Jane McLeod: Rosemary: the herb of remembrance

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There is probably no need to convince you of the merits of rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) as a must in every culinary herb collection. However, it is a very tender perennial that grows evergreen only in warm climates. For it to survive here, you will need to bring it in to a sunny windowsill for the winter. My solution is to leave it in a pot year-round, and when I am sure the nights are warm, I sink the pot into an outdoor spot for the summer and reclaim it to a sunny interior long before even a finger of frost can achieve total damage.

Rosemary rarely reaches heights of more than two or three feet, but in warm climates, under the best of conditions, it can grow as high as six feet. It is very slow growing and needs a sheltered spot, preferably sandy soil, excellent drainage, very little watering and hot sun. Rosemary also will be more pungent if there is lime in the soil, and this can be provided with crushed eggshells or potash. The leaves are short, narrow and tough, like pine needles, and set densely on the branches. Dried leaves retain their flavor well and are convenient to store. In the fall, shy little pale flowers grow in crowded clusters among the leaves and, depending on the variety, can be pink, blue or white.

Rosemary takes its name from Latin meaning “dew of the sea” because it always has grown wild on the Mediterranean coasts, and its gray-bloomed leaves made the hillsides look as though they were covered in dew. Rosemary for remembrance is an old saying: According to lore, the Greeks and Romans would twine it in their hair in the belief that it would quicken the mind and improve the memory. Very versatile in its coverage, rosemary decorated churches at funerals, was carried at weddings to represent the fidelity of lovers, exchanged as tokens between friends, used for topiary and as the garland on the traditional roasted boar’s head, put in baths to ease tired and aching limbs, laid among linens and clothes for its moth-repellant aroma, infused in perfumes, and the wood once was used to make lutes and other musical instruments.

Today much of the past is preserved by growing and utilizing herbs, and although many of their traditional uses have faded, rosemary continues to be valued in kitchens around the world.

Jane McLeod is a master gardener through the Routt County CSU Extension. Call 970-879-0825 with questions.

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