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Pantry Staples

Rosemary: In the Garden, Kitchen and in Herbal Medicine

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Into the other night’s lamb stew went three sprigs of rosemary. The herb gave the meat a wonderful aroma and flavor, and I was savoring both long after the meal was over.

A sprig of rosemary in lamb stew

That was when I realized that I have never written about rosemary before except for a brief mention years ago about trying to grow it in the garden.

Characteristics of rosemary

Rosemary is an herb. In appearance, the leaves look like pine needles. The aroma is piney; the flavor is complex. The leaves may be stripped off the stems before being added to food or the whole sprigs can simply be dropped into the pot.

Unlike some herbs which lose their flavor and aroma with prolonged cooking, rosemary can be added to stews during the early stages of cooking because it continues to impart both flavor and aroma all throughout the cooking. In fact, the longer the cooking time, the stronger the flavor and aroma imparted by rosemary to the dish especially when the herb sits in liquid.

Growing rosemary in the garden

Rosemary can be used in cooking in fresh or dried form. But because I am partial to garden-fresh herbs, long ago, in the tiny garden at the back of our old house, I tried to grow rosemary. It died. I tried again. It died again. After we moved to our current house, I tried a third time but I was still unsuccessful. I haven’t tried since but I am about to now that I have discovered what mistake I made in the past.

Rosemary with flowers

Rosemary is native to the Mediterranean region. It likes the sun. It does not particularly like too much rain. In fact, rosemary can survive severe droughts.

When I tried growing rosemary in the past, I watered it (along with the other herbs in the garden) twice a day. Thrice even during summer. Bad mistake. If I had watered it much less and just left it to bathe in the sunshine, it might have grown as tall and as bushy as the rosemary in the photo above. It’s a stock photo from Pixabay as are the two photos below.

If you’re wondering why anyone would grow so much rosemary, well, some people grow it as an ornamental. Just look at those flowers! Wouldn’t rosemary bushes littered with hundreds of pretty tiny lilac flowers look inviting in any garden? Imagine too if the breeze blows and the smell of the rosemary is carried into the house.

Using rosemary in cooking

As beautiful as rosemary may be as an ornamental, that is really not my concern. Any herb I’ve grown, I’ve grown for food. When I attempt to grow rosemary again, it will be for the same reason.

Sticking rosemary in meat

Rosemary and meat are traditional partners. Because of its intense flavor and aroma, I especially like adding rosemary to get rid of the gamey smell of lamb. It’s the complaint of so many people about lamb. Too gamey. Well, add enough rosemary to the lamb, let the meat cook low and slow, and by the time it’s done, the gamey smell is hardly discernible.

But it isn’t just with lamb that I like to use rosemary. In the correct amounts (so as not to overwhelm the meat), it is a wonderful addition to beef, pork and chicken dishes.

Not only is rosemary good with meat, you can use it to make herb-infused olive oil and herbed butter too.

Aside from cooking and growing rosemary as an ornamental, does the herb have other uses?

Superstitions and health benefits of rosemary

Legend has it that in ancient Greece, women wove rosemary into hair wreaths in the belief that it enhanced the brain and memory. This superstition has somehow found validation in modern times.

Rosemary and spider web

In 2016, a study found that people who took memory tests in a rosemary scented room scored 15% higher than those who took the same tests in an unscented room. The finding triggered the sales of rosemary oil by 187% in the U.K. as students used it to get an edge on their school exams.

Rosemary oil? Yes, a popular ingredient for making soap and perfume, the essential oil extracted from rosemary may not just be a memory booster. It is also claimed to be good for treating a range of conditions including anxiety, hair loss and indigestion, as well being an effective mosquito repellent.

So, you see, rosemary is a wonderful herb. That’s why I am going to try to grow it again.

Recipes with rosemary