“You boil it down strong and you can put little sugar. You see, it just like medicine.”
– Joselyn Rankin (CINA Memory Bank Interview)
Common Name(s): Rosemary
Scientific Name: Croton linearis
Medicinal Uses: Tea made from the leaves and stems was used to treat diabetes and alongside other medicinal plants after giving birth. It was smoked to treat asthma and burned to keep mosquitoes away. The tea was also added to baths to soothe irritated skin.
Aside from silver thatch, it’s hard to think of another plant that had as many uses as rosemary. Brooms made from the aromatic bristles were used to smooth the white sand yards of the olden days. It was used to wash hair, soothe skin irritations, added to smoke pots to keep mosquitoes at bay and steeped as a medicinal tea (McCubbin, 1995). In Jamaica, rosemary was also burned to ward off duppies (Nature and Supernatural Nature).
This twiggy shrub grows all over our three islands, sprouting up everywhere from rocky pastures to the mottled depths of the old-growth forests. It has dark, glossy leaves with silvery undersides and white blossoms that look like tiny starbursts.
The origin of its common name is apparent – its appearance and aromatic scent are similar to that of Rosmarinus officinalis, the rosemary we use in cooking. In other countries it is called granny bush or bay-wormweed or rock rosemary but, in Cayman, it is known simply as rosemary.
It’s genus name (Croton) is derived from the Greek word krótos meaning “tick” and apparently referring to the shape of the seeds of several plants in the genus (Gledhill, 2008). Its species name (linearis) references the linear shape of the leaves. The line that runs vertically along the leaf helps to distinguish it from Croton rosmarinoides, a rare species of Croton that also grows on all three islands.
In addition to its medicinal and cultural uses, rosemary is also important as the larval food source for two species of tiny butterflies: the Cuban Red Leaf (Anaea troglodyta) and Drury’s Hairstreak (Strymon acis) (caymannature).
Gledhill, D. (2008) The Names of Plants. Cambridge University Press.
McCubbin, L. (1995). Healing Plants of the Cayman Islands. Grand Cayman: unpublished.