There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance, Essay 26 of #52essays2017, With Recipes!

Ophelia, 1894.Ophelia, as her wits unwind, uses the language of flowers to express what her modesty as a young maid won’t let her say directly. She says, “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance. Pray you, love, remember,” to her brother Laertes, perhaps as a stand-in for the lost Hamlet.

Rosemary has long been renowned for its stimulating effects on the brain, and modern science seems to be catching on. I remember well a roommate in Santa Cruz who burned rosemary sprigs to keep her awake. I did not like that roommate much–she was too cocky by halves–but she was the first to try to teach me the language of flowers, a lesson I’m now happy to learn.

Speaking of The Language of Flowers, a gritty and lovely novel by Vanessa Diffenbaugh with that title features a bouquet of flowers that includes rosemary–one of the hero’s first personalized creations:

“She watched me work, arranging the white lilac around the roses until the red was no longer visible. I wound sprigs of rosemary—which I had learned at the library could mean commitment as well as remembrance—around the stems like a ribbon. The rosemary was young and supple, and did not break when I tied it in a knot. I added a white ribbon for support and wrapped the whole thing in brown paper.”

“‘First emotions of love, true love, and commitment,'” says Victoria to her customer, who will indeed find that elusive state of being.


Rosemary’s name comes from the Latin “dew of the sea” because it thrives in the salty air of the Mediterranean. “I will never forget the first time I saw it growing wild in the Calanques of Marseille,” writes Cathy Skipper in her Hydrosols Certificate Course, “right next to the sea. It was so majestic, strong and wild, being blown by the salty wind, its hard, gnarled roots holding on to the sand and rocks, and this is when I really understood its name.”

In case you’ve only seen rosemary in a grocery store, here’s a description of the plant from Wanda Sellar’s The Directory of Essential Oils: “The woody stem grows to about three feet and supports dark green linear leaves and bees go wild for the bluish/ lilac flowers.” Rosmarinus officinalis has long been regarded as a healing and holy herb. Sellar writes, “Traces of Rosemary have been found in Egyptian tombs, and indeed the Greeks and Romans saw it as a symbol of regeneration as well. They held it to be a sacred plant, giving comfort to the living and peace to the dead.”

In fact, the practice of burning Rosemary in French hospital wards persisted through the 19th century, “ironically being abandoned at about the same time that modern research proved its antiseptic properties,” writes Patricia Davis in her Aromatherapy A-Z. She continues, “Because of its strong antiseptic action, rosemary can delay or prevent putrefaction in meat, but we shall never know whether it was first used in cooking for the flavor or to preserve meat in distant times, when there was no refrigeration or other means of keeping cooked meat fresh in a hot climate.” In other words, look no further for an explanation of the ubiquitous rosemary chicken. As with all the traditional culinary herbs, rosemary’s use-value extends beyond flavoring.

I recently purchased a rosemary hydrosol from Aromatics International and a splash tastes delicious with my vodka, but that is always the test with me isn’t it? Indeed, flavoring my vodka, and water, with natural substances is a bit of an obsession, and it really helps to reprogram the taste buds from decades of fake flavors. It worries me sometimes that the same artificial flavors used to make “watermelon” and “green apple” Jolly Ranchers also flavor vodka–it should be illegal–gone the way of candy cigarettes!

Many essential oils, such as orange, lemon, peppermint, and cinnamon, are precisely what flavored common food products such as candy before chemistry discovered it was cheaper and easier to make them in a lab. Using chemical constituents plucked out of natural substances or created whole-cloth using chemical formulas, are the “natural and artificial flavors” you find on so many labels.

Rosemary sprig cocktail.But it’s easy enough to pack your food and drink with real flavor punches. A lot
of cocktail enthusiasts will use an herb like rosemary infused into a simple syrup. As I mentioned in my idiosyncratic review of The Botanist Gin, the Bible around our place (our virtual place I should say because we are at present vagabonds) is The Drunken Botanist by Amy Stewart. In it she writes, “Almost any botanical ingredient, from lemon peel to rhubarb to rosemary, can be infused into a simple syrup. This is an easy way to showcase seasonal produce and add a twist to a basic cocktail recipe. Here’s her infused syrup recipe for your convenience:

*Infused Simple Syrup*

2 cups herbs, flowers, fruit, or spices

1 cup water

1 cup sugar

1 ounce vodka (optional)

Combine all the ingredients except the vodka in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Stir until the sugar is dissolved. Let the mixture cool, and pour through a fine mesh strainer. If you are using the vodka, you can add it now to act as a preservative, and keep refrigerated. It will be good for two to three weeks in the fridge, longer in the freezer.


I personally like to keep my sweets as sweets and my booze relatively uncluttered with added sugar, since alcohol is basically sugar anyway, so I forgo simple syrup in favor of essential oils and hydrosols. That said, I do do bitters even though they often contain some sugar or honey, because the flavor punch in a drop or two minimizes the sweetness. On the other hand, this recipe from Brad Thomas Parsons book Bitters makes my mouth water, and might make me change my mind about froofy cocktails.

*Do You Believe In Miracles*

Makes 1 drink

1 1/2 ounces vodka, preferably P3 Placid or 46 Peaks

3/4 ounce Clear Creek Douglas fir eau de vie

1/4 ounce Honey Syrup

¼ ounce Rosemary Syrup

2 dashes Scrappy’s lavender bitters

2 drops or 4 spritzes Rosemary Tincture

Garnish: rosemary sprig

Combine the vodka, Douglas fir eau de vie, honey and rosemary syrups, and bitters in a cocktail shaker filled with ice, and shake until chilled. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and, using an eyedropper or atomizer, place 2 drops or 4 spritzes of the rosemary tincture on the surface of the drink. Garnish with a sprig of rosemary.


Though modern capitalism dictates that we buy a different product for every small need, it is the premise of Distill My Heart that botanicals inspire various disciplines. Tinctures are a perfect example. They have their roots and applications in medicine and booze, beauty and perfume. You can buy them in a health food store or make them yourself with minimal effort and expense. All you need is a little patience. Here’s a typical recipe, again from Bitters:


Makes 1 cup

1/4 cup fresh rosemary needles

1 cup high-proof (80 to 100 proof) vodka or Everclear

Using a mortar and pestle, crush the rosemary needles. Place them in a glass jar and cover the needles with the vodka. Cover the jar and shake gently. Store in a cool, dark place. The alcohol will turn green as it leaches the oils from the rosemary. Shake and taste the infusion daily. When the tincture reaches your desired intensity, anywhere from a few days to two weeks, strain the solution through cheesecloth and, using a funnel, pour into small eyedropper bottles or an atomizer.


Yes Organic Face and Body Remedy Oil.Rosemary is known as the aesthetician’s friend, as it penetrates to the middle layers of the skin, and is a strong antioxidant. You may have seen this term once or twice in recent years, and wondered as I did the meaning of antioxidant. We all know we want them, but what the heck are they? Something about free radicals, right? And in this case, free radicals are not good, which is too bad, because I like to think of myself as a free radical. Anyhoo, here’s the best I can do with my limited scientific leanings:

Antioxidants are molecules that can prevent the oxidation of other molecules, and oxidation, according to Wikipedia is a chain reaction that can produce free radicals that can damage cells.

My best friend Indigo, a licensed aesthetician and owner of Yes Organic Boutique, uses Spanish Rosemary in her amazing Face & Body Remedy Oil.

The precedent for rosemary in beauty products is a long one. Perhaps its most famous expression is in the famous Hungary Water used as a face wash by the 14th-century aging Queen of Hungary to restore her youthful appearance. Other ingredients were supposedly Lemon, Rose, Neroli, Melissa and Peppermint. My rosemary hydrosol also goes into a simple facewash with aloe vera gel.

Rosemary was an ingredient in the original Eau de Cologne developed by the Italian perfumer Farina, who took up residence in Germany and subsequently developed the fresh and light scent that took 18th-century Europe by storm. As a demonstration how closely linked are perfume and booze, I leave you with this recipe inspired by cologne and created by the artist turned scientist bartender, Tony Conigliaro, which can be found in his book The Cocktail Lab. It is named for the town’s German spelling:

*Köln Aromatics*

Yield: 20 g (3/4 ounce)

INGREDIENTS 20 g (3/4 oz.) pure alcohol

21 microliters of bitter orange oil

2 microliters of neroli oil

6 microliters of petit grain oil

3 microliters of rosemary essence

63 microliters of rose water

2 microliters of sandalwood oil

20 microliters of lemon

Cologne bottle (Rosoli Flacon), 1811.For this perfume-inspired recipe, you will need pipettes–you can buy disposable
ones on Amazon or pretty much anywhere you can buy essential oils, which makes it easy to switch out between essential oils. In dealing with such small measurements of strong aromatics, every bit counts, so you don’t want to muddle the aromas in the pipette, or worse, in your essential oil containers. The recipe is simple but like the above tincture recipe, takes some time to mature. After you put the alcohol into a small glass jar or eyedropper bottle, add the oils and essences. I personally would add the rosewater last, maybe even after a shake, to make sure the oils are incorporated into the alcohol, as water and oil do not mix. Besides being a magical beverage, alcohol has the amazing property of mixing with oil-based liquids as well as water-based ones, which is the reason it works so well in perfumery. When all the ingredients are in the vessel, seal it and shake gently. Leave in a cool dark place for 3 weeks. Open and sniff, but not too much, as you do not want all the beautiful volatile aromatics to escape up your nose! Drop into martinis, especially made with a London dry type gin. Conigliaro says to garnish with a cleaned lemon leaf, which sounds lovely, if you happen to have a lemon tree handy. Otherwise, perhaps an orange or lemon zest will do.

*This is #26 of #52essays2017. Read #25, about my odd relationship to Machiavelli and listen to the gutter & spine song inspired by one of his more twisted passages HERE*

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The Spirit of St-Germain Elderflower Liqueur

This past spring, there was “sad news in the spirits world” when it was reported by and countless other food and beverage blogs that Robert Cooper, the founder of the wildly popular St-Germain elderflower liqueur, died suddenly at the age of 39.


Cooper was born into the booze business, but struck out on his own when his idea to make an elderflower liqueur (like those he’d encountered in London) was pooh-poohed by his father. The elder Cooper had cause to regret his indifference since, as The New York Times put it, “St-Germain, packaged in a striking Art Deco bottle, landed like a thunderclap in the then-burgeoning cocktail world.”


Cooper’s inventive marketing (which highlighted bartender’s ingenuity) and the distinct flavor of St-Germain (often referred to as “bartender’s ketchup”) helped boost the mixology trend that has proved so interesting in the past decade or so, pushing a creativity in cocktail-making that goes hand in hand with this millennium’s DIY zeitgeist. With craft spirits and handmade bitters, bartenders armed with droppers and spritzers, today’s mixology far surpasses anything seen at the bar since prohibition. Although, as with all trends, there is an annoyance factor, I, for one, am excited by the explicit interrelations of booze and botanicals–that is, after all, what this column is all about!


St. Germain was sold to Bacardi in 2012, but in its press release, they stressed that the artisanal methods would remain unchanged. They present the charming picture of free-lance pickers who for 4-6 weeks in the late spring harvest the delicate flowers and bring them to collecting stations “where harvesters are paid by the kilo for their flowers, often using specially rigged bicycles to carry them.” There they are quickly macerated to preserve the “captivating fresh flavor, reminiscent of tropical fruits, pear and citrus with a hint of honeysuckle.”


To be honest, I was surprised by the tropical fruitiness of St-Germain because my first experience with elderflower was as a hydrosol from Stillpoint aromatics and it was, as I mentioned in my previous article on The Botanist Gin, like chocolate if chocolate was indigo velvet. So completely different from St-Germain’s bright fuchsia nectar. Just goes to show you that different methods can produce different flavors from the same plant.


Also, as I don’t drink liqueur (except when I visit my mom and pour a little Kahlúa in my morning coffee), I’d not prepared myself for the sweetness, which was dumb because, as I learned from a quick Google search, sugar is one of liqueur’s key ingredients.


In his comprehensive book, Homemade Liqueurs and Infused Spirits, Andrew Schloss explains the role sugar plays, “The more sugar syrup added to the alcohol base, the silkier the mouthfeel of the finished liqueur will be. This viscosity slows down the flow of the liqueur across your palate, which allows the liqueur to linger in your mouth longer, thereby giving your taste buds and olfactory receptors more time to pick up flavor, which is why sweeter liquids taste more intense than thinner ones.”


It turns out that liqueurs are composed of three elements: a base spirit, one or more flavoring agents, which have been macerated in that spirit, and sugar. That’s it!


Maceration or infusion–the terms are used interchangeably–refer to two sides of the same process: one macerates a solid in liquid in order to soften it and extract its flavors and aromas, while one infuses the liquid with these aromatic and flavoring compounds. If the process of maceration/infusion sounds familiar to herbal and booze enthusiasts alike, that is because, although one generally buys tinctures at the health food store and bitters with their booze, they share a common origin.


As Brad Thomas Parsons writes in his book Bitters, “Using bitter herbs, barks, and botanicals for medicinal purposes dates back centuries, and versions of some of these potable elixirs are still around today, like the herbal liqueur Chartreuse, which was first made in 1737 by Carthusian monks who based their recipe on an ancient elixir…”


Parsons goes on to explain that while bitters are composed of many flavoring agents–bark, peel, herbs, flowers, etc.–and are also often diluted and mixed with sugar, tinctures are a “single-flavor infusion” and do not contain anything other than the chemical constituents extracted from the plant material and a high-proof spirit. Hence, Chartreuse is sometimes referred to as a bitters-based liqueur, while St Germain can be said to have tincture of elderflower at its heart.


I’ve not been able to find anything about how Cooper came to call his elderflower liqueur St-Germain, but I like to think that it was named after the Parisian neighborhood and Medieval Benedictine abbey Saint-Germain-Des-Prés, as a nod to the spiritual roots of his quintessence of elderflower.


Quintessence is a term taken from Aristotelian natural philosophy and used by alchemist-monks such as the 14th-century John of Rupescissa, to describe spirit of wine, (brandy). In his book The Secrets of Alchemy Lawrence Principe writes, “John considers this “burning water” the “fifth essence” of the wine, its quinta essentia in Latin.”


Since John was interested in the health of the body as well as the soul, he appreciated alcohol’s magical ability to extract and preserve the qualities of medicinal herbs, thus transmuting the putrefying-prone plant material into a quintessence that might last indefinitely.


Principe writes, “the central chymical operation of distillation–the separation of a pure, volatile (that is, “spiritual”) substance from the crasser, baser components of a mixture–appears frequently as a trope in devotional literature.” To illustrate the point, he quotes the bishop Jean-Pierre Camus (1584-1652):


“Let us put all our good and bad thoughts, affections, passions, vices, and virtues all mixed together into the alembic of our understanding. Place it then upon the memory and recollection of the eternal fire as if upon a furnace, and we shall see some marvelous subtle effects. This fiery cogitation will separate the confused elements, the hullabaloo of ambition, the earth of greed and lust, the winds of vanity, the waters of covetousness, the air of presumptions. It will dissipate all these follies, destroy the dregs and lees of a thousand earthly desires, in order to extract beautiful and completely heavenly conceptions from them … it will dissolve all our vices and sins, and extract from our souls a quintessence of piety and devotion…”


It is no coincidence then, that our word for high-proof booze is spirit. Perhaps it also seems less strange, now that we recognize this connection in the Early Modern imagination, that monks were responsible for the first liqueurs. But what about this elderflower?


Though we may imagine them as ancient tree beings, akin to Ents, the etymology of the English word elder derives from its more humble use as kindling. In A Modern Herbal (1931), Mrs. M. Grieve writes: “The word ‘Elder’ comes from the Anglo-Saxon word aeld. In Anglo-Saxon days we find the tree called Eldrun, which becomes Hyldor and Hyllantree in the fourteenth century. One of its names in modern German – Hollunder – is clearly derived from the same origin. In Low-Saxon, the name appears as Ellhorn. Aeld meant ‘fire,’ the hollow stems of the young branches having been used for blowing up a fire…”


Elder is often called the Medicine Chest of the common people. Grieve attributes this epithet to Ettmüller (a 17th-century German physician and botanist), and describes the many medicinal uses of the plant, for example: “Elderberry Wine has a curative power of established repute as a remedy, taken hot, at night, for promoting perspiration in the early stages of severe catarrh, accompanied by shivering, sore throat, etc. Like Elderflower Tea, it is one of the best preventives known against the advance of influenza and the ill effects of a chill.”


Grieve also tells how, “In Denmark we come across the old belief that he who stood under an Elder tree on Midsummer Eve would see the King of Fairyland ride by, attended by all his retinue.”


And if that’s not enough, Grieve goes on to give a recipe of our great-grandmothers beauty secret: a toner made from a strong tea of elderflowers mixed with “rectified spirits”–a happy addition to every lady’s toilet! “She relied on this to keep her skin fair and white and free from blemishes, and it has not lost its reputation.”


She concludes: “A well-known French doctor has stated that he considers it a fine aid in the bath in cases of irritability of the skin and nerves.”


All this was enough to inspire me to procure some dried elderflowers from the beautiful East Village herb shop Flower Power and, in parting, I share with you my recipe for a magical elderflower moment:

  1. Throw a handful of Elderflowers into a muslin bag, and toss that into a tubful of hot water.
  2. Pour yourself a civilized glass of St-Germain. WAIT, don’t drink!
  3. Put your St-Germain within reach of the tub, light a candle, turn out the lights, sip and soak.
  4. . Give thanks to the spirit of Robert J. Cooper and the magical elderflower.


*First published at Quail Bell Magazine in my column, Distill My Heart, about all things alcoholic and aromatic*

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