If you would like your Christmas celebration on a smaller scale this year, you might consider using a rosemary plant, available at plant nurseries, as a Christmas tree. A dense, evergreen, aromatic shrub, it has resinous, needlelike leaves and soft blue flowers.
The upright varieties are hardier, while prostrate ones are more tender. “Arp” is the hardiest rosemary, taking temperatures as low as -10 degrees F. Instructions for overwintering are to wrap in plastic sheeting and shelter from winter winds. Many folks grow them in pots and bring them in for the winter, just in time for use as a Christmas tree. It succeeds best in a light, dry soil and sheltered situation, such as the base of a low wall facing south.
Rich in tradition, the Spaniards revere it as one of the bushes that gave shelter to the Virgin Mary in the flight into Egypt and call it Romero, the Pilgrim’s flower. It was introduced in England by Phillippa of Hainault, wife of Edward III in the 14th century.
When trimming your “tree”, save the needles for use in cooking. Rosemary roasted potatoes are especially delicious. The best lamb roast I have ever eaten was in New Zealand, with a rosemary herb crust. Known as the herb of remembrance, rosemary is said to improve memory and fidelity for lovers. Because of this symbolism, it is used at weddings, funerals, decking churches and halls, and as incense in religious ceremonies.
This is one of the greatest medicinal herbs, especially considering how affordable it is. Rosemary increases the blood supply to the skin, reducing pain in rheumatic muscles and joints. Rosemary baths help with low blood pressure, varicose veins, bruises and sprains. Because it helps to relax muscles, use for indigestion, cramps and irritable bowel syndrome. Its fungicidal action kills Candida albicans, the cause of yeast infections.
Dilute the essential oil using 10 drops per tablespoon of vegetable oil, such as olive, sunflower, almond or jojoba oil. I use the essential oil in pain relieving formulas. It is also a good rub, applied topically, for congested lungs. Add a few drops to the bath after a long, tiring day. It can be applied to the scalp to promote hair growth. Rub on your temples to lessen headaches.
Essential oils are too highly concentrated to use internally. Harvest the aerial parts of the plant (the needles and flowers). It is best to steep one ounce of dried herb, or two ounces of fresh herb, in 5 cups of water. Make it fresh each day. Drink hot or cold. A tea can be used for colds, flu, rheumatic pains and indigestion. It is stimulating, so avoid use before bedtime.
Since this herb is a uterine stimulant, it should not be used medically during pregnancy. You should never ingest the essential oil. Small amounts of roemary used in cooking do not pose a risk of any side effects.
Enjoy the holidays, and winter, with rosemary!
The Complete Medicinal Herbal, Penelope Ody, DK Books, 1993
A Modern Herbal, Mrs. M. Grieve, Dover, 1971
Prescription for Herbal Healing, Phyllis Balch, Avery, 2002
Sunset Western Garden Book, Sunset Publishing, 2001
Rosmarinus Officinalis illustration, from NRCS Plants Database, Britton, N.L.
Herbal medicine and teas, as a method of healing, are not recognized in the USA. Lynn Wallingford makes no health claims. Any herbal or tea information is not intended to treat, diagnose, or prescribe in any way, and is for informational purposes only. She does not take responsibility for your experience using them. She trusts that you will consult a licensed healthcare professional when appropriate, especially pregnant women, nursing mothers, anyone over 60 years of age, anyone under 12 years of age, or anyone with a serious medical condition.