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Rosmarinus means dew of the sea in Latin. It is found in rocky sites and woodland and scrub in the Mediterranean region, Portugal, and northwestern Spain. It is an aromatic, perennial shrub that is now widely cultivated for its aromatic leaves and flowers. Some of the legends connected with this herb are very curious. It is associated with the Virgin Mary. It is said that it used to flower white until Mary hung her cloak on a bush while fleeing Herod's soldiers. It is supposed to be one of the herbs, along with lavender, thyme, pennyroyal, lady's bedstraw, and costmary, found in the manger. For a long time, people believed the reason it would not grow over 6' in 33 years was so as not to stand taller than Christ.
It is found traditionally in wedding bouquets as a reminder to the couple of their wedding vows. In the language of flowers it means remembrance and love. Greek students believed it improved the memory, and so they wore it in their hair when studying for exams. Another tale says that if a rosemary plant grows vigorously in a family's garden that it is the woman who wears the pants in the family. In Egypt, it was found in the wrappings of mummies. In Australia, it is worn on Anzac Day, a day set aside to commemorate the dead. In France, during the Middle Ages, it was combined with juniper and burned in bunches in hospitals to kill bacteria. Modern research shows that it does have antibacterial properties. In Hungary, in 1235, Queen Izabella was stricken with a paralyzing illness. A hermit came to court with a preparation of rosemary soaked in wine, which cured her. Since then, this combination, known as Queen Hungary's Water has been used to treat gout and baldness.
Harvest and Use: Rosemary has many uses besides culinary. It is used as a medicinal, an aromatic, an ornamental in the landscape, as a dye, in cosmetics, and as a houseplant. Rosemary essential oil adds a piney scent to soaps, creams, lotions, perfumes, and toilet water. It is a stimulating herb and makes a wonderful herbal bath when you feel worn out and want to get your blood flowing under your skin again. Just put some in a muslin bag and get in the tub with it. You can also treat yourself to a cleansing and pick-me-up facial steam with a strong infusion. Blend it in potpourri. It can be woven into wreaths and garlands. Rosemary sachets are very nice for scenting drawers. Dry needles can be added to other herbs and made into closet sachets to repel moths. These smell a lot better than mothballs and are not toxic. It yields a green dye.
Add a handful of sprigs to the coals before grilling for extra aromatics. Throw the stems into the wood stove for scent. Combine rosemary with lavender, santolina, tansy, and lemongrass into a tulle sachet and hang in the closet with woolens as a moth repellent.
Medicinally, a warm tea is good for colds, flu, rheumatic pain, indigestion, and as a stimulating drink for headache and fatigue. It is antiseptic and promotes sweating and the flow of bile. It acts as an antidepressant, a circulatory stimulant, and a tonic for the nervous system and the heart. It is a rich source of vitamin A and vitamin C, phosphorus, iron, magnesium, and zinc. It also has antioxidant properties. A strong infusion makes an antiseptic mouthwash and gargle. The essential oil can be used externally as an ingredient in salves for arthritis and to soothe aching muscles. Extracts are found in shampoos. A hair rinse of a strong infusion can help dandruff and is good for dark hair. Do not use the pure oil internally. Like all medicinal plants, be cautious when using as a healing herb. The essential oil should not be used internally and when used externally, it should be diluted as is true for all essential oils except lavender. It should not be used in pregnancy, as it is a uterine stimulant. Large doses are irritating to the kidneys and stomach, but used in lesser amounts as a seasoning, it is perfectly safe.
The flavor of rosemary harmonizes with those of poultry, fish, lamb, beef, veal, pork, and game, especially roasts. It also goes well with tomatoes, spinach, peas, mushrooms, squash, cheese, eggs, lentils, and complements chives, chervil, chives, thyme, parsley, and bay. Commercially, an antioxidant prepared from both sage and rosemary improves the stability of soy oil and potato chips. Rosemary adds character to mild soups, marinades, salad dressings, and bouquets garni. Include fresh rosemary in all your Italian sauces. Stud roast pork generously with garlic and rosemary sprigs by making a hole in the meat and pressing the garlic and rosemary into it. Try an herb butter by combining 2 teaspoons rosemary to ½ cup butter. Add it to fruit salad to enhance sweetness without adding sugar. Make a rosemary jelly for roast meats and poultry.
Harvest anytime by snipping the ends of the stems. This will cause your plant to bush out. If you do not want it to bush, pull off a few leaves or sprays. Never take more than 20% of the plant. Rosemary is so much better fresh because it dries into tough little sticks that stick in your teeth or ruin the consistency of culinary dishes. If you are cooking with dry rosemary, wrap it in a bundle tied to the pot handle for easy removal. Besides drying, you can freeze whole sprigs. When you need some, remove from the stem. Frozen rosemary is stronger than fresh.
Cultivation and Propagation: Who can walk by a rosemary plant without passing their hand across it in order to get a whiff of its exquisite fragrance? I can't. It makes the work of repotting every fall to bring it in worthwhile. It makes a fine perennial border or a beautiful hedgerow. It is bold yet graceful and is handsome alone or as an accent plant on a patio or terrace. Prostrate varieties can be set so as to creep along a wall. They look great in hanging baskets or window boxes. The flowers attract bees and a delicious honey is made from the nectar. You also can create the spokes of an herb wheel with rosemary. Except for the cultivar 'Arp' which is hardy to zone 6, you can only leave rosemary out all year long if you live in a zone 8 to 10. The two reasons people lose their rosemary in the winter are incorrect watering and too heavy a soil. Judicious watering is imperative. It hates wet feet and will surely die if left un-watered for too long. It doesn't like being near a hot sunny window in summer where it will burn. If you are growing it in a container, consider taking it out of the pot and putting it in the garden for the summer where it can wiggle its toes. You will get much more vigorous growth and a healthier plant to survive the winter indoors. When you do repot it, nice, loose soil mixed with perlite, sand, and vermiculite is a must.
Rosemary can be grown from seed, but since the germination rate is 30% at best, buy plants from a reputable nursery. Once you have a well-established plant, you can increase your supply by taking cuttings. It can also be propagated by layering.
Pests: Indoors, rosemary is susceptible to powdery mildew. Inside winter air is often dry and stagnant, which promotes the disease. A fan for better air circulation helps, as does misting your rosemary.