Wherein the Greeks know rosemary gives you that extra edge when taking an exam—especially when you wrap it around your head.
Brain freeze: whether it’s cold-stimulus headache or simply forgetting someone’s name (leading to such heartfelt greetings as “Hey there…yooooouuuuuu…great to see ya!”), everyone hates it when our brains seize up. This has led over the millennia to a wide array of folk remedies for improving one’s memory—unfortunately, contra Mary Poppins, a spoonful of sugar doesn’t help the cod liver oil go down.
The ancient Greeks identified a wonder herb to handle brain freezes in all its forms: rosemary. And like the immortal Edison Lighthouse sang, “Warm functioning brains go where my Rosemary goes”…okay, they didn’t sing that, but it would have been cool if they had (and The Walking Dead could have worked it into their soundtrack back before it became whatever it’s become since I stopped watching it years ago).
Remember Me to One Who Lives There
Pedanius Dioscorides, a first-century CE Greek physician who practiced in Rome, said rosemary’s greatest use was its “warming faculty,” which presumably could have been used to treat a brain freeze sufferer at Dairy Empress. Even before this, though, ancient Greek students used rosemary as a “study aid” to help them remember their lessons. Greek students ate rosemary, and even wore garlands of it around their necks, to improve their memories (some scholars even claim the students wore the herb in wreaths around their brows).
That might have worked, had they also prepared for their exams while sniffing rosemary. Modern studies have shown that recall is improved when subjects are exposed to the same smell during a test as during the learning process.
Perhaps it would have been better if the students snuffled lines of rosemary like Henry Hill snorting coke in Goodfellas and staggered in, “Pythagorus…dude…let’s get theoretical.”
Rosemary eventually lost its role as a literal memory aid and became a symbol of remembrance. For example, in Hamlet Ophelia—mad with grief—presents an array of flowers:
There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance; pray, love, remember: and there is pansies. that’s for thoughts…There’s fennel for you, and columbines: there’s rue for you; and here’s some for me: we may call it herb-grace o’ Sundays: O you must wear your rue with a difference. There’s a daisy: I would give you some violets, but they withered all when my father died: they say he made a good end…
Scholars are unanimous in concluding that Ophelia didn’t continue, “There’s some witch hazel for your spots, and there’s mint for your halitosis, and there’s…”
Rosemary, Won’t You Come Out Tonight?
Colleges and universities are worried about students abusing prescription drugs, whether it’s Adderall and Ritalin or Modafinil, to give them an edge in their studies. While we no longer have Nancy Reagan to tear herself away from a séance to lead all the cool kids in just saying no, perhaps another hip political spouse could encourage students to eat piles of lemon rosemary chicken (“But eating all that has made you a little chunky, so here’s some green tea extract…”).
Image: Rosmarinus Officinalis (Source).