Rosemary, that's for remembrance, is the herb we most often associate with lamb but its strong, aromatic nature adds finesse to dishes as diverse as tagine to biscotti, pizza to brownies. The fine needles are a beautiful grey-green colour while the young growth at the tip can feel quite sticky to the touch. In early spring to early summer aquamarine pale blue flowers nestle amongst the needles adding to its heady scent. The flowers may well emerge again in autumn before disappearing over winter. As an evergreen, the plant always looks vibrant all year round and it means you can harvest fresh leaves every month if you are not greedy about it. But If you suddenly have a need for masses at a time, then have that need in the summer when it can recover strongly and well before the chance of frosts. Another evergreen herb to consider with rosemary that is also invaluable and is said to benefit from being grown close to rosemary is sage.
Rosemary has many guises
Rosemary has a vigorous upright habit creating a strong vertical against other more prostrate herbs like the thymes or oreganos. It does need a sunny spot to really flourish and although it will survive a frost or two, if you live right up North you would be as well to situate it next to a south or south west facing wall. When flowering it is a stunning spectacle and definitely evokes the look and smell of the Mediterranean so it can be upgraded from mere herb to inhabitant of herbaceous border next to salvias, or bright cosmos. Rosemary works well in pots, especially in colder areas because you can then take them in to somewhere frost free during winter. The compost you use should be very free draining and never over water them: its natural habitat is pretty arid so that is how to make it feel at home. Only feed it after it has flowered and surround it with bedding plants like trailing lobelia or petunias. In the potager or vegetable garden it makes a fine companion plant to deter carrot fly. Rosemary dries well, unlike most herbs, thereby almost concentrating its flavour. You can use the twigs as skewers when barbecuing kebabs or just lay some on a fire to scent a room. Roses look wonderful with rosemary as the restrained and elegant greenery in a posy. Don't forget to use some to flavour oils and vinegars for easy presents. You could also consider using rosemary as a hedging plant to carve up the space in a potager or herb garden. In this case you do need to have properly drained soil with a slight alkaline tendency. Trim the hedge after it has flowered in spring to keep it bushy and neat.
- Height: 1 m
- Spread: 1 m
- Foliage: evergreen, grey-green needles
- Flowers: pale blue in early spring to early summer and again in autumn
- Uses: culinary and herb garden, savoury and sweet
- Spacing: 90 cm
- Scent/Taste: aromatic, Mediterranean
- Habit: upright, bushy
- Life: hardy perennial
Spanish legend maintains that the pure blue of rosemary stems from the Virgin Mary spreading her blue cloak over a white flowered rosemary bush to hide from soldiers as they fled into Egypt. Once the soldiers had gone, Mary retrieved her cloak only to discover that the flowers had transformed themselves to blue in respect for her purity. In similar vein, it is alleged that rosemary will only live for 33 years, or for as long as Christ was alive. In fact they are best replaced every 5-8 years. And seemingly, not only is Rosemary for remembrance as Ophelia makes plain, but it is also a sign of fidelity in Elizabethan times such that every bridal couple were bound to wear or carry a sprig at their nuptials. As versatile in the pharmacy as in the kitchen, rosemary infusions act as a great tonic for dark hair, a mouthwash for halitosis or an antiseptic gargle for throat infections.