Saturday, July 3, 2010

Rosemary - The Herb Of Remembrance

For the sake of some things
That be now no more
I will strew rushes
On my chamber-floor,
I will plant bergamot
At my kitchen-door.

For the sake of dim things
That were once so plain
I will set a barrel
Out to catch the rain,
I will hang an iron pot
On an iron crane.

Those nostalgic lines from Rosemary by Edna St. Vincent Millay may stir similar emotions, if not actual responses in you.  In the language of flowers, rosemary symbolizes remembrance.  Few would strew rushes on the floor in memory of "the good old days", though bergamot may be found by kitchen doors, and rain barrels are becoming more popular.  Iron pots, if you can still find them, are most often used as planters.

Rosemary is also growing in popularity.  Once found mostly in herb gardens, it is now common in ornamental gardens, as well.

Rosemary (Rosmarinus, pronounced rose-mah-REE-nus) is a small genus of perennials including only two species: R. eriocalyx and R. officinalisR. officinalis (pronounced oh-fiss-ih-NAH-liss) is the most popular.

Rosemary is native to the Mediterranean region from Spain to northwest Africa, often near the sea.  Rosmarinus, in fact, means "dew of the sea."  It's a member of the Lamiaceae family which includes mints, lavender, russian sage, and salvia.  Along with many other members of the family, rosemary contains essential oils and was discovered very early on to be beneficial to the body.  Officinalis means "official", referring to its inclusion in the materia medica - that body of knowledge now known as pharmacology.  

Historically, rosemary was used for medicine.  Hippocrates is quoted as instructing, "Let your food be your medicine, and your medicine be your food."  So rosemary was and continues to be used as a flavoring.  Its healthful effects are amazing.   Rosemary is rich in vitamin A, which has a positive effect on vision.  It improves kidney and liver function.  Rosemary is a rich source of iron and stimulates the circulatory system.  Antioxidants in rosemary help to prevent carcinogenic compounds from forming when meat is cooked at high temperatures.  Carnosic acid helps to fight off stroke and neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer's Disease.  It's no wonder that rosemary is known as the herb of remembrance.

If you are tempted to research rosemary to treat yourself, I highly recommend you ask your doctor first.  This is particularly true of women who are pregnant.

Rosemary has evergreen, needle-like leaves that are resinous and fragrant.  Small, light blue flowers are edible and produced throughout the growing season.  The species grows to 48" or more and at least as wide.  Newer cultivars may be more compact.  One cultivar grows prostrate.

Herb gardens, fragrance gardens, hummingbird gardens, bee gardens and butterfly gardens are not complete without rosemary.  It's also very effective in mixed perennial borders for color and textural contrast.  Rosemary responds well to pruning, so it makes a fine hedge.  If your growing space is limited, rosemary performs well in containers.  I've even seen it trained as bonsai.

Where ever you plant it, you'll find yourself stepping out to snip a few sprigs of rosemary for use in the kitchen.  Rosemary can be used in recipes fresh or dry, and is wonderful as an ingredient in aromatic cooking oils.

Rosemary is drought-tolerant, deer and rabbit resistant.  The essential oils may repel some vermin.  Those who live near the sea will appreciate its salt-tolerance.

Hardy in USDA climate zones 7 through 10, rosemary requires full sun and well-drained soils with pH ranging from 6.6 to 8.5.  Take a soil sample to your nearest Cooperative Extension Service office for proper analysis.

Prepare the planting bed by cultivating at least 6" deep, removing all traces of weeds. Compacted soil should be cultivated to 10" deep.  Compost may be incorporated into the soil.  Incorporate 10-10-10 fertilizer at a rate of no more 2 lbs. per 100 square feet into the top 4" to 6" of soil. Avoid synthetic fertilizers contacting any part of your plants.

Space the plants 24" to 36" apart. Dig planting holes into the cultivated soil a little less deep than the depth of the growing container.  Water the plants in the pots, then drain.  Place the plants into the holes and back-fill, watering as you go. Press soil around the root balls. Do not cover entirely the root balls with soil. The tops should be slightly exposed. Add a top-dressing of mulch around the plants, not on top of them, about 1" deep.

Plant rosemary with other plants having similar cultural requirements.  Fertilize sparingly and allow soil to dry between watering.  The greatest cause of failure is over-watering.  Rosemary is certainly a low-maintenance plant.

Rosemary improves health and pleases the senses.  It enhances the beauty of your garden, cheers the nose and delights the palate.  Do remember to include rosemary in your garden.

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