Rosemary: to make a man merry

We usually associate rosemary with remembrance, and it had this meaning in early modern England too, when sprigs of rosemary were  dropped into graves.  But it also signified fidelity and  played an important role in weddings.

A bride wore sprigs of rosemary pinned in her hair, and her attendants tied rosemary to their arms with ribbons.  That night, her maids (bride’s maids) would hide the rosemary under their pillows and hope to dream of their future husbands.  The bride cup that led the wedding procession was often adorned with a branch of rosemary, and rosemary leaves were scattered on the sheets for the wedding night.

Rosemary

As today, rosemary had many uses.  It was valued for its fragrance and in cooking, and was considered to have a number of medicinal properties.  ‘It is an herb of as great use with us as any whatsoever, not only for physical, but civil, purposes,’ says Nicholas Culpeper.  It  helped, he thought, ‘all cold diseases, both of the head, stomach, liver, and belly’.  Not only that: ‘This herb is good for a dull and melancholy man to make use of; for, if they take the flowers, and make them into a powder, and bind them on the right arm in a linen cloth, this powder, by working on the veins, will a man more merry than ordinary.’

 

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2 Responses

  1. shontel welby says:

    Dear Miss Hartshorne,
    What an interesting article on the uses for Rosemary at Tudor weddings.
    And I might add, what a varied and very colorful life you have led. You clearly have a curious mind, and a well developed desire for adventure. I admire your courage.
    I have been researching and reading books and articles from 1500 to 20th Century in order to learn how herbs were used medically
    Culpeper was the first to translate Latin texts on herbalism into English. Prior to his work, it was only the doctors, and other professionals trained in Latin that could understand. In so doing he enabled the common people to be able to take care of their own health needs more so than ever previously.
    I do have Culpeper’s book “Complete Herbal”. However the information you mentioned in your article, is not in the book. And I could not find any other books he had written
    Would you be so kind to let me know the name of the book you referenced for the information on the weddings please?
    I am also particularly interested in any medical and pharmacy books from the 1600’s dow to the 20th century that record the formulas, preparation and application of herbal medicines and treatments .

    Thought you might be interested to know that the Greeks also used rosemary as a garland for the bride. It was a reminder for the bride to keep her love loyal to her new husband. And also a reminder to be loyal to her parents when they became elderly and infirm.

    Thankyou for you time

    • Many apologies for the delay in replying – I’ve been away from home caring for an elderly mother (it seems the Greeks were familiar with the problems of dealing with the elderly too!). I honestly can’t track down all the references I used, but you might be interested in FOOD AND THE RITES OF PASSAGE (2002) edited by Laura Mason. Ivan Day’s chapter on bridal processions was very helpful and he mentions the importance of rosemary in Tudor adn Stuart weddings.

      Your own research sounds extremely interesting. I’m sure you will have come across the other sources I used when researching my Tudor historical novels: The Good Housewife’s Jewel by Thomas Dawson and The English Housewife by Gervase Markham. I also drew on Jane Sharp’s The Midwives Book for pregnancy and childbirth which has various poultices and medicines – fascinating even if it does make one grateful not to be giving birth in the 17th century!

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