April brings the first stirrings of new growth to the garden:
our frogspawn has turned into tadpoles…
This year’s tadpoles
… and Sycamore – the plant of the month in February – has become the bane of our lives. Bending down in any one spot allows you to retrieve a whole handful of tree seedlings – and there will be more hiding, for you to find next time.
A handful of trees!
However, there is plenty to lift the spirits as well. The fan trained plum tree has come into blossom, and the Forsythia is a blaze of yellow.
The fan trained plum tree
And it is always worth pausing by the Rosemary to pick a flower and eat it, for a burst of sweet, herby flavour – and the hope that it will do something for the memory. [See below for more about Rosemary]
Rosemary – Ros marinus
As well as eliminating seedling trees, we have also been planting larger ones. We found a Yew tree to replace the one that died last year, and mirror its partner on the other side of the garden shelter.
The garden shelter and its guardian yews
We have also planted a White Mulberry tree. We had been looking for one of these for some time, to add to the border containing plants relevant to the textile industry. This mulberry is the food of choice for the silk moth. Black mulberries grow well in Britain and the fruit was much enjoyed in the past, but they aren’t as good for silk moths, producing an inferior fibre to that from white mulberry. White mulberry, however, doesn’t grow as readily in cool Britain as in sunnier France, where the European silk industry was a near monopoly in the 17th century. James I ordered 10,000 trees to kick start a rival silk industry here but, whether by design or accident, he ordered black; and either the trees or the silkworms failed to produce the goods. So we have no home grown silk, but Congleton did weave silk fabric from imported thread.
Congleton Museum, and museums in Macclesfield, will tell you more about the successful local silk industry: go to http://www.moruslondinium.org for more about mulberries!
The new Mulberry
Now that we have connections to mains water and drainage, we have been able to plumb in a Portaloo. Not the most spectacular of developments, and only temporary – but good news for the volunteers, and their tea-drinking habits! Perhaps you don’t need a photo…
Rosemary Rosmarinus officinalis
Attractive to many beneficial insects, sporting pretty blue flowers and exuding a pleasing aroma, the Rosemary is familiar to gardeners and cooks alike. Its botanical name originates from the Latin ros marinus (dew of the sea), referring to the salt spray of its native Mediterranean coastal habitat. This evergreen shrub grows well in many soils, tolerates salt, loves the sun, even copes with drought – but cannot tolerate shade. Possibly introduced into southern Britain by the Romans, but definitely being grown here by the 14thcentury, it became a garden staple in the Middle Ages. The 16th century philosopher and statesman Sir Thomas More wrote: “As for rosemary, I let it run all over my garden walls, not only because my bees love it but because it is the herb sacred to remembrance and to friendship…” And a century later, the botanist and physician Nicolas Culpeper noted ” Our Garden Rosemary is so well known that I need not describe it.” It is commercially grown for its essential oil, (i.e. an oil containing the essence of its fragrance) used in perfumery, soaps and medicinal remedies.
Myth and magic
Grown in gardens since ancient times, Rosemary was considered to have powers of protection against evil spirits. In some traditions, a sprig would be placed under the pillow to ward off ‘daemons’ and guard against nightmares. The herb was also considered sacred by the ancient peoples of the Mediterranean region.
The Greek goddess Mnemosyne, who gave the balm of forgetfulness to the spirits of the dead, was pictured carrying rosemary since she also gave capacity for memory to the living. This belief in the association of rosemary with memory was so strong that Greek students in ancient times wore rosemary wreaths on their heads during examinations (and there have been some studies recently using similar techniques… worth investigating?)
Rosemary is traditionally considered a symbol of friendship, loyalty and love, and it was woven into bridal bouquets, or worn by the groom, to ensure lifelong fidelity.
In 17thcentury Wales, a rosemary branch would be thrown into the grave at burial, to ensure the person would live on in memory; in the same period, a French visitor to England noted that followers of coffins each carried sprigs to throw into the grave. Another Welsh burial tradition was that, when planting a flower on a grave, it should be rosemary if the person died in old age, spring flowers for an infant and roses for an adult.
A Christian legend states that rosemary flowers were originally white but, as the Virgin Mary fled from Herod’s troops, her cloak fell over a rosemary bush and the blooms took on the holy blue colour. It has also been a Christian tradition that the shrub will live no longer than 33 years, Christ’s lifespan on earth.
Reducing memory loss
Rosemary has long been recommended by medical herbalists as a boost to memory and concentration. This ancient belief is now getting strong scientific backing, as research has shown that rosemary contains several compounds useful in the field of brain aging and cognitive impairment. For instance, Rosmarol, an extract from the leaves, shows high antioxidant activity: antioxidants are linked to brain health. Dr J Duke, ex-Chief of Medicinal Plant Research at US Dept of Agriculture, said: “It’s fabulous that the classical herb of remembrance has so many compounds that might help people suffering from Alzheimer’s”.
Massage with rosemary oil is recommended for sufferers with Raynaud’s Disease, where the blood supply to fingers and toes is severely reduced, causing numbness and cold. Rosemary therapies are also advocated in reducing high blood pressure and to treat varicose veins. As a rich source of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds, it is likely that it could boost the immune system and improve blood circulation, and modern research, though still limited, has produced encouraging results in this field.
Research has shown that the plant is rich in volatile oils, flavanoids and phenolic acids, which are strongly antiseptic and anti-inflammatory. Rosemary can thus protect the body from bacterial infections, and possibly heal mild skin conditions. It should be noted that it is possible to get an allergic reaction to rosemary oil, causing a skin rash, so use with care.
Traditionally used as a fragrant hair wash, and in modern times a frequent ingredient in shampoos and lotions, it is also said that rosemary can help prevent hair thinning and hair loss. This attribute of rosemary is gaining strong scientific support, as in a 2015 study when rosemary oil showed better results in treating male balding than the regular chemical treatment on offer. Rosemary oil also promotes healing of the scalp, reduces dandruff, and decreases hair loss after shampooing. It can also be used to treat head lice.
A headache remedy can be made by an infusion of the flowering stems. Alternatively, massaging the temples with a liniment containing rosemary oil may be similarly effective.
Colds and Flu
Rosemary therapies have been proposed as an aid to the respiratory system, good for treating bronchitis and having positive effects on asthma. It is also recommended as an aid to recovery from flu, and in treating the symptoms of colds.
Analgesic and muscle stimulant
Rosemary is said to relieve pain, muscle spasms, sciatica and rheumatism. It can also stimulate and strengthen muscles before and after exercise.
A distilled water from the flowers is used as an eyewash for mild infections or irritations. Recent research has associated carsonic acid, a component of rosemary, with reduced deterioration in damaged retinas. Although the research is at an early stage, this would indicate a potential treatment for such conditions as macular degeneration, a major cause of blindness in the elderly.
As a general tonic
Rosemary is suggested to be an ideal tonic and pick-me-up when feeling depressed, mentally tired or ‘nervous’, as it reduces toxins in the body and improves mood.
Rosemary oil is used in natural pesticides and helps keep away some mosquitoes and ticks. The growing plant is said to repel insects from neighbouring plants. Branches or sachets of the leaves are sometimes placed in clothes cupboards to keep moths away.
The whole plant is edible: young shoots, leaves and flowers can be eaten raw or cooked, fresh or dried. The leaves do have a tough texture, and are mostly used finely chopped or removed before serving. They are also strongly flavoured, even bitter and resinous, whereas the flowers are milder. Useful in both meat and vegetable dishes, whether sweet or savoury, rosemary is one of the cook’s most versatile herbs. A fragrant tea can be made from the fresh or dried leaves, said to be especially pleasant when mixed with tansy.
A natural yellow-green dye can be obtained from the leaves; with iron as a modifier, the result is a greyish sage-green.
Never use the essential oil neat, directly onto the skin. And, as always, we recommend taking professional advice before embarking on any treatment. Excessive or inappropriate use of any substance can be harmful and even fatal.
Random facts about Rosemary
- ‘There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance’ is a well known quote from Hamlet, but Shakespeare also mentioned the herb in four other plays: A Winter’s Tale; King Lear; Pericles; and Romeo and Juliet.
- The Emperor Charlemagne (742-814), who led military campaigns across most of Western Europe to create the Holy Roman Empire, strengthened European economic and political life, and promoted a great cultural revival, also found time for horticulture and insisted rosemary be planted in his many gardens.
- Napoleon Bonaparte had a monthly standing order for 50 bottles of eau de cologne with its key ingredient of rosemary, a reminder of Corsica where he grew up.
- It takes 200 kilos of flowering rosemary stems to produce one kilo of essential oil.
- The song Scarborough Fair, most famous in its Simon and Garfunkel version, was based on a medieval folk song about lovers vying to prove their love, and had very little, if anything, to do with the common herbs mentioned in the refrain ‘Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme’.
- Rosemary was supposed to flourish in gardens where the household was controlled by the woman.
The last word on Rosemary goes to Culpeper who, as well as being a revolutionary, a physician, a botanist and a writer, was also a man of his seventeenth-century times, with some beliefs, including astronomy and magic, that we now find unscientific. But I enjoy his suggestions: “The herb is good for a dull and melancholy man… if they take the flowers, and make them into powder, and bind them on the right arm in a linen cloth, this powder, by working on the veins, will make a man more merry than ordinary.”
Acknowledgments Thanks to the following for their helpful contributions