Rosemary, Herb of Love

Harvesting rosemary.

Rosemary is a small evergreen tree with an alluring scent. Calming, and when used in a hot bath is an excellent way to relive tension, rosemary has earned a place of distinction in both the kitchen and the medicine cabinet. Legend has it that if a rosemary bush grows well near a home, that the woman is the head of the household. With a history like that, rosemary is an herb worth investigating.

A History of Rosemary

Rosemary has been known throughout history as an important herb. In ancient Greece, students often twined sprigs of rosemary in their hair to help them remember. Rosemary is associated with powers of protection. It is said that the Virgin Mary threw her cloak over a rosemary bush when fleeing Herod with the Christ child, and its normally white flowers changed to blue. It was also said to protect against evil spirits, and people in the middle Ages placed sprigs under their pillows to ward off demons and to prevent nightmares. At one time, rosemary was always used in wedding ceremonies. Many brides carried rosemary in their wedding bouquet, and wore wreaths woven with sprigs of rosemary. Legend says that tapping a rosemary sprig against the finger of a loved one insured their affection.

Medicinal Uses of Rosemary

Rosemary has a long history of being a medicinal herb. It has been prescribed as an astringent, a digestive aid, to treat depression, headaches and muscle spasms, as an expectorant, promoter of menstrual flow, and stimulant for production of bile. Rosemary is used as a strengthener for hair. The oil of rosemary is said to bring relief to sufferers of rheumatism and other muscular and skin complaints. Flowers and leaves contain a volatile oil that gives rosemary its pharmacological properties. This oil is used in various liniments and with other drugs as a carminative. Rosemary oils should not be taken internally by pregnant women, although it is all right to use it as a seasoning without causing harm. Rosemary is listed in the U.S. Pharmacopoeia.

Culinary Uses

Rosemary has a strong flavor in cookery. It has a delightful aroma in the kitchen, reminiscent of pine. It has a mint-like flavor, but sweeter than mint. The flavor goes well with poultry, fish, beef, lamb veal and pork in roasted form. It enhances eggs, cheese, tomatoes, many vegetables, mushrooms, squash and lentils. It works well with chives, thyme, chervil, parsley and bay in many recipes. In soups, it gives a blander potato or eggplant a very robust taste. Use rosemary in marinades, salad dressings and cream sauces.

TIP: Our expert gardening advisor, Susan Patterson suggests, "Store fresh rosemary in the refrigerator wrapped in a damp paper towel."

Both the flowers and leaves work well for garnishes. Always crush the spindly dried leaves before using as a rub or garnish to release the oils.

TIP: Susan recommends, "If possible, use fresh rosemary over dried".

Cultivation of Rosemary

Rosemary is best propagated by cuttings or layering. This perennial evergreen shrub that can reach a height of 5 to 6 feet when grown outdoors. It is natural to the Mediterranean, Portugal and Spain and is widely cultivated elsewhere. The leaves resemble needles that are 1/2 to 1 1/2 inches long. Flowers are blue and about 1/2 inch long.

TIP: Susan notes, "Healthy rosemary sprigs should be a deep sage color and not have any yellow or dark spots."

Hardy to zones 8 through 10, it likes a well drained soil with a pH balance of 6.5 to 7.0. It grows best in full sun.

Plants grown from seed are not as hearty as cuttings. If you do plant from seed, be sure that it is fresh--less than two weeks old. It does not transplant well. Rosemary will grow well in most any soil, but prefers a more alkaline soil than acidic. Use lime or crushed seashells every couple of years to keep the soil balanced.

Tips for the Chef

Use rosemary liberally in rubs for roasts. Be sure to crush the leaves before using. Add rosemary to bread recipes, using about 1 tablespoon for each loaf of bread. Make herb butter using 2 teaspoons of rosemary to 1/2 cup of softened butter. Throw rosemary on the coals when barbecuing. The aroma is wonderful, and it imparts a good taste to your grilling. Use rosemary in place of mint in jellies.

TIP: Susan adds, "Fresh rosemary can be frozen in ice cubes and added to soups and stews."

No matter whether you use rosemary for a hot soak in the tub, or use it in the kitchen for unique flavoring of food, be sure to give rosemary a try. If nothing else, the wonderful aroma in the kitchen is well worth the effort.