Appears in
Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

  • About

rosemary Rosmarinus officinalis, one of the most prized culinary herbs, is a common wild plant of Mediterranean hillsides, but will also grow as far north as S. England, where the Romans introduced it originally (although it is commonly said that it had to be reintroduced by the Normans after 1066).

There is no doubt about the importance attached to rosemary in classical Greece and Rome, but the situation with regard to ancient Egypt is less clear. An 18th-century archaeologist found and reported a specimen of rosemary in a garland adorning an Egyptian body. However, a later commentator remarked that the leaves were reported to be green, which seemed odd after thousands of years in a tomb, and speculated that the archaeologist might have been fooled by a practical joke carried out by his guides. On the other hand, Dorothy Bovee Jones (in Foley, 1974) records that:

In his ‘Histoire Naturelle’, Valmont Bomare (1731–1807) reported that when coffins were opened after several years, branches of rosemary that had been placed in the hands of the dead were found to have grown so that they covered the corpse.