Herb Profiles: Rosemary

Fresh Rosemary Growing in Herb Garden

Fresh Rosemary

Fresh Rosemary

INTRODUCTION: The word Rosemary is derived from the Latin words ros (dew) and marinus (sea). Rosemary is actually a bush perennial that grows in abundance in the Mediterranean area ( Spain, Italy, Portugal, Southern France, Greece and North Africa as well as in isolated areas of Turkey, Lebanon and Egypt). It is one of the most common aromatic wild plants of the Mediterranean landscape, especially in rocky limestone hillsides adjoining the seaside.

HISTORICAL FACTS: Rosemary was relocated to England by the Romans in the eighth century, primarily in the southern part of the country.  Charlemagne ordered rosemary to be grown on his farms in the tenth-century Spain.  It was introduced to the New World by early immigrants, but in the northern regions they must protected in the winter months. Rosemary has a historical association with the Virgin Mary. The flowers received their color light blue color when she placed her shawl over a rosemary bush after she washed it. At weddings, boughs of rosemary were carried as good luck for the new couple. Rosemary branches were placed on the floors of medieval homes to combat diseases during the “black plague”‘,  Because of the fragrance the plant gives off it was a used as a incense.

HORTICULTURAL FACTS: Rosemary is an evergreen bush that grows to a height of two to six feet with pale blue flowers and spiky leathery leaves (all varieties have leaves that resemble pine needles). The leaves are glossy green on the top and lighter, gray-green underneath.  In mild climates you will see rosemary bushes used as a boarder plant.  It is usually hardy to zero degrees Fahrenheit. As the plant matures the stems will become woody in texture.  The reason for its popularity is its aromatic fragrance and the essential oil scent of camphor. Many experts relate the fragrance to pine needles that is slightly resinous with a sweet scent. It is described as having a very bold flavor.  Rosemary likes sun, the more the better, and dry well-drained poor soil.  It does not like moisture laden areas of the garden.  You can grow it from rooted parts of the existing plant or from cuttings. Rosemary is referred to as not-quite-winter-hardy because in the Northern United States and Europe it is best to grow it in a pot in the summer and move it indoors in the severe winter months.  It requires very little water once it is established.  It responds well to container culture and tolerates indoor growing conditions.

GROWING GUIDELINES: Sow your seeds indoors in the early spring to a depth of 1/8 inch.  Transplant outdoors when all danger of frost has past. You can propagate via cuttings in the fall from new growth.  Larger plants will usually overwinter better.  You can pot smaller plants and bring indoors to a sunny south facing window, into a greenhouse or three-season room or garage with a sunny window. If you prune the rosemary after it has flowered it will tend to take on a much bushier form.

FLOWERING TIME: Depending on the temperate zone you are located in it usually will flower in late spring to early summer. The flowers tend to be light blue to a lilac or pink shade.

CULINARY FACTS: Rosemary is one of the most commonly used herbs in Italy especially for roast lamb and kid. Italians have a passion for rosemary and you will see it in many of the true Italian recipes.  If you go to an Italian butcher shop and order lamb they will include several sprigs of rosemary with the meat. Rosemary is discreetly used in French, Greek or Spanish cooking. Rosemary is a fine compliment to lamb recipes, kid, red meat, fillet Mignon, fish, shellfish, veal and even peasant chicken dishes cooked with wine and garlic. Rosemary is an excellent flavoring for potato dishes and other root vegetables like carrots and onions.  When you add rosemary to spaghetti sauce it will bring out the flavor of other ingredients. It is a very nice addition to tomato-based soups, stews and sauces.  It is very much at home around the barbecue.  Place a sprig inside your poultry, or insert some needles into your leg of lamb. Use it in meat marinades.  Burn several sprigs on your barbecue grill to impart the flavor on the cooking meats or poultry. Here is a tip: bundle several sprigs together and use them as a basting brush.  Try some rosemary in peas soup, bread recipes, vegetables such as beans, peas, spinach and zucchini and stews.   It is an essential ingredient in poultry or fish stuffing’s. Some recipes call for chopped rosemary but it is best if added as a whole sprig to soups and stews.  Remove the sprig prior to serving.   Because it is an evergreen it is usually available year round in most climates except the most severe wintry conditions. Dried rosemary loses its strength of flavor. Rosemary makes a fine tea.

HARVESTING TIPS: You can snip the leaves all through the growing season.  Even seedlings have the inherent flavor, albeit much milder than established plants.

FLAVOR: Spicy/Camphor/Pine needle

HOME GARDEN: Indoors/Outdoors

MEDICINAL FACTS: The virtues of rosemary are extolled by Ancient Greek, Roman, Arab and European herbalists.  Rosemary was used to prevent balding and as a hair conditioner. Rosemary is also the herb of memory, the leaves were supposed to quicken the mind and prevent forgetfulness. Roman herbalists recommended a rosemary infusion to cure jaundice, Rosemary has antioxidant properties and is used as a preservative by modern food processors. It has been mentioned in medical texts as being a digestive aid in the form of a tea infusion.  Externally it is made into an ointment to treat rheumatism, sores, eczema and bruises.  An use of the herb should be cleared with your health-care processional.

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