Rosemary – The Christmas Herb

Ah yes, Rosmarinus officinalis, also known to you and I as rosemary. Little did I know of its tradition and its relation to the Christmas season.

From what I’ve read, the legend that ties it to Christmas is that it gained its aroma when Mother Mary placed the Christ swaddling clothes upon it on their trip to Egypt, and that its purple hue is comes from the robes of the Virgin Mary. Other Jesus-type facts surrounding this herb include that the rosemary bush will never grow higher than Jesus’s height and that it will never live longer than 33 years, which just happens to be how long Jesus had lived.

More likely is that rosemary had been valued for both its aroma and taste. Reports have it being burned to drive off evil spirits and illnesses in ancient Greece, and keeping it under one’s bed or keeping it on the door step would protect one from the evils of the dark.

And what is the darkest day of the year? Winter Solstice. Which just happens to correspond with Christmas day, practically being neighbors on the calender. Much like many other Christmas traditions, the use of rosemary was likely pulled from the more pagan uses, and adapted to reflect a more “Christian” outlook. It was from this outlook that St. Thomas More said of it “‘Tis the herb sacred to the remembrance and therefore to friendship”, which indicates that it was used at gatherings of friends and family.

We no longer through rosemary on the floor, instead preferring to use it in our Christmas feasts. Still, the aroma itself is worth bringing this tradition back, as long as you don’t mind sweeping up the many, many tiny leaves.