Rosemary is an herb that was also present in Roman gardens. It seems to have had a strong association with memory in ancient times, having a presence in marriages and funeral rituals in ancient Greece and Rome.[1] It was also commonly uses in banquet garlands.[2] Like other herbs found in Roman gardens, it had many uses, including as an antidote to snake bites[3] and as a pesticide.[4]

Pliny and other authors remark that rosemary and its roots bear a fragrance very similar to frankincense, so much so that they are called by the same name in Greek, “libanotis.”[5]The Roman name for rosemary was “rosmarinum,”[6] thought to have derived from “ros maris,”meaning dew of the sea, referring to its natural habitat.[7] Pliny writes that “grows in a thin, crumbly soil, and is generally sown in spots exposed to the falling dews.”[8]

Although we lack abundant references of the use of rosemary as seasoning in ancient cooking, it is likely that it was used as such. Apicius’s cookbook, and those of other authors, have been reconstructed from surviving fragments, and are far from complete. Among several other herbs, archaeologists have found remnants of rosemary in the Villa dei Papiri in Herculaneum,[9] indeed, it seems to have been a common garden herb.[10] Pliny also writes that it was good for the stomach,[11] and we know that it was used to season wine in medicinal recipes.[12]

[1] Jeanne D'Andréa, Ancient Herbs in the John Paul Getty Museum Gardens, illus. Martha Breen Bredemeyer (Malibu, CA: The J. Paul Getty Museum, 1989), 73.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Pliny the Elder, The Natural History, trans. John Bostock (London: Taylor and Francis, 1855), 20.64.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid, 19.62.

[6] Ibid.

[7] D'Andréa, Ancient Herbs in the John, 73.

[8] Pliny, The Natural History, 19.62.

[9] D'Andréa, Ancient Herbs in the John, 1.

[10] Ibid, 73.

[11] Pliny, The Natural History, 19.62.

[12] Ibid, 20.64