There’s Rosemary, that’s for remembrance. Pray you, love, remember.
- William Shakespeare, Hamlet, IV, 5
Rosemary has a long history of use as a culinary and medicinal herb. It happens to be one of my favorites, because I love the smell and the way it looks in the garden, so when I was thinking of the herbs I would use in this series, there was no question that this herb would be on it! This Mediterranean herb is one of the herbs/essential oils I use the most in my soaps and bath products.
Rosemary (Rosemary officinalis) is a perennial, although in many parts of the U.S. it would actually be more appropriate to classify it as a tender perennial. My larger bushes survive the winter pretty well here in northern Georgia, where we live, but they have been a bit “burned” around the edges by ice. Smaller plants should come indoors, even here in zone 7. For those of you in zones 9 and 10, you could keep rosemary in your garden as an evergreen! Those of you in colder climates can move your rosemary in and out, or you can grow rosemary in a pot, provided you give it soil that drains really well.
Although, many herbs are quite easy to start from seed, Rosemary is one that I suggest you purchase as a plant. I’ve never actually tried starting it from seed, but someone I know who is a better gardener than me, said it was difficult, so that was good enough for me! Buy at least two plants, since you won’t want to harvest too much from either one until they get bigger. There are many varieties of rosemary, from large, shrubby types to lower, creeping types. Do some research and decide which one works best for you and your garden.
All rosemary varieties love full sun and well drained, slightly alkaline soil. One of the dangers of growing rosemary here in the south is the moisture… plants do well without a lot of water, and are good for southern garden that way. The problem comes, if they are planted too close together, or if leaves or mulch are allowed to stay too close to the plant. If that happens, then during our wetter springs and winters, rosemary becomes more susceptible to fungus and powdery mildew. If you live in an area that is very wet, try growing plants in a raised bed for better drainage.
Harvest sprigs of rosemary with clippers or a sharp knife. Rosemary will keep in the fridge for a week or two, if you store it in a re-sealable bag or small, airtight container. It’s also an excellent herb for drying, because it retains its scent and flavor. There are several ways to dry it, but the easiest and best is to clip several sprigs, tie them together at the base and hang them upside down until they’re dry. It also makes your kitchen smell great in the process!
Rosemary contains powerful anti-oxidants, and has properties that according to many herbalists relieve pain, aid digestion, relax muscles, ease depression and more. Rosemary should NOT be used medicinally by pregnant women. It is good for use in the bath to soothe sores, and ease and rejuvenate tired muscles.
Tired Muscle Bath Salts
2 cups Epsom salts
1/2 cup dried rosemary
1/2 cup thyme
1/4 cup lavender
1/4 cup mugwort (for EXTERNAL USE ONLY)
Mix. Add one cup to running bath water and soak!
Rosemary is used in a variety of cosmetic products, like soaps, bath salts and bath teas. It is especially useful in hair products, like shampoos and hair rinses, as it conditions and tones hair and skin. It can also be used as an astringent.
Rosemary Hair Rinse
Pour 2 cups boiling water over 1/2 cup dried rosemary and let steep. When it’s cool, strain and use as a hair rinse for darker hair. (Lighter haired folks can use the same recipe, substituting chamomile for the rosemary).
According to Jerry Traunfeld in The Herbfarm Cookbook, rosemary has been historically used as a marinade for meats, “not only for its flavor but also because, like sage and thyme, it has antibacterial and antioxidant agents that prevent fat from turning rancid – it acts as a natural preservative.” Great for meats and potatoes, it can also be used in smaller amounts in baked goods! Rosemary goes well with other herbs, too like thyme, sage and oregano, is great with lemon or orange flavors on chicken, and pairs really well with garlic.
Rosemary Shortbread Cookies (from Cookin’ Thyme)
1 cup butter
1 cup granulated sugar
3 cups flour
3-4 tsp. fresh rosemary, finely chopped
Preheat oven to 275 degrees. Thoroughly combine the butter and sugar. Add 2 1/2 cups of flour and mix. Turn out on a board floured with the remaining 1/2 cup of flour. Knead in the rosemary along with the flour until the dough cracks on the surface and doesn’t stick to the board. Roll it 1/4” thick, then cut into desired shapes. Bake on an ungreased cookies sheet 50 minutes, or until lightly browned. Makes 72 1” cookies.
There are many, MANY more things I could say about rosemary, but since this post is already so long, I’ll stop here – except to say, grow this herb!
next week: Beautiful, Bountiful Basil