What type of herb is Rosemary?
Rosemary (Salvia rosmarinus) is a most versatile and useful herb in the home, being both culinary and medicinal. Rosemary is from the family Lamiaceae and is therefore related to Basil, Thyme and Mint. On the farm we grow over 30 types of Rosemary. They are an evergreen shrub with a height between 10 cm to 1 m and a spread between 50 cm to 1 m depending on habit. The small flowers vary in colour from white & pink to pale or dark blue. They are grouped into three main habits, as explained in Jekka's new book 'A Pocketful of Herbs': prostrate, upright and arching (a mixture of both). This makes them ideal for either ground cover, edging onto gravel or hanging over a wall.
Mythology & history around Rosemary
Rosemary is associated with remembrance and for hundreds of years it was used to improve the memory, but only recently has it been proven to do just that.
From Jekka’s Complete Herb Book, one of our favourite stories about Rosemary comes from Spain. It relates that originally the blue flowers were white. When the Holy family fled into Egypt, the Virgin Mary had to hide from some soldiers, so she spread her cloak over a rosemary bush and knelt behind it. When the soldiers had gone by, she stood up and removed her cloak and the blossoms turned blue in her honour. Also connected to the Christian faith is the story that rosemary will grow for 33 years, the length of Christ’s life, and then die.
In the Elizabethan times, the wedding couple wore or carried a sprig of rosemary as a sign of fidelity. Also, bunches of rosemary were tied with colour ribbon tipped with gold and given to guests at weddings to symbolise love and faithfulness.
How do you grow and maintain Rosemary?
Rosemary requires a well-drained soil and sunny position. It is frost hardy, but in cold areas it prefers to grow against a warm, sunny wall. Rosemary does very well in pots. Jekka's top tips for Rosemarys in containers is to use a soil based potting compost and ensure you feed regularly during the growing season.
The cultivated varieties of Rosemary do not come from seed and are propagated from cuttings. When taking cuttings choose a non-flowering shoot and stay within the green, do not cut back where it is just wooden stems as it cannot reshoot. This is also applicable to pruning which should only be done once it has finished flowering in late spring. See Jekka's video below on how to prune Rosemary.
For more advice on growing and maintaining herbs, check out Jekka's How to Grow Herbs videos and ‘Jekka’s Seasonal Tips’ blog series, which includes what to do in your herb garden in early spring, late spring, summer and autumn & winter as well as well as how to grow herbs indoor.
Rosemary as a culinary herb
As Rosemary is evergreen, you can pick fresh leaves all year round as long as you are not too greedy.
Rosemary is one of the most useful culinary herbs, combining well with meat, especially lamb, casseroles, tomato sauces, baked fish, rice, salads, egg dishes, apples, vinegars and oils.
Another suggestion is to use the twigs as skewers for lamb on a barbecue. This not only makes the lamb taste good but also the BBQ smell lovely - as its name suggests, Salvia rosmarinus officinalis 'Barbecue ' is ideal for this.
The recipe linked below is for Jekka’s Ginger Rosemary Herb Truffles, which we made on our Festive Cooking with Herbs Master Class.