Rosmarinus officinalis L., commonly known as rosemary, is a woody, perennial herb with fragrant, evergreen, needle-like leaves and white, pink, purple, or blue flowers. It is best known for its strongly aromatic, needle-like evergreen leaves. The name "rosemary" derives from the Latin for "dew" and "sea" (marinus), or "dew of the sea". The plant is also sometimes called anthos, from the ancient Greek word for "flower". There is also nice myth connected to the name “rosemary”: the Virgin Mary is said to have spread her blue cloak over a white-blossomed rosemary bush when she was resting, and the flowers turned blue. The shrub then became known as the "Rose of Mary".
Rosemary is native to the Mediterranean region and Caucasus. In my garden I have several shrubs, the oldest one 7 years old (see Photo 1).
Photo 1. Rosemary shrubs in my garden; behind flowering oleanders [photo: R. Lausevic]
Rosemary is a member of the mint family Lamiaceae, which includes many other herbs. The name "rosemary" derives from the Latin for "dew" (ros) and "sea" (marinus), or "dew of the sea".
Rosemary is an erect, bushy shrub that may reach 2 m in height. In my garden, I crop rosemary shrubs every early spring, to keep their nice rounded shape (see Photo 2), to protect them from very strong northern winds, and to collect leaves. Why to collect them? Read this blog till the end.
Photo 2. Cropped rosemary shrubs (bottom left) [photo: R. Lausevic]
Evergreen leaves are dark green above and white hairy below. The leaves are 2 to 3.5 cm in length and are folded inward along the margins. The flowers are purplish white and strongly two-lipped, and have two long-exerted (protruding) stamens (see Photo 3). The fruit consists of four dry nutlets (one-seeded sections).
Photo 3. Rosemary flowers [photo: R. Lausevic]
This tough Mediterranean shrub needs a sunny position and light soil that doesn’t become waterlogged. It is used to long, hot summers in its natural home and can withstand periods of drought, making it suitable for containers, as well as sunny borders. The new growth is soft and flexible but older stems become woody and this plant can form a substantial trunk in time. Propagation is simple from cuttings in early to midsummer. Cut pieces of new growth, around 10 cm long, and insert them into a pot of compost. Keep them moist and they should root by the autumn, when they can be potted up and grown on before planting out in spring.
The leaves are used as a flavoring in foods such as stuffings and roast lamb, pork, chicken and turkey. Fresh or dried leaves (Photo 4) are used in traditional Mediterranean cuisine. So, that is the reason why I’m collecting and drying them. They have a bitter, astringent taste and a characteristic aroma which complements many cooked foods.
Photo 4. Dried rosemary leaves [photo: R. Lausevic]
When roasted with meats or vegetables, the leaves impart a mustard-like aroma with an additional fragrance of charred wood compatible with barbecued foods. Get in touch with me – May and early June are top season in Montenegro and Serbia for roasted lamb. With rosemary leaves it’s even more delicious!
Rosemary contains a number of phytochemicals, including rosmarinic acid, camphor, caffeic acid, ursolic acid, betulinic acid, carnosic acid and carnosol. In the past, rosemary was believed to aid memory and was often made into garlands for students when they were sitting their exams. Scientific research has shown that rosmarinic acid, one of the main constituents of rosemary, inhibits certain enzymes linked to neurological disorders causing memory loss. Scientists investigating the benefits of rosmarinic acid found it has strong anti-oxidant properties.
Preparations of rosemary are taken orally or applied topically for a variety of complaints. The leaves and flowers can also be used to make a tea, said to be good for headaches, colic, colds and nervous diseases as well as depression. Rosemary has also been used in herbal remedies for relieving asthma. Used in combination with essential oils from thyme (Thymus), lavender (Lavandula) and cedarwood (Cedrus), the essential oil of rosemary reportedly improves hair growth in people with allopecia. It also has antibacterial and antifungal properties. There is evidence that the essential oil relaxes the muscles of the gastrointestinal tract, and may increase blood flow to the heart.
Cautions The essential oil of rosemary is potent and can be toxic. It should be avoided by pregnant and breastfeeding women and by people prone to seizures. The oil may cause severe adverse effects including seizures when taken internally and may irritate the skin when applied externally.
How I use rosemary Besides using if to flavor food when I’m cooking, I prepare herbal tea from the leaves. The best one is from fresh leaves, but when I’m not in Montenegro, then I’m using dried ones. That is second, and even more important reason why I’m collecting and drying rosemary leaves. Get in touch with me, we might prepare excellent rosemary tea and improve our memory. At least, that might be event for remembrance. In Shakespeare's Hamlet, Ophelia says, "There's rosemary, that's for remembrance." (Hamlet, iv. 5.).