Rosemary’s classic flavor makes it an ideal candidate for culinary herb gardens. Rosemary is beautiful and planted near the kitchen, or in a pot on a windowsill, will provide a fresh source of edible leaves at your fingertips. The leaves are a popular addition for vegetables, stuffing and roast meats. Depending on the variety, rosemary may grow upright and sprawling, or prostrate, almost hugging the ground. The plant’s leaves may be broad, thin, or short and stubby. Flowers are usually blue, but some varieties flower in pink or white. The fragrances can range from rich pine to nearly unnoticeable.
1. Popular varieties of Rosemary
Rosemary is a tender, perennial herb with more than 45 varieties. Plants fall into two categories; upright and prostrate or creeping. Rosemary grows well in climate zones 7 through 10, with only the variety Arp surviving the cooler temperatures of zone 7. Rosemary prefers full sun and well-drained soil. It’s drought-tolerant, but should not be allowed to fully dry out or remain saturated with water.
Tuscan Blue (Rosmarinus officinalis) is a tall and erect variety of rosemary that is a perennial. It blooms with lavender-blue, tubular-like flowers during winter and springtime. The flowers are larger than other rosemary varieties. Use Tuscan Blue for a background plant in herb and flower gardens, in containers, as an accent plant, or in small hedges. Tuscan Blue grows from 4 to 6 feet in height with a spread of 4 to 5 feet. This evergreen herb is hardy to 20 degrees F. In cooler zones it should be grown in a container for winter protections. The high salt tolerance of Tuscan Blue makes it ideal for coastal plantings.
Arp (Rosemarinus officinalis) is the hardiest of all rosemary varieties. It tolerates temperatures to minus 10 degrees F. when protected in winter with a covering of mulch or burlap wrapping. Arp is another tall variety of rosemary with upright growth. Leaves are gray-green and have a lemon scent. Blue flowers bloom winter through springtime. It is suitable for herb gardens, containers and as a background plant in flower gardens, growing 3 to 5 feet tall and spreading 2 to 3 feet. As with most rosemary, Arp has a high tolerance for salt.
Creeping rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) is larger in its spreading growth than its height. Creeping rosemary has a variety of choices. It is a tender, evergreen, perennial herb with smallish, needle-like foliage. Plants bloom in colors of lavender winter throughout springtime. The plant is good choice for rock gardens, borders, hanging baskets, slopes or planted inside containers. Creeping rosemary spreads up to 3 feet and stands 6 to 12 inches tall. It prefers growing in full sun in well-drained soil mediums. It tolerates even the poorest soil conditions. It also has a high salt tolerance.
2. History and folklore
The herb has been used since the time of the early Greeks and Romans. According to legend, it was draped around the Greek goddess Aphrodite when she rose from the sea. Greek scholars often wore a garland of the rosemary on their heads to help their memory. The Virgin Mary is said to have spread her blue cloak over a white-blossomed rosemary bush during her flight to Egypt, and the flowers turned blue. The shrub then became known as the Rose of Mary. In the middle ages, brides would wear a rosemary headpiece; grooms and wedding guests would all wear a sprig of rosemary. From this rosemary evolved into a love charm. If a young person would tap another with a rosemary sprig that contained an open flower, it was thought the couple would fall in love. Folklore also suggests placing a sprig of rosemary under a pillow before sleep would prevent nightmares, and if placed outside the home it would repel witches.
3. Culinary use
This strongly flavored herb should be used sparingly for cooking. Poultry, fish, lamb and beef are all enhanced by its flavor. Rosemary compliments tomatoes, cheese, eggs, potatoes, squash, soups and salad dressings. Well-developed woody stems can be used as skewers for shish kebobs. Rosemary is high in iron, calcium and vitamin B6.
4. Rosemary origin
Rosemary is native to the dry, rocky areas of the Mediterranean, especially along the coast. The Latin name: Rosmarinus derives from the words ros and marinus, which together translate to “dew of the sea”.
Quick Rosemary Facts
Family: Lamiaceae (Labiatae)
Latin Name: Rosmarinus officinalis
Growth: evergreen perennial
Hardiness: zone 7-10
Light: full sun
Soil: well-drained, sand or gravel mix
Water: slightly moist, not too wet
Pests: thrips, spider mites, white fly
Diseases: root rot
Propagation: cuttings, layering, or seeds
Use: culinary, landscaping, crafts