Rosemary is a perennial evergreen with an ash-colored scaly bark and ½- to 1½-inch long green needlelike leaves growing in an opposite pattern. Most varieties have leaves that are deep glossy green on top and light grayish green underneath. The leaves have a wonderful piney fragrance. It has tiny blue, white or pink hooded flowers that grow in clusters of two to three per branch. The upright varieties grow as a shrub to be up to 5-feet tall and 2- to 3-feet across. The prostrate varieties grow to 2-feet tall and 2- to 3-feet across, and can be used as ground cover. Varieties popular in our area because of growth habit and hardiness include Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Dancing Waters’, R. o. ‘Shimmering Stars’, R. o. ‘Hill Hardy’ and R. o. ‘Arp’. Varieties popular because of their appropriateness for cooking are R. o. ‘Gorozia’, R. o. ‘Joyce DeBaggio’, R. o. ‘Majorica Pink’ and R. o. ‘Holly Hyde’.
Cultivation Rosemaries are easy to grow in the Houston area. They are fairly slow growing plants that can be propagated from seed, cuttings or ground layering; the latter two methods being much preferable to the first. Rosemaries prefer full sun or mottled shade. They like a well-drained, slightly alkaline soil. While they do like good drainage, they are fairly sensitive to a lack of water. They prefer to be watered lightly, but often. They have fine, shallow root systems that will rot if kept too wet. They are fairly tolerant of our winter weather. They’ll withstand most freezes, particularly if they’ve been heavily mulched and covered. The safest location is at the base of a south-facing wall in a spot protected from cold northern winds. In general, upright varieties are more cold-tolerant than the prostrate varieties.
Harvesting and Uses Harvesting can be done year round. As with most herbs, rosemary thrives from frequent "haircuts," but be careful not to remove more than about 20% of the plant in any one clipping session. The leaves can be dried by hanging in bunches or by layering on paper towels in a shady well-ventilated area. However, because rosemary is an evergreen perennial, there’s little motivation for preserving the leaves for later use.
Rosemary can be used in the bath to refresh and stimulate a weary body. A volatile oil in rosemary gets the blood flowing under the skin. Make a strong tea from the leaves and add it to the bath water. Rosemary can also be used as a hair rinse for brunettes. A rosemary rinse will brighten your hair. A rinse is made by steeping a sprig of rosemary in 1 cup of boiling water for 5 to 10 minutes. Use the rinse after shampooing.
A few of rosemary’s medicinal properties have been confirmed. The flowers and leaves contain a volatile oil responsible for the plant’s pharmacological properties. The oil is an ingredient in rubefacient liniments (to stimulate blow flow beneath the skin) and has been used in combination with other drugs as a carminative. It is officially listed in the U.S. Parmacopoeia.
Rosemary is an excellent culinary herb in sweet or savoury applications. It’s a fine complement to meats or vegetables, and is wonderful in lemon-y beverages and desserts. Varieties popular in the kitchen are those with lower levels of the component oils pinene and camphor. Its flavor harmonizes well with tomatoes, spinach, peas, mushrooms, squash, cheese, eggs, lentils, and complements the herbs chives, thyme, chervil, thyme, chervil, parsley, and bay in recipes.
Rosemary Lentil Soup
From the South Texas Unit’s Herbal Harvest Collection
1 (16-oz.) bag of lentils
½ lb. sliced bacon or smoked sausage
1 large onion
6 – 8 cloves of garlic, minced
6 c. water or chicken or beef broth (or bouillon)
1 (28-oz.) can peeled tomatoes, chopped
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. pepper
3 – 4 bay leaves
1½ tbs. Fresh rosemary, finely chopped
¼ -½ c. vinegar (herbal vinegar of your choice preferred)
Wash lentils under running water. Chop bacon and onion: place in skillet with minced garlic and cook until bacon is done and onion is soft. Drain and discard fat and place bacon mixture in a large pot. Add broth, tomatoes, drained lentils, salt, pepper, bay leaves and rosemary. Simmer for at least three hours. Add water as needed during simmering to keep level constant. Before serving, remove bay leaves, add vinegar to taste and simmer for 5 minutes more. Garnish with rosemary. Makes 6 – 8 servings.
History and Folklore Rosemary is shrouded in history and folklore. Probably the most well-known of the herb’s legends is that while fleeing Herod’s troops, the Virgin Mary draped her cloak over a bush of white-blooming rosemary. When she removed her cloak from the bush, the blooms had taken on the blue color from her garment.
In the Middle Ages, rosemary was thought to possess the power to protect against evil spirits. Sprigs were placed under the pillow to ward off demons and prevent bad dreams.
Rosemary is known as the herb of remembrance, friendship and love. Shakespeare’s Ophelia says, "There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance; pray you, love, remember." St. Thomas More said of rosemary, "I lett it runne all over my garden wall, not onlie because my bees love it, but because ‘tis the herb sacred to remembrance, and therefore to friendship..." At one time rosemary was almost always woven into brides’ bouquets. At funerals, fresh sprigs were tossed into the grave as a sign that the departed would not be forgotten. Even today, rosemary is offered as a symbol of love, friendship and remembrance.
The Herb Society of America - South Texas Unit