I am sitting here with your book, borrowed from the Aiken Public Library in South Carolina, and I am delighted! For years, I wondered why no one wrote something like that. I found your website, read your bio, and all I can say is thanks again.
I taught high school for almost 30 years, and always hoped I could inspire even a few of my students to do good work. I'm sure you inspire hundreds.
I have one question: why do I love the smell and taste of rosemary so much? In the 70's, in Pennsylvania, I started a vegetable garden out back and didn't even know what rosemary was when I planted it. But I always felt it must have something special to it.
Again, thanks, for a great book!Dennis
Did you know that rosemary can get into your brain after you smell it?
But first let me say that your message meant a lot to me, especially since you have also been a teacher, so you must know how challenging it can be to communicate ideas. Thank you so much!
This is the first book that I have written, so I had no idea what to expect. Already it seems to be gaining more notice than I would have expected, and I am deeply grateful. And thanks for supporting your local library--our libraries are so often forgotten but always in need.
About your affection for rosemary, who can say why it makes your brain so happy? Do you have a childhood association with the herb? Sometimes our brains link a particular fragrance to a vivid memory, and the smell always evokes that particular memory. I can't smell roses without thinking of my grandmother, who used rose oil liberally.
I can relate: You may have an affection for rosemary, but I know I get more happy than I have any right to get, every time I smell fresh basil. Perhaps this is because every time I bring basil into our kitchen, it signals a time of celebration, since my fiance and I have transformed pesto making into a household ritual signaling celebration.
In researching some of the nicer smelling herbs, like lavender and lemon balm, I was intrigued to learn that some of the small fragrant molecules, called monoterpenes, can get into your brain after you inhale them!
The reason that this impressed me is because this is not an easy thing to do for your average molecule. If you ingest molecules, most can not penetrate your "blood brain barrier", a barrier that chemically isolates the brain and spinal cord. This barrier is for the best, really, since you don't want any old foreign molecule potentially messing with your precious brain.
But many of those small, smelly monoterpenes from plant essential oils can penetrate the blood brain barrier, which is better at preventing water-soluble molecules from penetrating it than small oily ones. Some of the monoterpenes from lemon balm enhance the action of GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) in the brain, which slows your brain down. So the aromatherapists could be on to something.
"Rosemary for remembrance", Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet, but now we might add, "Rosemary for cerebral blood flow". The monoterpenes from rosemary include cineole, borneol, camphor, and pinenes, which give it its pungent, piney smell. One study using brain magnetic resonance imaging show that after people inhale cineole, cerebral blood flow increases. Rats sniffing borneol had increased hypothalamic levels of serotonin and histamine. Histamine plays a major role in wakefulness in the brain. (That's why certain antihistamines make you sleepy.) So the common subjective perception of rosemary as "stimulating" could have a biochemical basis after all.
Lastly, I can't resist mentioning one of my favorite and more amusing myths concerning rosemary. If rosemary thrives in a woman's garden, that woman supposedly dominates in caring over the household. I have to confess I'm secretly pleased that my own indoor rosemary thrives, and when I mention this to my fiance, he smoothly asks for the location of this offending herb so that he might do something about the situation. I tell him I forget where it is.