Hand-colored scanning electron micrograph of a rosemary leaf (Rosmarinus officinalis), by Martin Oeggerli.
Rosemary is a woody evergreen shrub with leaves similar to hemlock needles, and white, pink, or blue flowers. It is native to the Mediterranean and Asia, but is reasonably hardy in colder climates. It has a fibrous root system and can withstand droughts, surviving a severe lack of water for lengthy periods. Forms range from upright to trailing; the upright forms can reach 1.5 m (5 ft) tall. Rosemary is a member of the mint family Lamiaceae, which includes many other herbs.
The name “rosemary” derives from the Latin for “dew” (ros) and “sea” (marinus), or “dew of the sea”. Upon cultivation, the leaves, twigs, and flowering apices are extracted for use. Rosemary is also used as a decorative plant in gardens where it may have pest control effects. The leaves are used to flavor various foods, such as stuffing and roast meats. Fresh or dried leaves have a bitter, astringent taste and a characteristic aroma. Herbal tea can be made from the leaves. Rosemary oil is used for purposes of fragrant bodily perfumes or to emit an aroma into a room. Rosemary contains a number of phytochemicals, including rosmarinic acid, camphor, caffeic acid, ursolic acid, betulinic acid, carnosic acid, and carnosol. Rosemary essential oil contains 10–20% camphor.
The plant has been used as a symbol for remembrance during war commemorations and funerals in Europe and Australia. Mourners would throw it into graves as a symbol of remembrance for the dead. In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Ophelia says, “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance.”