An excerpt by Laura Peters from Herb Gardening for Canada
Native to the Mediterranean, rosemary has been used for cooking and in medicines for thousands of years. One legend tells of how rosemary wouldn’t grow taller than the height of Christ, or 5 to 6 ft. (1.5 to 1.8 m). It is one of the few herbs bound to be in just about everyone’s pantry and for good reason. Rosemary is a versatile and tasty herb, possessing many health benefits as well as cosmetic uses, and deserving of a place in your kitchen and beauty regimen.
Rosemary prefers full sun, but tolerates partial shade. The soil should be of poor to average fertility and well drained. Do not let the soil surrounding rosemary dry out completely. In zones bordering on risky, mulch heavily around the plant with dead leaves for winter protection, and water thoroughly. Rosemary can be grown from seed in early spring, but it’s much quicker and easier to begin with a starter plant.
Rosemary is best grown in a container as a specimen or within a mixed border or bed. Low-growing, spreading plants can be included in a rock garden or can be grown in hanging baskets. Upright forms can be trained as topiary specimens. The benefit to growing rosemary in a container is controlling its environment. Because it can be a little finicky, bring it into the house before fall frost for winter harvest. Rosemary will draw in honey bees for pollination and repel carrot flies outdoors and moths indoors.
After a few years, rosemary will become thin and lanky. Plan on propagating or starting over about every three years or so.
Rosmarinus officinalis is a dense, bushy evergreen shrub with narrow, dark-green leaves. The habit varies somewhat between cultivars from strongly upright to prostrate and spreading. Flowers are usually in shades of blue, but pink-flowered cultivars are available. Cultivars are available that can survive in zone 6 in a sheltered location with winter protection. Plants rarely reach their mature size when grown in containers.
Harvesting and Processing
The leaves and flowers from this woody plant can be harvested throughout the growing season. Strip the fresh leaves from the stems and use as they are, or dry whole stems in paper bags and store in an airtight container. Preserve fresh leaves by chopping and freezing them in an ice-cube tray with a little water, or by storing a few sprigs in foil in the freezer. The flavour and aroma of the foliage is best before the plant flowers. Individual stems or sprigs can be cut and dried throughout the summer months; harvest all of the stems before hard frost, and dry or freeze in bulk for year-round use. Collect and store the flowers as you would the leaves. If growing rosemary over the winter, use sparingly because it’s receiving less light and producing fewer leaves.
The needle-like leaves of rosemary are used to flavour poultry, pork, lamb, rice, tomato and egg dishes. Chop and sprinkle the leaves over salads and lay fresh, leafy stems on cuts of meat while cooking. Add fresh leaves to butters, sugars and oils, cool summer drinks, marinades for fish and poultry and sauces for vegetables. The newest growth should be used for cooking while older growth is ideal for potpourri, sachets and crafts.
Rosemary can also be used in handmade soaps, lotions, hair conditioners and shampoos. Medicinally, rosemary is said to have antiseptic and antibacterial properties. It is thought to be useful in the treatment of colds, flu, fatigue and headaches. Infused into massage oil, it is beneficial for rheumatic and muscular pain and great in the bath to alleviate aching joints and exhaustion.
Rosemary is hardy to zone 7; or zone 6 with winter protection.
In Herb Gardening for Canada, Laura Peters has selected 47 plants that can be grown in Canadian conditions, from anise and arugula through to rosemary and valerian. With this handy book, the chef in the family can be assured of a steady supply of fresh herbs throughout the growing season. One of a series of several titles from Lone Pine Publishing, Herb Gardening for Canada is packed with gardening tips, fun facts and full-colour photography.