Gardening | 23 July 2015Gardening with Rosemary Share article facebook twitter google pinterest For some of us, growing rosemary is less about the art of coaxing a plant to survive, and more about a good-natured battle of encouraging the plant to mind its exuberant manners. Rosemary’s eagerness to flourish wherever it’s planted makes it an easy herb to tend, but then you realize you have an over-abundance of it, and you can’t possibly consume one more serving of rosemary-infused tomato sauce. How else can you use this tasty and hardy herb? Thanks to author Elizabeth Millard and her vastly informative book Backyard Pharmacy, your rosemary plants are about to become fascinating resources of flavor, healing, history, and more. Rosemary Photo credit: Backyard Pharmacy Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) Although rosemary is a common culinary spice these days, the herb has a rich history of culinary, medicinal, and even cosmetic uses. It’s been used ceremonially to represent fidelity, friendship, and remembrance, particularly for important life events—brides would weave rosemary into their bouquets, and decorate pews with the herb to represent a vow of faithfulness. In Great Britain, churches would sprinkle rosemary on the floors at Christmas to remember those who’d passed during the year, and as acknowledgement of the herb’s role in Christianity—reportedly, the flowers used to be white, but changed to blue when the Virgin Mary threw her cloak over a rosemary bush on the flight from Egypt. Also, rosemary reportedly lives exactly thirty-three years, the length of Christ’s life. In addition to its major symbolism, the herb has been used as a hair rinse, as well as a treatment for headache, depression, and sciatica. Rosemary is so plentiful that it makes a nice addition to any medicinal and culinary garden mix, particularly if it’s freshly harvested. The herb is a circulatory and nervine stimulant, and has a calming effect on the digestive system. Here are a few ideas for your Rx/medicinal preparations with rosemary: To calm nerves or stimulate the appetite, create an infusion by pouring a cup of boiling water over a couple teaspoons of the dried herb and leaving in a covered container for about fifteen minutes. Drink up to three times per day, but don’t take for more than a couple days consecutively. As a way to help digestion, use fresh rosemary in a mix used to marinate meat, combining the herb with ingredients like shallots, garlic, and parsley. For dandruff or dry scalp, create a few cups of a rosemary infusion from fresh leaves and rinse hair after shampooing. Rosemary is a great complement to many culinary dishes. Photo credit: Elizabeth Millard / Backyard Pharmacy Plant – Grow – Harvest – Use Rosemary is a favorite in herb gardens and is especially good in container gardens because of its distinctive, woody look. The needlelike leaves can sometimes reach up to 3 feet in height, and even taller if not harvested. In my particular hardiness zone, the cooler temps cause our rosemary to seem stunted in comparison to warmer zones, where rosemary gets so robust that it sometimes makes good hedges. The plants are also tolerant of salt, unlike many other herbs, so it grows well in coastal areas. Rosemary also makes a nice choice for indoor growing, and can be included in a pot with other herbs like sage or basil. Rosemary Varieties Rosemary’s distinctive aroma and taste have made it a favorite for chefs and herbalists alike. Harvesting is as easy as grasping the bottom of the stem and zipping off the pine needle-type leaves. When choosing a plant, many nurseries and seed purveyors often don’t designate a specific variety, and instead just sell “rosemary,” or “common rosemary,” but there are some other varieties worth noting, which all boast a nice amount of medicinal clout: Lockwood de Forest: With lavender blue flowers, this variety makes an attractive border in ornamentals, and makes a good choice for container gardening. Prostrate Rosemary: Awkwardly named, but it’s strangely fitting, since this variety has more tender stems that allow the plant to fall becomingly over the edges of pots and raised beds. A nice choice for draping over a stone wall. Spice Island: Does very well in warmer climates, and is a perennial in Zones 7 to 9. Stands upright and has very strong flavor, making it a great culinary choice. Gorizia: Named for a town in Italy where it originated, this variety is particularly mildew resistant, with unusually flat, large leaves. Growing Checklist Sun: Six to eight hours per day Shade: Prefers full sun Soil: Well-drained, loosened soil Fertilizer: Usually not necessary Pests: Tend to be minimal Water: Regularly, depending on soil dryness Grow Indoors? Yes Rosemary in the Medicine Cabinet Rosemary boasts an impressive number of medicinal actions and is considered a carminative, anti-spasmodic, anti-depressive, and antiseptic. Research into other actions is showing promising results for conditions that range from cancer prevention to diabetes control. Controls blood sugar levels: Researchers from the University of Illinois noted that oregano and rosemary contain diabetes-fighting compounds, and show promise in treating type 2 diabetes. Researchers tested four different herbs for the study, and noted that greenhouse-grown herbs contain more polyphenols and flavonoids, two beneficial compounds, when compared to equivalent commercial herbs.1 Antioxidant and anti-tumor properties: Rosemary leaves have potent antioxidant activity, researchers noted, and the herb also inhibits skin, colon, and mammary carcinogensis, which mean that it shows promise as a treatment for preventing tumors from forming.2 http://zeenews.india.com/news/health/health-news/rosemary-oregano-can-fight-type-2-diabetes-study_28905.html Chi-Tang, H., et al. “Antioxidative and Antitumorigenic Properties of Rosemary,” Functional Foods for Disease Prevention 1998; Chapter 15, pp. 153-161. http://pubs.acs.org/doi/pdf/10.1021/bk-1998-0702.ch015 Rosemary-infused olive oil. Photo credit: Elizabeth Millard / Backyard Pharmacy Planting Rosemary When considering where to plant rosemary, find a spot with full sun and well-drained, loosened soil, preferably close to your backyard entrance so you can harvest frequently. For inside or outside growing, consider starting the seeds in a shallow container (about 2 inches or so) first, which will keep the roots warmer, aiding germination. As the plant grows larger, transfer to a larger container (at least 6 inches deep) so the roots can establish more firmly. Whether the herb will be indoors or in a garden, put a small amount of slow-release fertilizer into the soil at the start of the season. Sometimes, rosemary and other herbs can struggle if the pH of the soil is off, so in that case, test your soil to make sure it’s alkaline enough for the rosemary; it should be between 6 and 7. If it’s lower, boost the pH with a little lime sprinkled around the base of the plant. Once you’ve planted the rosemary, mulch around the roots to insulate in winter and keep the soil uniformly moist in the summer. Growing Rosemary Like many herbs, rosemary does well with frequent harvesting, a practice that encourages more growth, particularly during the height of the growing season. As cooler weather begins, or if you’d just like a break from harvesting, let the plant flower so that it can keep going strong for the next year, but be sure to trim the plant back after flowering so that it doesn’t get woody with overly thick stems. Before the winter, bring the plant inside to continue growth, or prevent freeze damage by covering those plants in the garden. In terms of maintenance, rosemary is an easygoing addition to the herb mix, and doesn’t require much care beyond occasional watering. If the plant seems to be struggling, try cultivating around the base so that the soil loosens for better drainage. Rosemary can seem to have sluggish growth when you first plant it, but the herb grows much more robust in the second season onward. Harvesting and Storing Rosemary Because rosemary has those needle-like leaves, you can harvest any time of day, and from early summer to the end of the growing season. Harvest frequently, since this encourages more growth. In the summer, I prefer to use fresh rosemary for remedies and medicinal preparations since the flavor and aroma are stronger. When cooking, for example, the scent of rosemary is almost intoxicating. In fact, it can be part of a drink that’s literally intoxicating: a vodka rosemary lemonade fizz, which combines lemon juice, sugar, rosemary sprigs, vodka, and club soda. Hello, summer. Gin with rosemary, lemon, and honey: now, that’s medicinal. Photo credit: Backyard Pharmacy Rosemary also dries very well, especially when bundled and hung up to dry. You can store the bundles this way in a cool, dust-free area, or strip them of their leaves and store those. Either way, you can use the leaves for cooking, teas, and other uses. Create a nice culinary and medicinal mix of uses through cooking. Simply chop up the dried or fresh leaves and add to dishes, use the stem as a shish kabob for meats and vegetables, or make flavored olive oil by throwing three or four sprigs into a bottle. Another favorite option here at the farm is to finely chop the fresh leaves and mix into softened butter, then to use that on salmon, bread, or sandwiches. Not only are these uses tasty, but they make the most of rosemary’s calming effect on the digestion. ————————————————- Backyard Pharmacy Buy from an Online Retailer In North America: In The UK: About Backyard Pharmacy: A healthier life is right at your fingertips – or at least only a few steps from your door! Backyard Pharmacy helps you choose the best “backyard” medicinal plants. All of the plants can be grown easily by the home gardener throughout North America – and used for their healing and natural-remedy properties! Author Elizabeth Millard shares her deep knowledge of what to add to your garden to grow your own medicine cabinet to enhance your health. Each featured plant profile includes: – a detailed full-color photograph of the plant and key preparation steps – a description and a brief history of the plants (including recommended varieties) – how to plant, grow, and harvest – the parts of the plant to be used – the health and nutritional properties of the plant – current scientific research on the plant – any special harvesting, storing, or preparation instructions – how to use the plant as a remedy any cautions to note Richly illustrated with 200 photographs, Backyard Pharmacy not only includes photography of the plants, but also images demonstrating key elements to the step-by-step preparation, harvest, and storage methods to get the best results from your gardening efforts. Take control of your health. Learn about the benefits of herbs and “backyard friends” and natural health remedies for yourself and your family, and even grow them right in your own backyard. About the Author: Elizabeth Millard is the author of Indoor Kitchen Gardening, which focuses on practical tips for growing herbs, vegetables, and fruits in indoor settings. She and her partner, Karla Pankow, also own Bossy Acres, a 100-member community supported agriculture farm in Minnesota that provides seasonal produce to members and area restaurants in an effort to build a strong and sustainable local food system. Millard often leads workshops on vegetable and herb gardening as well as herb preparation, fermentation, and cooking with seasonal ingredients. As editor of local sustainable food site Simple Good and Tasty, she encourages readers to connect with the state’s abundance of organic growers, ranchers, food artisans, nonprofit agencies, and each other, forging a stronger food landscape. In addition to farming, teaching, and editing, she has contributed articles to Hobby Farm Home, Experience Life, and Urban Farm magazines, along with many other publications. She and Karla live in south Minneapolis with their two impossibly spoiled dogs, Idgy and Ruthie Mae. Share article facebook twitter google pinterest If you have any comments on this article please contact us or get in touch via social media.