As Shakespeare’s Ophelia said to Laertes; “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance; pray, love, remember” (Hamlet, Act 4, Scene V).
Throughout traditional folklore, rosemary has long been associated with remembrance, perhaps because of the belief in its ability to improve the memory. This attribute is now coming to scientific significance. Scientists at the University of Northumbria used a test group of 66 people who were given memory tests in either a room with no aroma, or one filled with a rosemary scent.
The memory tests were simple and included finding hidden objects or passing objects to specific researchers at set times. Researchers found that participants in the rosemary-scented rooms delivered better results and performed better than those in the room without a scent.
Rosemary also has a specific connection with remembering the dead. Throughout history, mourners would often carry sprigs of rosemary at a funeral and toss it into the coffin before it was buried to ensure that the deceased would not be forgotten. Also Minerva, the Greek goddess of knowledge is associated with rosemary, as are the Muses (who were often depicted holding sprigs of rosemary), whose mother was Mnemosyne, the personification of memory. Finally we can look again to Shakespeare; in Romeo and Juliet, Friar Laurence speaks over Juliet’s body: “Dry up your tears, and stick your rosemary on this fair corse [corpse]” (Act 4, Scene 5).
Rosemary’s connection with remembrance is also well known in Australia and New Zealand, where veterans and other citizens wear springs of Rosemary on Anzac Day. This is a national day of remembrance in Australia and New Zealand that commemorates all Australians and New Zealanders who served and died in all wars, conflicts, and peacekeeping operations. Originally every 25th April was the day to honour the members of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) who fought at Gallipoli during World War I. Rosemary is also of significance here because it grows wild on the Gallipoli peninsula.
With Remembrance Day coming on 11th November, along with your poppy why not also choose a little rosemary to remember all those who died during the First World War (and all subsequent hostilities). The wonderful Nigella has a fantastic recipe for a Rosemary Remembrance Cake (below), which will not only make an unusual and delicious addition to your tea table, but can also be an extra way to ensure that we observe Armistice Day and all its significance.
This is a delicious loaf cake, that uses a regular sponge as its base but which has incorporated into it a rosemary infused apple puree and is topped with a long sprig of rosemary which, as it bakes, leaches its gorgeous scented oils down into the cake.