Saturday, August 22, 2009

Herb Of The Week -- Rosemary

The herb of the week is Rosemary.

Although officially a member of the Mint family, Rosemary, a perennial, evergreen shrub, with needle-like leaves has very little in common with most varieties of mint.

The name Rosemary, has nothing to do with roses, or Mary, but is derived from the Latin, rosmarinus
ros meaning “dew,” and marinus meaning “of the sea”. The name, dew of the sea, presumable came about since it is found growing wild in Mediterranean regions near the sea.

An herb that is not known for its‘ flowers but rather for its’ foliage, Rosemary is planted almost as often for ornamental purposes as for anything else. But despite its’ attractive appearance, it is a very valuable culinary herb. It does flower, generally in the spring, and the flowers are edible as well.

Rosemary is a low maintenance plant, and can actually suffer from too much attention. But there are still a few things you should know to keep your Rosemary plant healthy.

Rosemary can die outside at temperatures below 30 degrees, although I have kept it alive right up until it hit zero. Sub zero temperatures have killed mine every time I tried to keep one through the winter, no matter how much I mulch and try to protect it.

Rosemary will do well indoors, as long as it gets at least 6 hours a day of sunlight, but indoors, there is a danger of powdery mildew forming on the leaves. This is a white powdery fungus that grows if your air is too humid. You can discourage this by letting the soil dry completely between waterings, and keeping a small fan running to provide air circulation.

Powdery mildew will not kill your plant, but it will make it weak, and of course, nobody wants Rosemary and powdery mildew flavored roasted chicken.

It is difficult to grow Rosemary from seed, and you will have more luck with either cuttings or nursery transplants.

Rosemary likes sunlight, air and good drainage. 6-8 hours of full sun a day is ideal.

If you have a climate that will allow you to grow Rosemary outdoors year round, plant your Rosemary in sunlight, with good drainage in a spot where the breeze will blow through it, and where the water won’t pool around the roots.

Rosemary is harvested by simply cutting off a sprig. It can be used fresh or dried, and is good with wild game, chicken, pork, vegetables, or anything else you want to roast. Rosemary does not shrink much when drying, so it is one of the few herbs that you use the same measurement for, whether using fresh, or dried. Having said that, should you choose to powder, or crush your dried leaves, one teaspoon of powdered Rosemary equals two teaspoons of crushed Rosemary.

Freeze whole sprigs of Rosemary. When you need some, slide your thumb and index finger down a sprig, taking off as many leaves as you need. Remember, frozen Rosemary is stronger than fresh

Fresh leaves can be added whole, or chopped coarsely. If using whole leaves you may want to mash them a bit with a mortar and pestle, or if you don’t have one, put them inside a ziplock back, unzipped, and run your rolling pin over them a few times, to release the oils.

After you have used all the leaves, the twigs can be soaked in water and placed on your coals next time you light up the grill, to add a smoky Rosemary flavor to your food.

A 2-4 inch sprig of Rosemary added to a pot of tea will liven the tea, while the same size sprig added to a pitcher of lemonade will give it a flavor burst that makes it even more refreshing.

Equal parts Rosemary leaves and olive oil, with a dash or hint of soy sauce, makes a good glaze when grilling meats or vegetables.

Mix 1 T each Rosemary, Marjoram, Sage, Olive Oil, And 1 C white wine, for a marinade for meats.

Marinate eggplant “steaks” in this overnight and lay them on the grill for a special treat. Add Rosemary with butter, salt and pepper to flavor baked potatoes.

Rosemary is especially appealing to those on a low sodium diet, as the robust flavor will often reduce the need for added salt.

Besides a culinary herb, Rosemary has many medicinal qualities. It is rich in anti-oxidants and has antibacterial properties as well. Rosemary wine can boost the circulation and nervous systems, while Rosemary tea is used for treating colds, headaches and nervous disorders as well as treating muscle cramps and calming nerves. An emulsion made from Rosemary oil and hot water, when gargled will help a sore throat.
CAUTION: When Rosemary is used as a tea, the dose should not exceed one cup per day. Overdose can cause fatal poisoning.

Laboratory studies in Europe have shown that Rosemary contains chemicals called quinones, which have cancer prevention properties. The studies show that oil from the leaves of the Rosemary plant can help prevent the development of cancerous tumors in laboratory animals. It is quite possible that this applies to humans as well, though the studies have not yet confirmed this.

It has long been believed that Rosemary would help the memory. Shakespeare made reference to this in Hamlet.
In ancient Greece, students wore Rosemary garlands while studying for exams believing it improved their memory.

In superstition and folklore, Rosemary has long been associated with memory or remembrance. At one time Rosemary was used in almost every wedding ceremony. Brides wore wreaths woven with sprigs of Rosemary dipped in scented waters, or they carried Rosemary in their bouquets. At funerals mourners tossed fresh sprigs into the grave as a sign that the life of the departed would not be forgotten. Tapping a fresh sprig of Rosemary against the finger of a loved one was supposed to secure his or her affection. Even today, an offering of Rosemary signifies love, friendship, and remembrance

The folklore doesn’t end there though. For centuries people thought that a Rosemary plant would grow no higher than 6 feet in 33 years so as not to stand taller than Christ. Another story tells that the flowers were originally white but changed to blue when the Virgin Mary hung her cloak on a bush while fleeing from Herod's soldiers with the Christ child. Rosemary possessed powers of protection against evil spirits, or so people thought. In the Middle Ages, men and women would place sprigs under their pillows to ward off demons and prevent bad dreams.

In magic, Rosemary when burned, is believed to emit powerful cleansing and purifying vibrations, and so is smoldered to rid a place of negativity, especially prior to performing magic. It is one of the oldest incenses. It is burned for protection, exorcism, purification, healing, to cause sleep, To restore or maintain youth; to bring love and to increase intellectual powers. Rosemary infusion is used to wash the hands before healing work, and the leaves mixed with juniper berries are burned in sickrooms to promote healing

Rosemary is also thought to be a protective herb. It can be made into a protection wreath, and can be placed above the door or under the bed for protection from evil. Try it in a dream pillow or put it in a pillowcase to protect and ward off bad dreams.

Lastly, and not surprisingly, the fragrance of Rosemary is said to be of benefit as far as emotional spirit, youthful outlook, and pleasant memories. Use it in potpourris and sachets for this purpose.

I grow it because I like the way it smells after a rainstorm, when the sun hits it, and I like to add some when I am grilling chicken. But with all these other uses, I see Rosemary being a more widely used herb for me in the future.


  1. Rosemary is my favorite herb and I use it liberally. If it is true that it helps your memory, I'd hate to see what mine would be like without it! Never know what to do about wintering it. If I dig it up and bring it in, it always dies around March. Guess our house is too dry. If I leave it in the ground, it always dies in March. I think I'm going to build a coldframe and see about putting it in there for the Winter.

  2. I have rosemary in a pot and it has been getting yellower and yellower, what does it need? I'm thinking about replanting it with new soil. I have another big rosemary in the ground. I use it once in a while but not that often. It can be kind of strong so I hesitate to use very often. Linda

  3. Jane, Our Rosemary outside has died every year in January, I think maybe the Christmas lights keep it warm until then. I may just leave one string of lights around the rosemary this year and leave them on until spring....

    Linda, I'm not a botanist, but it sounds to me like a water issue.

    Rosemary in a pot or container can become root bound, and choke itself off.

    This is because the roots grow so fast that they run out of room and they start to turn back on themselves.

    You can address this by either moving it to a larger container, or, pruning the roots. Root prune by slicing off a little of the roots from the bottom and sides of the root ball and replanting in the same pot. Be sure to trim some of the top at the same time, to lessen the work load of the roots and the stress placed upon the trimmed plant.

    Let me know if that works.

    And of course, the secret to using strong herbs without fear is to use them on strong foods. Rosemary is great with Wild game or Lamb, Cabbage, Onion and Garlic etc. That way, Rosemary hold its' own with the heavy hitters instead of overpowering the subtle flavors of more delicate foods.

  4. Troy,
    I think you should be called the Herb Man anyway
    so, when do you bring it inside-soon? You know in Michigan we go days without sunshine in the winter is this o.k.? So many questions sorry!

  5. Vickie, there isn't any real rush to bring your plant inside just yet, providing it is in a container already. It should withstand the first frost, as long as the roots don't freeze, so I'd keep it outside until then.

    If you have it in the ground, now is the time to think about moving it to a container, so it will have time to recover from the shock of transplanting before you move it in.

    6-8 Hours of sunlight a day is ideal, but your plant should make it through the gloomy days of winter ok indoors, as long as it gets sun on sunny days. If it seems to be looking weak or unhappy, chances are it isn't getting enough light. A growlight may be the answer.

  6. troy,
    thanks, I'd better get to work!

  7. Hello Troy! I nominated you for a Super Scribbler Award. Hope you don't mind. You can go to my blog to find out what it means.

  8. Troy just saw your reply. I will try that. It has greened up a bit sence I fertilized it, but the pot is probably not big enough. Maybe I should just stick it in the ground. I let you know what happens. Linda

  9. Hi Troy! Thanks for visiting Our Little Acre! I popped over here to see what you write about and yay! Herbs!

    I just brought my Rosemary in for the winter and wanted to see what advice you had for growing it inside. I've killed it in previous attempts. Probably not enough light. My kitchen window, where I want to keep it, doesn't get any direct sunlight, only indirect, so that's not a good spot. :-( I'll try something else.