What is Rosemary?
It has been said that if a rosemary bush grows vigorously in a family’s garden, it means that the woman heads the household. Consider how many rosemary plants have been pruned low by humiliated husbands while being nurtured by strong willed wives.
In ancient Greece, students wore rosemary garlands while studying for exams believing it improved their memory. 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.
Besides the legends and superstitions, rosemary is best known as a symbol of remembrance, friendship, and love. 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,
Cooking with Rosemary
Rosemary has one of those distinctive, strong flavours that convinces the palate that herbs aren’t just delicate things reserved for dainty soups and sprinkling on baby vegetables. It takes hold of the taste buds with a woodsy flavour, somewhat piny, mint-like yet sweeter, with a slight ginger finish.
It can also be used as a subtle accent, using just a hint of the flavour lightening the mood of an otherwise mundane sauce or pastry. Its flavour harmonizes with those of poultry, fish, lamb, beef, veal, pork, and game, particularly in their roasted forms. Rosemary enhances tomatoes spinach, peas, mushrooms, squash, cheese, eggs, lentils, and complements the herbs chives, thyme, chervil, parsley, and bay in recipes.
Gentle soups like potato and eggplant benefit from rosemary’s robust character, as do marinades, salad dressings, bouquet garnis, and cream —sauces. You can use both the flowers and leaves for garnishing and cooking. Crush or mince the spiky leaves before sprinkling over or rubbing into foods.
Substitute for Rosemary
Freeze whole sprigs of rosemary. When you need some, slide your rhumb and index finger down a sprig, taking off as many leaves as you need. Remember, frozen rosemary is stronger than fresh
Rosemary is a circulatory and nervine stimulant, which in addition to the toning and calming effect it has on digestion, is also effective for destressing. Rosemary is useful for flatulent dyspepsia, headache or depression associated with debility.
Externally, Rosemary oil may be used to ease muscular pain, sciatica and neuralgia. The constituents of Rosemary act as a stimulant to both the hair follicles and circulation in the scalp, and thus may be helpful in treating premature baldness – the oil is most effective in this case. The plant contains essential oils (borneol, camphor, cineole, linalol, verbenol), tannins, flavonoids (apigenin, diosmin, luteolin), rosmarinic acid, rosmaricine, heterosides, triterpene (ursolic acid, oleanic acid), and resin.
Rosemary is considered a rejuvenative skin toner. It is an important ingredient in Queen of Hungary water, a popular beauty tonic. When used on the skin, it helps to strengthen the capillaries. As a bath herb, it acts as a rejuvenative and helps sore muscles.
Rosemary can also be used as a gargle for sore throat, gum ailments, canker sores and as a breath freshener. And Rosemary is often used as an ingredient in shampoos & conditioners for dandruff, where it is believed to prevent premature graying of dark hair and hair loss.
During the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, rosemary branches were burned in homes to keep away the black death. More recently during World War II, a mixture of rosemary leaves and juniper berries was burned in the hospitals of France to kill germs. These practices may not be as strange as they seem. Research has found that rosemary oil does indeed have some antibacterial effects. As a medicinal herb, rosemary should he used carefully.
Larger quantities of the pure oil used therapeutically can irritate the stomach, intestines, and kidneys. However, don’t let this worry those of you who cook with rosemary. As a seasoning, it is perfectly safe to use.
Aromatic: “fake the flowers and put them in thy chest among dry clothes or among thy Bookes and Mothes shall not destroy them,” wrote Banckes in his herbal. It is also a potpourri ingredient that repels moths. Rosemary oil adds a pleasant piny scent to soaps, creams, lotions, perfumes, and toilet waters.
Food Preservation: Throughout history, Rosemary was used by several cultures to preserve meats. A study done at Rutgers State University found that Rosemary had preservative qualities more powerful and safer than the common food additives BHA and BHT – it helps prevent food poisoning. Topical applications of this herbs oil are many.
The three fundamentals for successfully growing rosemary are: sun, good drainage and good air circulation. If you live in a frost free area, you can grow rosemary in the ground year round. Provide a sandy, well draining soil and 6-8 hours of full sunlight. Rosemary is not a heavy feeder, but fertilizing in spring with a fish/kelp emulsion will get it off to a good start for the season. Periodic foliar sprays with the emulsion will keep it looking great. Rosemary, are not bothered by reflected heat such as that radiated by sunny wall so they can he used as accents on patios and terraces. Set a pot of rosemary at the base of a wall for a striking effect, or plant a prostrate variety so it will creep along a stone wall.
Growing Rosemary Indoors
Where the winter temperatures dip below 30 degrees F., rosemary plants will have to spend the winter indoors. In this case, it’s easier to grow your rosemary in a container all year. Since rosemary likes it on the dry side, terra cotta pots are an especially good choice. Just be sure it doesn’t bake and completely dry out while outdoors during the summer.
Rosmarinus officinalis Fam: Lamiaceae (mint)