Posted on May 07, 2014
Rosmarinus officinalis is officially the most useful, most fragrant, and most delicious herb on the planet. Period. End of story. The End.
…Okay, alright, so there are some other pretty good herbs out there, and you might even think they are the best herbs ever. Thyme has a lemony fresh scent and takes your homemade soups and stews where they need to go, and tarragon definitely gained some respect with us being one of the few container plants we have that survived this winter (and that has since doubled in size). But, you’ll have a tough time convincing us or a great many other rosemary lovers that it isn’t the best. It is.
Why is rosemary the best herb? Easy. Just walk by it. That clean, crisp, piney scent is the perfect thing to wake you up and get you feeling energized, which is probably why many use rosemary essential oils, supplements, and bath and beauty products to improve alertness, memory, and fatigue.
Rosemary has had a long history of being used medicinally to improve both the vitality of the mind and body. In the 1200s, the Queen of Hungary developed a distillation of wine and fresh rosemary tips to be applied topically to stimulate the limbs, effectively creating what is believed to be the first alcohol-based perfume. Similar concoctions of rosemary steeped in wine, water, or oil have been used as a curative for a variety of ailments effecting the head, specifically headaches, colds, depression, and nervousness. Most notable, however, is its wide use and association with memory. For hundreds of years, rosemary has been thought to halt memory loss and improve brain retention and recall. Ancient Greek students would wear rosemary sprigs in garlands or in their hair on test day in the hopes of performing better on exams. As a result, throughout the years, rosemary has become symbolically linked with remembrance, fidelity, and loyalty, being used for adornment and decoration at weddings, funerals, and commemorative celebrations. It is thought that Napoleon Bonaparte wore his favorite rosemary perfume, in part, to please Josephine, and Anne of Cleves triggered the tradition of brides putting rosemary in their hair by wearing a rosemary wreath on her head during her wedding to Henry VIII (before you chuckle, it’s worth noting that though the marriage dissolved after a few months, she did walk away with a bunch of money, some serious real estate, an honorary title, and her head still attached—the rosemary wasn’t a total failure considering).
Though the powerful and stimulating aroma of the rosemary plant has made it an important tool in the arsenal of herbal medicine, what’s more important is that it makes food extra delicious. Roast chicken, London broil, pork tenderloin—rosemary packs a flavorful punch in any roast or meat dish. But, it doesn’t stop at meat. Homemade rosemary bread? Delicious. Rosemary mashed potatoes? The best. Rosemary-infused honey? We don’t even need to say anything.
Rosemary is an evergreen that originally hails from the Mediterranean, making it an enduring and beloved herb in traditional Italian cuisine. The ancient Romans, along with using it medicinally, were also jazzing up their meals with rosemary in the BCs. Rosemary is used in just about everything in Italian cooking—aside from being native to the area and an amazing seasoning in general, rosemary’s aroma and flavor won’t weaken with cooking, making it well-suited to Italian sauces, soups, and stews that need to be simmered for long periods of time. It’s also awesome for infusing olive oil for the same reason, but if you don’t want a potent infusion, you’ll need to remove the rosemary sprigs from your olive oil after several days. Those into grilling and barbecuing will lay a sprig or two on the coals underneath meats and vegetables, allowing the fragrant smoke produced by the burning rosemary to permeate and flavor the food. For a refreshing and invigorating morning beverage? How about some rosemary tea? Just steep for a few minutes in hot water, and consider adding lavender, mint, or thyme for even more flavor.
So, rosemary: fragrant and delicious. But, that’s not all! Rosemary is actually a useful thing to have around when it comes to keeping yourself and your home clean. Rosemary oil is said to have antibacterial and antifungal properties, so it is a good idea to add several drops of rosemary essential oil to homemade kitchen and tile cleaners. As most homemade household cleaners are vinegar-based, the rosemary essential oil will also help to mask the strong pickle jar odor that many lament. These same disinfectant properties are why many choose to make homemade soaps and face washes, and particularly, shampoos, conditioners, and hair tonics with rosemary and rosemary essential oil. Actually, rosemary has been used in hair products for quite some time due to its supposed ability to prevent and reverse hair loss. It is believed that rosemary is able to stimulate the blood vessels and cells in hair follicles, causing hair regrowth and all around healthier, softer, and more manageable hair.
Now that we’ve clearly demonstrated that rosemary is the best of all herbs, we’re sure you’ll want to grow it if you aren’t already. Rosemary is a plant that can be grown almost anywhere, and in warmer climates, can be grown into a pretty impressive shrub or hedge for the yard that will offer privacy and loads of pleasant fragrance. If you live in a warmer climate with very mild winters, feel free to plant your rosemary directly in the ground—it will thrive even in your toughest heat and drought. For those in cooler climates, rosemary can easily be grown in a container as long as it has excellent drainage and a lot of sun. Work a decent amount of sand into your potting mix to drain off excess moisture, and be careful not to overwater. Whether you are growing in the ground or in a pot, be sure that the pH of the soil doesn’t become too acidic—rosemary likes soil that’s around 6.0—and do not try to plant it in the shade. You’ll need to prune it every year as it becomes established to keep it aerated and to control the branches from becoming wild. Rosemary will take a pretty rough prune, so don’t be scared to take your overgrown plant down a peg or two in the winter.
Rosmarinus officinalis, Lamiaceae, Rosemary, habitus. Lassithi, Crete, Greece. H. Zell. CC BY-SA 3.0