Rosmarinus officinalis, or Rosemary, is a woody, perennial herb with fragrant evergreen needle-like leaves. It is native to the Mediterranean region. It is a member of the mint family Lamiaceae, which also includes many other herbs. Rosemary is not cold tolerant in the Bluegrass Region, but if you grew your plant in a container, you can bring it indoors with a grow light and have this wonderful herb all winter.
The name Rosemary has nothing to do with the rose or the name Mary, but derives from the Latin name rosmarinus, which is from “dew” and “sea,” or “dew of the sea” — apparently because it is frequently found growing near the sea.
Most Rosemary forms range from upright to trailing, with the upright forms reaching 5 feet tall. The leaves are evergreen, less than 2 inches long, and broad with green above, and white below with dense short woolly hair. Flowering usually appears in winter or spring and is variable in color, being white, pink, purple, or blue.
Rosemary is attractive and tolerates some degree of drought, so it is very useful as a landscaping plant. It is considered easy to grow for beginner gardeners, and is pest-resistant. Rosemary grows on average garden soil with good drainage and likes a sunny location. It will not withstand water logging and some varieties may be susceptible to frost. It grows best in neutral – alkaline conditions pH (pH 7-7.8) with average fertility. Most Rosemary grown in the Bluegrass region is not frost tolerant, so it must be dug up and brought inside overwinter. For this reason, Rosemary is best grown in a pot.
Rosemary is easily pruned into shapes and has been used for topiary. It can be propagated from an existing plant by clipping a shoot 4–6 inches long, stripping a few leaves from the bottom, and planting it directly into soil.
Culinary Uses: The fresh and dried leaves are used frequently in traditional Mediterranean cuisine because of the bitter, astringent taste, which complements a wide variety of foods. When burned they give off a distinct mustard smell, which makes it excellent for laying over charcoals for a smoky flavor in barbequing. Rosemary is an excellent herb for roasting with chicken and pork. It is extremely high in iron, calcium, and Vitamin B6.
Medicinal Uses: Research has shown that carnosic acid found in Rosemary, may shield the brain from free radicals, lowering the risk of strokes and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Lou Gehrig’s.