If your knowledge of rosemary is limited to its chemistry with lamb and its worth as a cocktail component (yes, really), you need to rethink things.
Late last year, the global press went nuts for rosemary. Thanks to a government census, scientists discovered that a tiny village in Italy, Acciaroli, boasted an extraordinary number of centenarians. Acciaroli, which is two hours south of Naples, also has unusual numbers of 80- and 90-years-olds, many of whom have next to no memory loss, cancer, arthritis or cataracts. After studying the villagers’ lifestyle, scientists identified just one unusual factor: the large quantities of rosemary – both raw and cooked – that the villagers consumed.
Your average Joe reading these rosemary-centric articles thought: ‘Note to self: must eat more rosemary’ – then forgot all about it. British entrepreneur David Spencer-Percival didn’t stop there; having realised he wasn’t turned on by the prospect of a lifetime (albeit a longer one) spent munching raw rosemary, he decided to try to drink it instead.
First, he consulted the Google gods and typed in ‘rosemary water’. Search results showed nobody was making or selling it commercially. This was something of a light-bulb moment for the entrepreneur, who has a history of mega-successful startups (he previously founded Huntress and Spencer Ogden). David promptly went to his local garden centre, bought the biggest rosemary bush he could find, emptied his fridge of its current contents – much to his wife’s consternation – and filled it with bottles of water infused with rosemary sprigs.
Having discovered that rosemary-infused water actually tastes rather nice, David registered rosemarywater.com and decided to make a new drink. He recruited an artisan drinks company in north London, along with a botanical extraction house in Worcestershire. To check that the villagers weren’t nibbling a super strain of rosemary, David and his wife went on a foraging mission in Acciaroli and nicked some rosemary, which they tested in a lab against specimens from six or seven other places, including Morocco, South Africa, Italy and the UK. The results were in David’s favour: the levels of rosmarinic acid were very similar.
The next few months were spent trying to extract rosemary’s magic bits, then distill them. David and his gang tried ethanol extraction and reverse osmosis; they took the oil off the top; they did some fresh-chopped cold brews; they mixed the whole shebang together. Finally, an elixir was sent to David in the post, prompting him to turn to his wife and proudly proclaim, ‘We’ve got it.’ And thus No.1 Rosemary Water was born.
The drink has just two ingredients: certified spring water and the rosemary elixir. The equivalent of one sprig of rosemary is used per 750ml. (Hardcore rosemary addicts can also do potent rosemary shots.) When No.1 launched exclusively at Harvey Nichols, it sold out four times.
And because there’s more to life than rosemary, we picked David Spencer-Percival’s brain about business, travel essentials and his favourite places in the world…
Can you share a bit of business advice with us?
Focus; make decisions quickly; push your business hard. Distraction is the biggest killer to a business – the person that stays focussed the longest will be the most successful. I don’t think there are any shortcuts in business. You have to work bloody hard, for a long time.
What can’t you travel without?
I can’t travel without my iPad or ear plugs. I use the Aquafit swimmer’s ones, made from triple-layered rubber. They totally block out sound. I’ve changed hotel rooms so many times because of noise, but now I just use these.
What’s your favourite place in the world?
I have a real affinity for Ibiza. You can dip in and out of the party scene; you can dip in and out of restaurants; you can go and find nature. It’s a very spiritual island. I also love New York; I feel like it’s the last properly vibrant city. It’s the only other city I could live in.
Do you have a favourite hotel?
The Rosewood Hotel Georgia in Vancouver; the artwork, the staff, the rooms – everything works for me. Then there’s Villa Feltrinelli in Lake Garda: the guy that bought it went on an insanity project of spending too much money; it immediately hits you that this person is insane. Our room had the best Frette sheets that money could buy, but they’d put rose petals everywhere, ruining the sheets! All the bath products are Acqua di Parma; the TV room has every single Fellini film ever made. My wife has a little joke whenever she goes to a hotel: she always asks, ‘Do you do a crêpe Suzette?’ It’s so Seventies, nobody ever does it – but they said: ‘Of course, madam!’ Then they wheeled out a great big copper frying pan and cooked us crêpe Suzette on the flame. Magic!
If you live to be 100, what else would you like to do?
I’d like to be able to sell No1. Rosemary Water for 50 pence a can to everyone in the world, so everyone can live longer. And then maybe I’ll give it away!
Featured image is Acciaroli, Italy; photo via Getty