Josna Rege

445. A November Gift: Rosemary for Remembrance

In Nature, seasons, Stories on November 13, 2019 at 11:12 am

It is a frigid weekday morning in mid-November, and my second cup of tea has failed to satisfy. Last night, temperatures were forecast to fall to 16°F, less than -9°C, and it certainly looks like it this morning. Outside, the bird feeder is empty and the bird bath is frozen solid; inside, I’m still huddled in bed. But a long day of grading, meetings, and committee work looms, and I need to be able to bundle up, step out, and face it with resolve and good cheer.

I’ve just gone into the laundry room to put a wash in, and found to my dismay that large strips and flakes of plaster from the ceiling have curled away and dropped down onto the floor. A clogged dryer vent? A leak in the heating system up in the attic? I don’t have time to check before leaving for work.

There is time, though, to tell a little story.

Last weekend was the first time this season that overnight temperatures were to drop well below freezing. We hadn’t done much yet to formally put the garden to bed for the winter, but I did remember the lone rosemary plant on the terraces out back, facing its first winter with only hardier perennials like sage and lavender for company. For a temporary fix I found a five-gallon plastic tub and upturned it over the rosemary, robbing the plant of light but also, I hoped, insulating it until I could decide on a longer-term solution. (That was a few days ago now and I haven’t yet ventured to tip up the tub and see how it is faring under there.) As I lowered the tub over the rosemary I had to tuck in the branches all round the edges, as gently as I could so as not to damage them. As I did so, they gave off that rich, concentrated, distinctive scent that we recognize as the essential oil of rosemary, a scent that lingered on my fingers all evening. Was it the plant’s defense system, concentrating itself along all its leaves and branches as it dug deep inside itself to face the coming cold? All that evening just raising my fingertips to my nose lifted my spirits.

Searching the U.S. National Library of Medicine on the National Institute of Health website, I found recent studies on the effects of inhaled rosemary oil on subjects’ feelings and central nervous systems. The results were overwhelmingly positive and confirmed what has long been believed about the medicinal powers of rosemary: “significant increases in blood pressure, heart rate, and respiratory rate after rosemary oil inhalation. After the inhalation treatments, subjects were found to have become more active and stated that they felt ‘fresher’” (Sayorwan et al). The researchers elaborated on “the alterations of mood states after being exposed to the aromas,” supporting the findings of earlier studies:

Our results indicate that rosemary oil inhalation increases the level of arousal as assessed through our test subjects’ self-evaluation. All the data has collectively shown a medicinal benefit of rosemary oil when inhaled, by the removal of feelings of boredom and by providing fresh mental energy. . . Moss and colleagues assessed the olfactory impact of rosemary and lavender essential oils on cognitive performance and mood in healthy volunteers. They found that rosemary produces a significant enhancement in memory performance. In regard to mood, subjects felt significantly fresher and were more alert than in the control group. Moreover, massage with the use of rosemary oil also resulted in more vigor and produced a more cheerful feeling. Thus, our results confirm that rosemary oil contains mood-elevating bioactive components that prove to be beneficial to its users.

Now, before I leave for work, I will go out back and lift the tub off so that the little rosemary bush can get some light today. I hope I will be greeted by a still-healthy plant.

Done! All’s well, and that heartening aroma has once again transferred itself to my fingertips. Thank you, rosemary plant; I’m ready for my day now. This evening I will return to cover you back up for the night.


“There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance.”
                                Hamlet: Act 4, Scene 5

Are you going to Scarborough Fair/Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme/
Remember me to one who lives there/For once she was a true love of mine
                        Scarborough Fair, Traditional (sung here by Ewan MacColl)

A well-established rosemary bush in full flower, Golders Hill Park, London


Tell Me Another (Contents to Date)

Chronological Table of Contents

  1. I’m glad your plant survived so far! I think it can get through the winter. I was sorry to see that it elevates blood pressure as I would rather it brought it down.

    • I’m sorry that it raises blood pressure, too.That was when the oil was inhaled, but I haven’t read whether or not its use as a culinary herb or in tea would be a problem. Rosemary is in the mint family, and mint, too, is a stimulant.
      It would last year-round in Atlanta, and it does in the U.K. too, but I think it may be too tender for the New England winters.

  2. Ah, if only I had a bathtub (and a conscience that would allow me to take guilt-free baths, or better perhaps a climate that could do without my fretting) then I would most definitely sprinkle in a few drops of rosemary oil. I can smell it just thinking about it…

    • Mmm. I bet you can make a simple inhaler by putting a few drops of the oil in a bowl of hot water and then breathing it in with your head and the bowl covered with a warm towel.

    • Hi Epi, I love your latest post, “Farmers Know Their Shit,” and have been trying to find a place to comment on it for the past 15 minutes. Since we’re both on WordPress I would have thought it would be easy, but still no luck. Can you please advise me?

  3. Ahhh! I love your uplifting Rosemary story! Even the drying twigs I brought in from my Rosemary plant offer a strong, delightful fragrance. And the plant outdoors seems strong and hearty!!

    • I’m glad your plant is doing well, Anna. If it’s in a sheltered spot it may be okay; but I worry about temperatures like tonight–10°F.

  4. Maybe rosemary reminds people of the song.

  5. I especially like the part about improving the memory!
    Don’t worry, Rosemary is a tough little herb! Covering it will help with the tips of the branches,

    • Yes, as you can imagine, so did I! Glad to hear that it’s hardier than I thought. But I think I’ll cover it again tomorrow night, when it’s supposed to get even colder, down to 10°F!

  6. Delightful post! I didn’t know that Scarborough Fair was a traditional song, nor did I know anything about Rosemary.

  7. […]        445. A November Gift: Rosemary for Remembrance […]

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