I thought rosemary’s name would never change. After all, it was first mentioned about 5000 BCE.
Rosemary oil was one of the ingredients used by early Egyptians for embalming, while the Ancient Greeks and Romans believed it strengthened memory and worshipped it as a fertility symbol.
In Australia, it is worn on Anzac Day and sometimes Remembrance Day to remember those
lost in war.
Cuttings are taken from plants growing in Gallipoli have been grown into bushes in Australia, and every year, these are picked and sprigs given to those marching and commemorating.
Rosemary is still all those things, along with its modern-day culinary uses, but it’s no longer
taxonomically in the genus Rosmarinus.
It’s been moved into the genus Salvia, so technically, it’s now a sage. Its botanical name has changed from Rosmarinus officinalis to Salvia rosmarinus.
Fortunately, its common name remains the same. At the same time, these name changes happen for important reasons.
I have to say that as someone with a long fascination for herbs, this change made my world shift, ever so slightly, on its axis.
How could I come to terms with rosemary being a sage? But it turns out DNA testing showed that rosemary is much more closely related to sage than was understood when
the plants were first studied for classification more than 250 years ago, so the change had to happen.
Rosemary is a versatile, tough, adaptable, and beautiful plant. It flowers over long periods at different times of the year, depending on the cultivar.
I really value the winter flowering forms when not much else is in flower. Native and honey bees, as well as a myriad of other insects, including butterflies, love the flowers for their nectar and pollen.
As do the nectar-eating birds. Rosemary also has numerous culinary and medicinal uses.
It grows well in most climate regions but tends to suffer in high humidity, so in these places, grow it in a pot, move it under cover during wetter times, or treat it as an annual and only grow from autumn to early spring during the dry season.
In more temperate regions, rosemary is tolerant of drought and mild frosts. It also grows well near the sea.
Rosemary is best grown from cuttings taken in spring or summer, but more than 20 different cultivars can be purchased from online mail-order suppliers in pots.
While rosemary is easy to grow, it will only thrive when planted in a semi- to full sun position with slightly alkaline soil, and it must have excellent drainage.
Prune regularly after the first two years.
The prostrate and dwarf cultivars are excellent for rockeries, hanging baskets, hanging over walls, or planting at the base of trees in bigger pots.
Bigger shrubs make perfect low hedges. Harvest rosemary whenever it’s needed. Regular harvesting or tip pruning ensures good shape and vigorous new growth.
Hedges need to be pruned to maintain shape.
In The Kitchen
Some rosemaries are better than others for flavoring food, but all can be used.
Those with a pure rosemary scent and flavor, with fewer pine or camphor overtones, are best. ‘Chef’s Choice,’
‘Tuscan Blue’ and ‘Gorza’ (see cultivars section) are reliably well flavored, but there can be variability even within cultivars, so smell before you buy if it’s
important for your cooking.
I always use rosemary fresh if I can. Traditionally, it is used in stuffings to flavor red meat, but it’s delicious cooked with chicken, duck, game, pork, and oily fish.
Add it finely chopped to salads, or drop a sprig into soups and casseroles.
Combine it with vegetables such as roast potatoes or mushrooms, add a sprig when you cook peas, or sprinkle finely chopped leaves over spinach.
Finally, try adding leaves to bread and savory scone mixes.
Rosemary has a long list of medicinal uses. As a starting point, it contains provitamin A and B vitamins 1, 2, 3, 6, and 9 and vitamin C and calcium, magnesium, and zinc.
It also contains several important phytochemicals, including carnosol and rosmarinic acid, which are both strong antioxidants.
So just having it as a regular part of your diet is beneficial to your health.
Drinking rosemary tea has several benefits:
- It sweetens the breath.
- It can be used as a tonic for the circulatory system. Helps ease the symptoms of colds or flu.
- It lifts the spirits, lessens tension, and can help alleviate mild depression.
- Eases indigestion and flatulence, as well as headaches and migraine.
- Stimulates blood flow to the brain and improves memory and concentration.
- When I’m working late at night, I drink rosemary tea instead of coffee: it helps me stay alert but doesn’t stop me from sleeping when I finally get to bed.
- Rosemary oil, made by infusing leaves in oil, can be used as a rub for sore muscles, sciatica, and neuralgia. You can also rub it into the scalp and hair before washing to promote hair growth, add gloss and lessen dandruff.
There is an increasing number of cultivars with different flower colors, more or less upright habitats, and variable leaf density. All cultivars are edible.
Choosing A Cultivar
TALL (over 60cm)
‘ALBUS’ OR ‘WHITE FLOWERING’: Open, rounded, upright form, dark-green leaves, white flowers from early spring to autumn. Grows: 80cmWx 80cm H.
‘GORZA’ OR ‘GORIZIA’: Has stiff, upright, open growth, larger than usual green-grey leaves. Pale lavender-blue flowers from spring into summer. Good true rosemary flavor. Grows: 100cmWx 140cm H.
‘MAJORCA PINK’: Loose-growing with twisting, cascading branches, and short grey-green leaves. Lavender-pink flowers appear from winter to spring. Grows: 80cmWx 130cm H.
‘MOZART’: Glossy dark-green leaves, upright stems, deep-blue flowers from late autumn to spring. Grows: 90cmWx 70cm H.
‘SALEM’: Mounding habit with thin, short, dense, grey-green leaves with a mild pine-like flavor. More cold and wet tolerant than most rosemaries. Rich-blue flowers are densely bunched from late summer to early winter. Grows: 100cmWx 120cm H.
‘TUSCAN BLUE’: Tall-growing with upright stems. Leaves are deep-green, wide, and thick with good flavor. Larger deep-blue flowers appear from late summer to early winter.
Grows: 100cmWx 180cm H.
DWARF (up to 60cm)
‘BLUE LAGOON’: A sprawling but still upright plant. Darkgreen leaves and rich, mid-blue flowers form a flower carpet from late winter to early summer. Grows: 200cmWx 60cm H.
‘CHEF’S CHOICE’: A medium upright plant with very dense leaves with good flavor. Has mid-blue flowers winter to spring. Grows: 80cmWx 60cm H.
‘HERB COTTAGE’: Has tall stems and grey-green leaves. Good flavor and high oil content for oil extraction. Violet-blue flowers from summer to autumn. Grows: 90cmWx 60cm H.
‘ROMAN BEAUTY: Compact, tidy growth; short, arching stems, mid-violet blue flowers in winter and spring. Grows: 60cmWx 60cm H.
‘HUNTINGTON CARPET’: Sprawling plants with deep-green leaves and deep-blue flowers from spring to summer. Grows: 150cmWx 25cm H.
‘POINTE DU RAZ’: Dense plant with deep-blue, mauve flowers in autumn and winter. Grows: 100cmWx 35cm H.
‘PROSTRATUS’: Drought-tolerant, dense and low-growing, with prolific pale blue flowers from winter to summer.
Grows: 100cmWx 30cm H.