My garden is gasping. This summer's scorching campaign has taken its toll. Even the herbs, stalwart in the hottest of times, are lying low--hibernating until the heat breaks and fall finally arrives.
But wait--what's that next to the oregano? It looks downright perky. Why, it's. . .it's growing. Thriving, even.
What is this, the Herb That Ate Cincinnati?
Herb Nine From Outer Space?
It's good old rosemary, toughing it out until the bitter end. Or fall, whichever comes first. The name rosemary comes from the Latin ros meaning dew, and marinus, which you probably guessed has to do with the sea. It's indigenous to the dry hills rising around the Mediterranean where from a distance the silver-leaved plants look like dew on the mountainsides.
It claims a history and lore as old as any herb. Long a symbol of remembrance and fidelity, for centuries brides carried rosemary to ensure the loyalty of the groom, while scholars in ancient Greece wore garlands of it to help them remember their lessons. Others, less scholarly but more desperate, rubbed it on their heads to combat baldness. It didn't work, but it is reported to be effective against dandruff.
During the Middle Ages, superstitious folk used rosemary to ward off plagues and evil spirits and in World War II, when modern antiseptics were in short supply, hospitals in France turned back to the old methods and burned rosemary with juniper berries to kill germs.
Antiseptics aside, it's in the kitchen that rosemary really shines. Slightly piney, with a tiny taste of mint and ginger thrown in, it's an unforgettable flavor that can seem pungent or sweet, depending on how it's used.
Growing and Using Rosemary
Renowned herbalist Bertha Repert offers expert advice on growing rosemary indoors and out. She also provides simple instructions and recipes for using rosemary in cooking, craft projects, herbal remedies, beauty products, decorative accents, and holiday and wedding ornaments.
It's most popular in America used with meat, but in England it's often used in jellies and jams--and it is surprisingly good with fruit. Try it for yourself: toss some chopped fresh leaves with your next fruit salad, or simmer fruit juice with rosemary, strain, cool and pour over sliced fruit for a new twist.
Include rosemary's robust flavor in marinades and salad dressings, or lay a few sprigs on right on pork or lamb chops before grilling or baking.
I like to stuff some into the cavity or under the skin of game hens or chicken, and I used it, along with onions and garlic, in the last turkey I baked. The pan drippings gave gravies and soups a deliciously rich background of flavor.
One of our family's favorite ways to enjoy rosemary is with these roasted potatoes. They're simple to create--just be sure to make plenty, because they'll be a hit.
Rosemary Roasted Potatoes
2 large sprigs rosemary (about 1/4 cup of stripped leaves)
2 pounds unpeeled potatoes cut into 1 1/2" chunks
3 cloves garlic, smashed and halved
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon of salt.
Toss the potatoes with the rosemary, olive oil, garlic, and salt, then put them in a single layer in a shallow baking dish and roast uncovered for 30-45 minutes at 400 degrees, until they are browned lightly on the outside and tender inside. Serve immediately. These potatoes are terrific with chicken, pork or even hamburgers.
You can substitute carrots for the potatoes and omit the garlic for a sensational alternative--the sweetness of the carrots makes it a completely different dish.
For a hint of smoky rosemary, toss some on the coals in the last five minutes of grilling your favorite meat. You can use fresh or dried for this, but if you use dried be sure to soak the leaves in water for fifteen minutes first so the rosemary will actually smoke. Otherwise, it will erupt into a tiny fireball.
Try weaving some into a kabob-lamb, beef or otherwise-for a delightful-looking and tasting treat.
You can also add it to bread and pizza dough or your next batch of biscuits for irresistible bread.
If you live in southern zones, grow your own rosemary and you can snip from it year-round--just give it plenty of sun and well-drained soil and you'll be rewarded, and perhaps inspired. If rosemary is allowed to sit with wet feet, it may not survive the winter. Potted, it will winter indoors if given plenty of light and little water. The Arp variety tolerates cold better than any other, and is widely available. Container and garden grown rosemary takes well to training into topiaries. Trailing varieties are best for container-grown versions, shrub varieties will trim up nicely in the garden.
Rosemary grows best in the drier climates that mimic it's native Mediterranean, but with a little coaxing, it can be grown in damper ones. Start by adding plenty of sharp sand to your rosemary bed. I have some planted in a sand-amended, slightly sloped bed that are nearly eight years old--unusual in my high-humidity, high-rainfall climate. I attribute that to the variety, Arp, to the slope and extra sand I added to the bed before I planted them.
In damp climates, rosemary may need to be replaced around every three years. It does root from cuttings, so you can easily replenish your supply.
For most families, one established plant is more than enough, although with all of rosemary's good qualities, you may decide it deserves a more plentiful appearance in your garden.
So now you're ready to dive into the rosemary experience. Where do you start?
The fresh is definitely more robust--this is what you'll want to lay on roasting meat. Dried rosemary is suitable for soups, stews--anywhere moist cooking can bring out the flavor.
To preserve fresh rosemary, freeze whole sprigs in freezer bags--this preserves more of the flavor than drying. When you need some, just strip off the amount of leaves you need. Personally, rosemary gives me hope for the future. If it can persevere until the cool rains of fall, so can I.