Few plants have such a distinctive scent and growth pattern as Rosemary. Once only found in the Mediterranean area where it’s native, now it’s grown around the world for both culinary use and its attractive needle-leaved appearance. You’ll find many homes in warmer climates feature a bush of this plant by the front door for its symbolism. Of course, you’ll need to explore the deeper symbolism and meaning of rosemary assigned to this humble herb before understanding what makes it so special to so many people.
- The Meaning and Symbolism of Rosemary
- Rosemary and the Victorian Language of Flowers
- Rosemary Flower Colors and Their Meaning & Symbolism
- The Meaning of Rosemary in Ancient Times
- The Meaning of Rosemary in Religion and Spirituality
- Japanese and Chinese Flower Languages and Rosemary
- Myths and Folklore Associated with Rosemary
- Rosemary and the Zodiac
- Famous References to Rosemary in Art and Literature
- About Rosemary
- Rosemary Meaning and Symbolism – Wrapping Up
The Meaning and Symbolism of Rosemary
Rosemary is an aromatic shrub that tends to reach about 3 feet tall in height and up to six feet wide with time. Aside from the needle-like foliage and small purple leaves, it’s the strong pleasant aroma of the plant that makes it so well-known. Before you sprinkle it on a roast and enjoy it with a meal, learn a little more about its meaning and symbolism in various world cultures.
Rosemary and the Victorian Language of Flowers
The Victorians loved Rosemary and had it well-established across England long before the Victorian period properly started.
For more French-inspired sources, it carried a meaning of honesty in transactions and was often gifted to someone who had honored a deal that didn’t benefit them personally.
Other French and English sources agree that it embodied the sentiment of “Your presence revives me.” Others sent sprigs of purple Rosemary flowers to symbolize their commitment to fidelity.
Of course, the Victorians also used it for remembrance and routinely planted it around grave sites when the conditions were right for it to thrive. Since it’s often used in poetry from the time period, it’s also loosely associated with poetic inspiration in general.
Rosemary Flower Colors and Their Meaning & Symbolism
A light lavender purple is the standard color for Rosemary flowers. This color symbolizes intelligence, sweetness, nurturing support, good health, elegance, and memory.
Selective breeding has created Rosemary varieties with light blue or pale pink flowers instead.
A light blue flower color symbolizes youthfulness, intelligence, seeking or searching for something, calmness, and peace.
Light pink is often associated with femininity, playfulness, fun, excitement, celebration, and joy.
The Meaning of Rosemary in Ancient Times
In Ancient Greece, Rosemary was widely cultivated for culinary use. It was also dedicated to the goddess of love, Aphrodite, and her priestesses wore crowns of it.
Rosemary also played a large role in bridal bouquets and wedding decorations at the time since it was a symbol of love and dedication.
For the ancient Egyptians, Rosemary was a solemn plant used to remember the dead. Residues from Rosemary sprigs have been found on and in tombs.
As the medieval era dawned, Rosemary continued to be used as a wedding flower and as a symbol of remembrance for the dead.
The Meaning of Rosemary in Religion and Spirituality
For Christians, Rosemary is a symbol of faith that is specifically tied to the story of how Jesus led his followers out of Egypt. During the journey, Mary washed his robes and hung them to dry on a bush that was described as evil-smelling. The scent permeated his clothing even after it was dried, and the scent became associated with Jesus despite how it had seemed unpleasant at first. This has led to the flower symbolizing transformation through dedication and belief for many Christians.
Japanese and Chinese Flower Languages and Rosemary
Chinese and Japanese flower languages rarely mention Rosemary, and when they do, they tend to follow the European symbolism associated with it. Thanks to more widespread cultivation of the herb, it’s becoming more widely used as a remembrance flower and to help students remember what they’ve learned for exams.
Myths and Folklore Associated with Rosemary
In Medieval herbal medicine, Rosemary was considered a way to stop internal bleeding and treat jaundice. It was also widely used to treat heart conditions, especially when steeped in wine or turned into a tea.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of support for any of those medicinal uses for this plant. Modern herbal medicine practitioners tend to prescribe an oil made from Rosemary to promote healthy blood circulation.
In Scotland, Rosemary is considered to thrive in a home where a woman is the head of the family rather than a man. Due to that folklore, some people have adopted it as a symbol of female empowerment.
Rosemary and the Zodiac
Due to its strong smell and flavor, Rosemary is associated with the Aries zodiac sign. It’s considered a fiery plant that stimulates the senses. Aries is the Ram, known for being impulsive, stubborn, and strong.
While it’s not the official birth flower for either of the months that Aries birthdays fall into, Rosemary is an excellent gift for anyone who identifies with this zodiac sign.
Famous References to Rosemary in Art and Literature
The mention of Rosemary in Shakespeare’s Hamlet is perhaps one of the best-known references to it in art and literature. The pining maiden, Ophelia, is picking flowers that have meanings related to the story’s theme. She picks a sprig of Rosemary and notes that it is for remembrance, a significant motif in the story due to the ghost of Hamlet’s murdered father driving on the drama.
Rosmarinus officinalis is the scientific name for the common Rosemary plant. There are a few other varieties that share the common name, such as the Bog Rosemary native to North America.
True Rosemary herbs are native to the Mediterranean area, but they were spread across the world thousands of years ago thanks to the culinary and medicinal value of the plant.
Plants tend to form dense, sprawling bushes that can get up to 3 or 4 feet tall in most conditions. Sometimes, Rosemary can be trained to create a taller hedge and reach up to 6 feet in height.
The Uses and Benefits of Rosemary
You can trim off sprigs for bouquets or culinary use any time of year, but it will have the best flavor when cut and dried in the spring. Cut your culinary Rosemary sprigs off from fresh green growth rather than older than stiffer stems to get a better texture.
Dry it thoroughly by hanging indoors, putting the sprigs in paper bags, or using a dehydrator. Then, store for up to one year in a sealed container.
Rosemary is best known for its strong scent that is described as herbal or almost camphor-like. Some people use it to keep moths out of their clothing when in storage to avoid the use of mothballs. It works best for this purpose when combined with cedar and lavender.
The flowers are small but colorful and appear near the tips of the individual stems. Each stem is covered in a thick layer of needles, not unlike the pine needle, but shorter. Most Rosemary varieties have a blue-green color to the foliage that is as distinctive as the scent.
These plants need lots of light and well-drained soil since they’re used to growing in the sands along the Mediterranean Sea. Most varieties also need a warmer climate and may not return year after year if they’re exposed to hard freezes.
Some people prefer to keep their Rosemary in a pot so it can be brought indoors for shelter and warm temperatures in the winter.
Rosemary Meaning and Symbolism – Wrapping Up
Whether you appreciate Rosemary with a meal, in perfume, or as a shrub along your path to your home, there’s something about it that makes the plant unforgettable. Use it to stimulate your memory of a loved one or celebrate knowledge and dedication. Consider tapping into hundreds of years of romantic meaning and symbolism as well by featuring it as part of your wedding decor. No matter how you use it, there’s plenty to admire about the symbolism of the humble Rosemary herb.
Further reading: everything you need to know about Savory flowers.
Andrew is the Editorial Director at Petal Republic. He holds a BSc degree in Plant Sciences and has trained professionally at leading floristry schools in London and Paris. In amongst overseeing a global editorial team, Andrew's a passionate content creator around all things flowers, floral design, gardening, and houseplants.