98 Rosemarinus officinalisCommon Names: rosemary Family: Lamiaceae (mint Family)
Rosemary is an evergreen woody shrub with aromatic, needle-like leaves and gray, scaly bark. Rosemary bushes can grow up to 6 ft (1.8 m) tall with a spread of 4-5 ft (1.2-1.5 m). The plants stay smaller in pots. The leaves resemble needles and are about 1 in (2.5 cm) long with a pungent fragrance, somewhat reminiscent of pine. The flowers appear in winter and spring, are pale blue, about 1 in (2.5 cm) long, and arranged in clusters of 2 or 3. Rosemary flowers, like those of most mints, are semi-tubular with an upper lip and a lower lip; the upper lip has two lobes and the lower lip has three lobes. There are several cultivars, including 'Golden Rain', which is smaller and has yellow edges on the young leaves; 'Prostratus', which is low-growing and spreading; 'Roseus', which has pink flowers; and little 'Santa Barbara', which has dark blue flowers and reaches only 12 in (30 cm) in height.
Rosemary, Rosmarinus officinalis, was originally from the Mediterranean region, where it grows in dry, sandy or rocky soils in a climate characterized by warm summers and mild, dry winters.
CultureRosemary does best in well-drained, sandy, poor to moderately fertile soils. If your soil is acidic, add some lime every couple years. If you grow rosemary in a container, use a clay pot that dries out quickly, and a very well-drained planting medium such as a cactus mix with perlite, and supplemented with lime. Light: Rosemary needs at least 6 hours of full sun every day. Moisture: Established plants should not need supplemental watering except perhaps in desert climates. Hardiness: USDA Zones 8 - 10. Rosemary's range is extended by the cultivar 'Arp', which is hardy to zone 7. Propagation: Rosemary is very easy to propagate from cuttings. Cuttings from the tips of branches will root in a glass of water, but they develop better roots if started in sand or a clean potting medium. Seeds take a long time to germinate and often produce plants that are not like the parent.
There are so many uses for rosemary that no garden should be without this attractive and versatile mint. In the herb garden, rosemary is the backbone around which all other herbs rally. Along the path to the front door, rosemary releases its fresh, clean scent when brushed against. Rosemary can take the heat, and does well against a brick or stone wall or in a pot on a sunny patio or terrace. Prostrate varieties will creep over surfaces and blanket the ground in areas that are too dry, sandy or rocky for most ground covers. They are also delightful in hanging baskets. Rosemary makes a wonderfully fragrant hedge; prune it after flowering. Fanciful topiaries are made from rosemary.
Rosemary leaves and flowers contain a volatile oil that increases blood flow just beneath the skin. In the bath water, an infusion of rosemary leaves refreshes and stimulates. Rosemary oils are known to have antibacterial properties. For centuries herbalists have prescribed rosemary for curing dozens of maladies. Most of these medicinal uses have not been verified by modern science, but probably many are effective.
Rosemary leaves add a fresh, piney scent to sachets and potpourris; to soaps, lotions and perfumes; and to clothes and linens in the drawer. Rosemary is said to deter clothes moths, and an infusion of leaves works as a topical insect repellent. Rosemary flowers are very attractive to honeybees, and a fine honey is produced. In the kitchen, rosemary is used as a seasoning for many meats and vegetables. Twigs and stems added to the coals during the last few minutes impart an interesting, aromatic flavor to grilled foods. Try sprinkling a few leaves of fresh rosemary on top of cooked lima beans. Make herb butter and herb vinegar with rosemary.
Rosemary, the herb of remembrance, friendship and love, has been used as a medicinal and aromatic herb for thousands of years. In ancient Greece students wore it in their hair to improve memory. In the Middle Ages sprigs of rosemary were placed under pillows to ward off evil spirits. Rosemary was carried by brides to promote love and used in funerals to insure remembrance. It is said that if a rosemary bush grows vigorously in the garden, the woman is the head of the household.
Steve Christman 06/20/99; updated 12/6/99, 5/7/03, 8/17/04