only be restored by sprinkling it with dragon's blood. When the man heard this he immediately attacked and killed them, and taking some of the blood poured it on the roots of the plant, thereby breaking the spell and bringing to life the Princess Rosa Maria, who had been invisibly chained by an enchantment, which could only be interrupted by the music from a flute. The King soon came back and they were married with great splendor and lived happily ever after.

The rosemary has had a place in literature in both ancient and modern times. The early English writers especially make numerous references to it. Chaucer and Spenser both allude to its popularity. Shakespeare makes use of it in several of his plays, which show a familiarity with its traditions. Drayton, in his quaint language, has much to say about the flower. Herrick and Gay have both given it an honored place among their floral symbols. Shenstone expresses indignation at the disrespect shown to the rosemary in modern times, while Tom Moore sings of it in mournful strains.

Come funeral flower! sweet-scented flower,
Come press my lips, and lie with me
Beneath the lovely alder tree,
And we will sleep a pleasant sleep,
And not a care shall dare intrude,
To break the marble solitude,
So peaceful and so deep.

Henry Kirke Whitej

To the Herb Rosemary.

Flower lore and legend
By Katharine McMillan Beals