Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Rosemary for Remembrance: Adelma Simmons

"Where Rosemary flourished, the woman ruled."

For as long as I can remember, I have been enticed by the fragrant mystery of herbs. Today I would like to introduce you to The World of Rosemary (1983) authored by Adelma Grenier Simmons. I thought today would be the perfect day to peek inside this bundle of herbal lore since December 16, 1903 was the day Adelma Grenier [Simmons] was born. Herbalist Adelma Simmons cultivated a fairyland of herb gardens at her home, Caprilands Herb Farm, in Coventry Connecticut. During the mid 1980s, I was a frequent visitor to Caprilands where Mrs. Simmons offered tours, lectures, luncheons, and boundless knowledge about the history and folk lore embracing herbs.

Just like the bees, I love the pretty little blue flowers of rosemary. I think it's a shame that we sometimes forget what an ornamental plant a shrub of rosemary can be. I even had temporary success creating a topiary with a rosemary plant given to me from a "fellow" herb gardener. Ah...those were the days. I haven't had a garden now in about ten years but I'm hoping to plant the seeds of change this spring in my new home in Pennsylvania. We'll see.

You might be surprised to learn that though I don't have a garden and travel back and forth from New York to PA almost every other week, I have favorite plants in each place, which by some miracle I manage to keep alive. My secret? The bath tub. In Westhampton I only have a few kitchen herbs but in PA, I have a variety of scented geraniums, (my very best favorites) three varieties of lavender, which as we speak are in the bath tub, a thriving eucalyptus tree, and parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. No, we're not going to Scarborough Fair rather, we're off to  The World of Rosemary...

From the introduction by Adelma Simmons:

One would wonder what there is about this modest unspectacular plant that has attracted thru the centuries. It is not the size of the blossoms or their frequency, for they are small, exquisite, but minute; and seldom is the shape of the plant beautiful, more often straggley. Old plants become very woody, some have gnarled trunks that speak of age and endurance. I'm sure that it is the odor most of all that attracts us, for no matter the age of the plant, young or old, dry or green, the odor is unmistakably Rosemary. It is gingery, spicy, sweet, and faintly medicinal, all in one. It is the same, yet always different so that you are tempted to go back again and again to brush its leaves...
"Twas pennyroyal bloomed that night
The angels came to earth,
And o'er the stall at Bethlehem
Proclaimed our Saviour's birth.

And thyme was on sweet Mary's bed,
To bring her courage rare,
While shepherds lifted up their hearts
In silent, joyful prayer.

And now in fond remembrance of
That night so long ago,
I add this sprig of rosemary
To keep his love aglow."
(author unknown)

The trail of rosemary's ventures is wrinkled with legend and lore, especially during the season of Christmas. It is often said that Rosemary will never grow taller than the height of Christ when he was on Earth. This notion may stem from another charming legend associated with the Virgin Mary. It is written the flowers of Rosemary were white before they were blue. It was only when the Virgin draped her damp cloak over the plants to dry that the flowers remained blue from that day forward.

Once again from the book:

...Soon we had, besides the tall woody moderately fine needled dark green variety with the deep blue flowers which we have since called Tuscan or officinalis, another-soft grayish leafed type which grew much more quickly and, in one season, attained good size...We sometimes use this on our tables at Christmas time. If the watering is not forgotten, it will last and grow indoors in small pots for at least two weeks. (It should then be repotted) The white flowered Rosemary is intriguing to everyone, though it refutes the lovely legend that the Rosemarys all changed their flowers to blue in the Virgin Mary's honor. This we discovered to our embarrassment. It was our Christmas custom to bring in the big Rosemaries at the beginning of Christmas. They surrounded our punch bowl and screened the usually brown landscape with their branches against the large window that looks out across the fields. It was also a part of our Christmas lecture to tell our guests about the transforming of the white flowers to blue flowers when the Virgin's cloak was withdrawn from the bush that had sheltered the Holy Family. I had just finished my story when a ripple of laughter from the audience caused me to give the Rosemary group more than a casual glance and I saw what prompted the merriment--one large plant that was in bud, had, in the heat of the room, burst into bloom and it was pure white!

This post is a mere glimpse into The World of Rosemary. It is only one gem in the list of numerous books authored by Adelma Simmons. I have gathered a few resources below for further exploration into the wonderful world of herbs and The First Lady of Herbs, Adelma Simmons. 

1. Adelma Simmons @ wiki
2. A Woman For Our Thymes
3. International Herb Association
4. Rosemary Varieties
5. Herbs for All Seasons And Reasons
6. Herbal Plants of the Christmas Season
7. New York Times (interview with Ms. Simmons)
8. New York Times (obit)


  1. When I was younger and my family lived in a house, we had two huge rosemary bushes in the garden. I loved being able to go outside and cut off a few sprigs to cook with.

  2. What a nice post on this lovely herb. It used to grow in my family's garden in Italy when I was young, now I try to grow it and it is the only herb I am not able keep.

  3. I do love these legends about herbs, and rosemary is my absolute favorite. I was pretty enchanted when I found that my brother has a huge shrub of rosemary in his garden in Tennessee.

  4. Hi Adele,
    Oh how I wish I could grow a rosemary bush. They just don't winter well up north and when they even dry out the tiniest bit in the house, they're done. How nice to have such fragrant memories.

    Hi Manuela, thanks for stopping by. I also have a problem with rosemary staying alive. As Adelma use to say, "A dry Rosemary is a dead Rosemary." I actually just left PA and I'm afraid when I go back, I may be saying the same about one of my lavender plants. They don't like house heat either:(

    Is it possible I saw that rosemary bush in a post you did just recently T.W. Was it Thanksgiving? Rosemary has to be my favorite herb although, how does one choose just one:)

  5. I have a rosemary tree in my front yard.

  6. I am a rare one. I love the smell of rosemary but can't handle the taste...I so wish I would love it.

  7. I could smell it now Rosemary!!
    I love to garden and rosemary is my friend also. I like the way you write with poems and grace. Thanks Chuck

  8. You lucky Duckie, How do manage to keep it alive?

    Hi Pam, I had a friend who also loved the smell but couldn't take the taste. Rather than "surprise" her by hiding it in a dish, I suggested she try it as a salad dressing. A bit daring I suppose but, it worked!

    Thanks for visiting Chef Chuck. I have added your link to my blog roll.

    P.S. I actually have my aunt's recipe for the potato cakes (croquettes) in PA. I wish I could remember what they were called in Italian. I do remember it was labor intensive but oh so worth it!

  9. Now I know that it's called a rosemary! I just don't know what it's called in Tagalog. It's aroma is very pleasing , my grandmother's favorite.

  10. I just found out about your blog from my friend Karen at Foodvox -- fun! I have a rosemary plant that I bring in during winter and the poor thing shivers in my sunroom until the frost-free days of spring. Wonderful to swoon over the fresh scent of just-picked rosemary!

    Cindy (another food history aficionado) at Gherkins & Tomatoes (http://gherkinstomatoes.com)

  11. Hi Louise! Thanks for visiting my blog - and I'm so glad I found yours! Such interesting and historical things I never knew about foods we eat! I have a recipe for lemon-rosemary pound cake that is just delicious. We used to live in the desert and my husband would bring in the plants that wouldn't survive the summer heat and we'd keep them in the bathtub all summer long. Ha. I thought we were the only ones :) I'd love it if you would mention my soup cookbook giveaway in your Soup Month post - that'd be great! I'll be visiting often, you can be sure :)

  12. Hi Karen,
    That's too funny about the bath tub. I'm hoping when I get home to PA, none of my plants have dried up. The house is so airtight it's amazing! The lemon rosemary pound cakes sounds heavenly. I'd love to see it baked. some day I shall take up baking:) I just posted for soup month. Your link is "nestled" in among the others. Stop by anytime. I will be dropping in as well.

  13. Hi Louise... Marvelous post. Rosemary ..for remembrance, my fave herb! Annually I would travel down to Caprilands for the May Day (my birthday gift to myself :D) celebration there. Adelma was a remarkable woman and the farm just fabulous. If you enjoyed Caprilands, you might also like visiting Pickety Place in Mason, NH.. it's also a throwback in thyme.. as Caprilands was.

  14. Hi YankeeSoaper,
    Nice to "see" you. What a wonderful birthday treat. Oh how I have missed Caprilands through the years. I will certainly look into Pickety Place In NH. I'm not sure where it is but I have a friend who lives in Portsmouth. I'll "drag" him along with me. Thanks so much for stopping by...


Through this wide opened gate,
none came too early,
none returned too late.

Thanks for dropping in...Louise