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2006 - Rosemary
MHS Herb of the Year

Rosemary – Bringing the Mediterranean to Your Garden and Table
Rosemary For Remembrance Cookbook By Carrie B. Wilkey

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) is native to the Mediterranean region, where it grows wild as a small tree. Rosemary is an upright shrubby perennial that can grow to three feet tall or more, making it look like a miniature fir tree. Its leaves are small, dark green needles, about one-inch long. The flowers bloom in early summer and are small and pale blue, pink, purple or white. Rosemary is a member of the mint family Lamiaceae, which includes many other herbs.

Its botanical name, Rosmarinus, is derived from Latin meaning “dew” and marinus, meaning “of the sea,” since it was found near seashores. Major producers of rosemary for export include Yugoslavia, France, Spain and Portugal.

Popular Cultivars
Some varieties of the species Rosmarinus officinalis include:

  • Common Rosemary – Great for cooking, and has light blue flowers.
  • Arp – Gray-green spreading foliage that grows 3-5 feet tall and 2-3 feet wide. Can be hardy to -10°F (zone 6).
  • Albiflorus – grows up to 4 feet tall with white flowers.
  • Benenden Blue – Fine leaves and rich blue flowers on twisting stems. Also sold as “pine-scented” and “Angustissimus”. Used for potpourris.
  • Blue Boy – Compact, slow growing, good in pots; better used for landscaping than cooking.
  • Corsican Blue – tall and highly aromatic with rich porcelain blue flowers.
  • Cuban – heirloom variety, withstands high heat and humidity. Less prone to powdery mildew in the home.
  • Joyce DeBaggio (Golden Rain Rosemary) – Striking rosemary with yellow streaking that is most prominent on newer growth in cooler weather. Beautiful in a mixed herb container.
  • Gorizia – upright, with long straight branches that produce showy clusters of light blue flowers in summer. Gentle, sweet gingery aroma.
  • Irene – low mounding, prostrate variety with intense blue flowers. Outstanding choice for hanging baskets and containers, easily drapes over edge of pot or rock walls.
  • Logee Blue – upright, robust grower with dense forest-green leaves and abundant deep blue flowers. Does well indoors, less prone to powdery mildew.
  • Logee White – a white flower version of Logee Blue.
  • Majora Pink (Spanish Rosemary) – has amethyst-pink flowers. Often called “shish kebob rosemary” since its stems can be stripped of leaves and used as skewers on the grill.
  • Miss Jessup’s Upright – Tall and columnar; one of the hardiest forms and free-flowering of the species.
  • Nancy Howard – a creeping version with small blue flowers.
  • Prostratus – Prostrate, i.e. lying flat. Also sold as creeping rosemary, Kenneth Prostrate, Santa Barbara, Lockwood de Forest, Golden Prostrate and Huntington Carpet.
  • Tuscan Blue – good for landscaping around rocks and to use as a hedge. Has dark blue flowers.

Rosemary may be propagated by seeds, cuttings, and division of roots. Starting rosemary from seed can be difficult, so try taking cuttings from an existing plant or buy one from a reputable source. Rosemary can also be rooted in a glass of water.

To take cuttings, clip a 2-3-inch stem from new growth on an established plant. Remove the bottom leaves and dip the bottom 1/4-inch into hormone rooting powder. Place cuttings into a container with good quality potting soil. Keep cuttings moist until roots develop 14-21 days later. Then, transplant to a larger pot or to your garden.
Leave at least 2 feet all around your garden rosemary plant to ensure that it has plenty of room to grow. Keep the soil moist, but do not over-water.

Rosemary thrives in a sunny location in light, well-drained, and neutral to alkaline soil. Lighten up heavy soils with sand and peat before planting in the garden. In warm climates, the plant can remain in the same location for years. In colder climates, where freezing temperatures are expected, rosemary does not over-winter well and should be brought inside during the winter months.

Rosemary is a good companion plant for cabbage, beans, carrots and sage. It helps deter cabbage moths, bean beetles and carrot flies.

If growing rosemary indoors, be careful not to over-water. Excess water will damage the roots and cause the plant to die. Rosemary needs a southern exposure with plenty of sunlight when grown indoors. Rotate the plant weekly so all sides of the plant receive sunlight. Prune plants to encourage bushiness.

Rosemary leaves may be harvested any time, and are best when used fresh. The peak time for flavor and fragrance is just before the plants flower.

To dry your own rosemary, simply hang a small bundle of freshly clipped sprigs upside down until thoroughly dried. You may also dry rosemary in a food dehydrator according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Store your dried herbs in glass or plastic jars, away from direct sunlight. Don’t store them on top of your oven or stove.

History of Rosemary Uses
For centuries, rosemary has been used as a symbol of friendship, love, loyalty, and remembrance. It was traditionally carried by mourners at funerals and brides during their weddings. Some Greek scholars are said to have worn garlands of rosemary when taking tests to improve their memory. In the thirteenth century, Queen Elizabeth of Hungary supposedly regained her beauty and strength by drinking rosemary water. The Spanish revered rosemary as the bush that sheltered the Virgin Mary on her flight to Egypt. Legend says that as she spread her cloak over the herb, the white flowers turned blue.

In ancient times, sprigs of rosemary were placed under pillows to ward off evil spirits and bad dreams. In Europe during Medieval times, unmarried women looking for a husband often used rosemary to help them find a man. Rosemary placed under a maiden’s pillow was said to induce dreams that would reveal a future husband’s identity. The wood from rosemary plants was used for making lutes and other musical instruments.

Rosemary has also been used in sick rooms to “purify” the air and protect against the Plague. In more modern times, rosemary and juniper were burned during World War II in French hospitals to protect against germs.

Today, rosemary is used in potpourris to freshen the air, and in shampoos, lotions, disinfectants and some cosmetics. An infusion of rosemary can be used as a rinse to lighten blond hair and to condition all hair. Add rosemary to baths to strengthen and refresh yourself, especially following an illness.

Use dried rosemary leaves as potpourri and in sachets to scent clothing and linens, as well as deter moths. In some parts of the Mediterranean, rosemary continues to be used as a scent for linens. Freshly washed items are spread on rosemary bushes to dry, where they absorb the fragrance.

Culinary Uses / Cooking with Rosemary
Rosemary has long been used as a digestive and condiment, and is popular in flavoring soups, stews, meat, sausages, stuffing, and tea. Rosemary is widely used in Mediterranean cooking. The flowers are also edible and may be added to salads.

Rosemary, like some other herbs, does not lose its flavor by long cooking. And, it maintains its flavor when dried. Rosemary combines well with other herbs, but its flavor tends to dominate. It combines especially well with garlic. Bruise leaves with a mortar and pestle or crush by hand before using to get the most flavors from this herb.

Consider melting butter with rosemary for a delicious topping on roasted or mashed potatoes and freshly steamed or stir-fried vegetables. This herb is also used in jams, jellies, biscuits, cordials, vinegars and wines. Full sprigs of rosemary make a wonderful garnish for serving platters or individual plates.

Use rosemary for fish, meat – especially poultry, and vegetables. Probably the most popular combination is with lamb. When roasting, slit the meat and tuck in sprigs of rosemary. For grilling, use larger sprigs on lamb chops and sprinkle directly on hot coals for added fragrance, or strip the leaves and use the stem as a skewer for shish kebob. Rosemary is also delicious in rice or potato dishes.

Medicinal Uses
There is an ancient belief that rosemary strengthens the memory and sharpens the senses. Rosemary is used to stimulate circulation, enhance digestion, and ease pain and anxiety. Because it helps improve circulation, rosemary is thought to help restore a youthful glow to skin.

As an antiseptic, rosemary cleanses the blood and helps to control pathogens. Its antiseptic qualities make it a fine gargle and mouthwash. Some recent studies of rosemary are shown to prevent the development of cancerous tumors in lab animals.

Other rosemary medicinal properties include antifungal, antibacterial, antiviral, antispasmodic, antioxidant, analgesic, and anti-inflammatory.

Pregnant woman should not use rosemary in therapeutic doses since it is a uterine stimulant and promotes menstruation.

Rosemary Tea
Drink this at bedtime to aid digestion and induce sleep. Add 1 tablespoon of crushed rosemary to 1 cup of boiling water. Steep for five minutes, strain and drink.

Rosemary Butter
Combine 1 tablespoon of minced fresh rosemary with 1/2 cup of softened butter. Wrap butter in plastic wrap and store in refrigerator up to one month, or in your freezer for up to three months. Use on breads, vegetables, poultry and fish.

Rosemary Bath
Make a strong tea from the leaves and add it to your bath water. Rosemary stimulates the skin and can feel refreshing as a bath or steam facial.

Hair Conditioner
Rosemary, used as a hair conditioner, helps control dandruff and is said to aid hair growth. Take a bunch of fresh rosemary and crush the leaves. Add about 1/2 cup of boiling water and allow to stand for one hour. Use as a final rinse on hair, after washing.

Landscaping with Rosemary
Rosemary is a tender, aromatic and ornamental evergreen. In landscaping, rosemary is a wonderful border and accent plant. In certain parts of the country, it can be trained into shapes to create a topiary garden or hedge. Low-growing varieties are good for rock gardens and to cascade over stone walls.

Be sure to choose a good location for your rosemary and do not intend to move it – it resents being transplanted.