Rosmarinus officinalis, commonly called rosemary is an aromatic herb indigenous to the Mediterranean area. Rosemary is traditionally known as the herb of remembrance and friendship. Also known as Mary’s mantle and compass weed, rosemary is a lovely, sweet scented, shrubby perennial in Mediterranean countries that can be grown as an annual in Northern climates or as an indoor potted plant. Rosemary has needlelike leaves and delicate light blue flowers. Mature plants can live for over 30 years.
Rosemary grows best in full sun but will tolerate semi-shade. This plant grows best in light, well-drained soil. Let rosemary become moderately dry between waterings, as root rot can be a problem in soggy soils. Mist the leaves every second week. Rosemary grows 3 – 6 feet (1 – 2 m) tall outdoors. Indoors, rosemary benefits by harvesting tip cuttings that will keep the plant fuller and bushier. Rosemary’s leaves are dark green on top with silvery undersides.
Rosemary is slow to germinate and grow from seed so it is best to buy plants or propagate rosemary from stem cuttings.
If you are growing this herb indoors, rosemary thrives when moved outdoors for the summer. Leave rosemary in pots in the garden as it seems to be able to adjust to moving back in-doors more successfully. Move back indoors before the first frost, check for insects, and if there is an infestation, spray with a soap and water spray. Rosemary requires at least 4 hours of direct sunlight a day. If you are growing rosemary on a windowsill, turn regularly to ensure every side receives light. If you are growing rosemary under lights, hang fluorescent lights 6 inches (15 cm) above the plants and leave on for 12 hours.
In the garden, rosemary deters cabbage moth, bean beetles, and carrot fly when planted near cabbage, beans, carrots, and sage. In Italy, rosemary is the preferred herb with lamb, veal, and poultry particularly when simmered with olive oil, garlic, and wine. Rosemary should always be used with lamb as it enhances the meat with incomparable flavour. Other uses in the kitchen include tomato dishes, stews, soups, vegetable dishes, pork, rabbit, sausages, fish, shellfish, finely chopped in custards, egg dishes, pickles, jellies, jams, cakes, cookies, salads, and is an essential ingredient in herb breads and biscuits, including focaccia, the classic Italian bread. Rosemary can be added to the cooking water to enliven cauliflower, potatoes, green beans, and peas. Marinades for fish and meats as well as minestrone, chicken, and pea soups benefit from the addition of rosemary. Rosemary has a strong flavour so use sparingly. Leaves, stems, and flowers are all edible. To release the flavour of dried leaves, crush them just before using. Rosemary stems can be used for herb skewers by stripping the leaves and threading vegetables or tender cuts of meat on the stems for broiling.
Rosemary can be kept in the fridge for a few days either in plastic bags or with the stems immersed in water. The leaves can be dried by hanging fresh sprigs in a warm, dry place. Strip off leaves before storing.
Article by Gwen Nyhus Stewart, B.S.W., M.G., H.T.; an educator, freelance writer, garden consultant, and author of the book The Healing Garden: A Place Of Peace.