I don't remember that rosemary was a plant of my childhood. I do remember the first time I ever tasted it. With my first teaching job, away from my hometown and the mountains of southeast Kentucky, I made new friends in Louisville. With the new friends came new ventures and new foods. During those years I was trying so hard to blend in and to fit in to a new life, I allowed my tastes to venture out of my comfort zone. I began to occasionally eat chicken. Now you have to understand that I'm not strictly a vegetarian by choice, it's just that I don't prefer meat and rarely find myself choosing to eat it. But as a brand new adult with a brand new job in a brand new town, for the first time ever I was served chicken that had been roasted in rosemary. I loved the flavor!
I had not discovered a sudden desire for chicken, but instead, I found a real longing for rosemary, Rosmarinus officinalis.
Rosemary is native to the Mediterranean and Asia but is reasonably hardy in cooler climates. As a matter of fact it enjoys my Zone 7 climate very well and will act as a hardy low growing shrub for several years in my garden. Eventually that plant will meet its demise, but I've learned that it's easy to propagate by cutting a sprig, removing the needle like leaves at the bottom and planting it in a sandy soil until its roots are strong and sturdy enough to withstand the move into my garden. There it remains for a few years until I have to repeat the process.
Although the rosemary herb is a member of the mint family, it's an evergreen plant that looks and smells very much like pine. The plant is shrubby and can grow as tall as five feet, if you let it. Mine never gets that big because I use rosemary in all my soups, on all my roasted veggies and simply for its aroma inside my home in cut flowers. The stems are covered with slender, inch-long, pine-like leaves. Rosemary's tiny flowers aren't very showy, and are usually white, lavender, or blue; most often, I trim it faster than it can bloom.
It's so easy to grow, and an added bonus that I've found is that it is pest free and drought tolerant, a must after this drought laden summer in my area.
Its name comes from Latin words which mean "dew of the sea" because in many locations, it needs no water to live other than the humidity carried by the sea breeze. I don't have a sea breeze nearby, so I do water my rosemary occasionally if nature doesn't do it for me.
Rosemary has an interesting history, one dappled with legend and lore. In Ancient Greece, the story goes, it was draped around the Greek goddess Aphrodite when she rose from the sea. In other lore, the Virgin Mary spread her blue cloak over a white blossomed rosemary bush when she rested, and the flowers on the bush turned blue. At that time the little bush became known as the Rose of Mary.
The Chinese believed that rosemary could cure some common ailments. They used rosemary to ward off headaches and believed it could cure baldness. The Greeks also thought that rosemary could aid the liver and improve digestion.
There are those ancients who believed rosemary could improve memory, which is why it was so often used in their weddings and funerals. A bride would wear a wreath made from sprigs of woven rosemary to help the couple remember their wedding vows. Mourners would also throw bits of rosemary into graves, a symbol that the dead would never be forgotten. The same is true of war memorial services in some cultures even today.
A more recent study that I found in several of my readings about rosemary, shows there is still some interest in the ancient belief of rosemary for remembrance. When the smell of rosemary was pumped into cubicles where people were working, they showed improved memory, though with slower recall. Interesting that the plant might actually improve memory; I might need to go grazing through my garden more often.
Along with those ancient beliefs, another was that placing a sprig of rosemary under a pillow before sleep would repel nightmares, and if placed outside the home it would repel witches. Even today, rosemary oil is used in fragrant soaps, lotions, shampoos and perfumes or to emit an aroma into a room. It is also burned as incense. I'm not sure it keeps the witches and nightmares away, but I love it in my bath products and I love the scent throughout my house.
Medicinally today, it's known that rosemary is high in calcium, potassium, iron and vitamin B6. Rosemary extract has shown to improve the shelf life and heat stability of certain omega3 rich oils, which can easily become rancid. That's a good thing to know if you store your oils for long periods.
Rosemary also contains a number of active compounds, including antioxidents, a fact that becomes more important to us as we age, I think.
What I can tell you for sure is that I love it in soups, on roasted vegetables, flavoring my occasional bites of chicken and as the scent that flows through the rooms of my home. I think if I could, I'd have a pot of rosemary in every room.
Here are some rosemary kitchen tips:
* Chopping and mincing fresh rosemary brings out the most flavor. Remove the little spiky leaves first and discard the stem.
* Add sprigs of fresh rosemary to foods as you're cooking them, then remove the sprigs before serving. The food will still absorb that rosemary flavor. This works well on chicken, lamb, and vegetables.
* Sprinkle minced rosemary in soups, add it to homemade breads, add it to the melted butter you serve with your breads.
* Store fresh in a plastic bag in the fridge. This keeps it fresh longer.
* Freeze it. If you definitely won't be using it for awhile, freezing it is the best way to retain most of the flavor.
* Dry it. Hang the sprigs upside down in a warm dry dark place; once it's dry store in an airtight container. Dried, it has a long shelf life.
* A little can go a long way; experiment, but remember that too much rosemary can overpower other tastes and scents.
Enjoy your plants. Not only are they beautiful, but most contain surprising little secrets, amazing magic. Rosemary has it all: it shares its beauty, its scent, its flavor, its health contributions, and finally, its aroma brings us an overwhelming sense of comfort.
Let's keep looking for the magic!
The first two images are from Paul2032 and dave; if you click on them, they'll take you to ATP's database where you'll find more information.