How Rosemary Got Its Name: A Christmas Legend

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The star of Bethlehem. Source:

When the star of Bethlehem appeared in the sky at the birth of Jesus, all the plants were given the gift of speech. And each wanted to show the others that it could better serve the new king and his family.

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Date palm (Phoenix dactylifera). Source: maxpixel

“I can serve them better than any other plant,” claimed the date palm. “With my long fronds, I can offer them shade during days of sweltering heat. Plus, my delicious fresh or dried fruits will feed them all year long. I am certainly the most useful!”

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Sugar cane (Saccharum officinarum). Source: Ton Rulkens, flickr

“You’re mistaken,” replied the sugar cane. “I’m by far the most useful to Jesus and his parents. With my sugary sap, I can make sweets that will make the child smile, soft drinks to quench his thirst and delicious spreads to butter his bread. I am obviously the most useful!”

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Wheat (Triticum aestivum). Source: flickr

“You’re both wrong!” cried the wheat plant. “Where does daily bread come from, the staple food of all men, if not from my grain? Look how Joseph toils to sow me, to reap me, and to reduce my grains into flour, while Mary bakes not only bread, but delicious biscuits, enough to please everyone. Surely I am the most useful!”

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Rose bush (Rosa sp.). Source:

“But none of you can protect the Holy Family against the vile soldiers of King Herod, who threatens to kill all the babies in Bethlehem,” added the rose. “Me, on the other hand, with my sharp spines, I can surround the Holy Family and protect them from any attack. No one would dare cross a hedge of spiny roses! Moreover, my pretty and ever-so-fragrant flowers will make little Jesus smile with joy. It’s obviously me who will be the most useful plant!”


What could a simple shrub offer to the Holy Family? Source:

And so each plant expressed itself, extolling its merits. There was only one, a simple shrub, that remained quiet. What could it offer to Jesus and his family? It had nothing remarkable, only simple white and rather dull flowers. Thus the shrub listened to the bluster of others, without saying a word, deeply saddened.

But a few days later, Marie settled out by the well to wash the Holy Family’s clothes. After wringing them out well, she looked for a place to spread the clothes to dry. She tried to spread her wet cloak over the long fronds of the date palm, but they were so high up that she couldn’t reach them. Then she tried the sugar cane, but under the weight of the cloak, its stems bent right to the ground. She didn’t even try drying the clothes on the wheat: its stems don’t even resist heavy rains, let alone the weight of soggy garments. The poor plant would have been crushed! Finally, the rosebush had thorns so nasty that she didn’t even dare to approach it for fear of tearing the clothes.

Then she noticed the shrub. Modest in size, it was perfectly within reach. Interesting! And its stems were rigid and unyielding. In addition, since it was wider than high, there was enough room to support all the clothes as they dried. This shrub just might be the perfect plant to use as a clothes horse!


Shrub used to dry clothes. Source:

Thus, Mary spread the soggy clothes over the shrub, which then swelled with pride, realizing it was at least as useful to the Holy Family as any other plant.

But then a miracle occurred!

When Marie picked up the now dry clothes a few hours later, the purplish blue of her cloak had dripped onto the shrub’s dull white flowers, staining them a beautiful soft blue. Also, the odor of sanctity of baby Jesus’s clothes had permeated the shrub’s narrow foliage, giving it a heavenly aroma. And ever since that day, the shrub bears blue flowers and its foliage gives off a delicious scent that pleases everyone.

Mary, seeing the beauty of the little shrub and breathing in its saintly perfume, exclaimed: “Little shrub, you’re definitely my favorite plant!”

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Rosemary (Rosmarius officinalis). Source:

But what is this shrub with its blue flowers and foliage so deliciously scented? Rosemary, of course. Even its name recalls the legend, because the name rosemary comes from the Latin Rosmarinus, which means, of course, “Mary’s rose!”

Merry Christmas!20171225A