Make the most of culinary herbs and spices.

All About Rosemary

by Sandra Bowens

Photo courtesy of  H. Zell and Wikimedia Commons.

Rosemary has just about as many stories, myths and superstitions surrounding it as it does current practical uses.


Today and throughout history a common association with rosemary is remembrance. We still use it to signify a special love or friendship and some countries continue to place a sprig of rosemary in the hands of the deceased before burial. Early Greek students took the meaning more literally by wearing wreaths of rosemary around their heads to stimulate their memories during exams.


Rosemary was once thought to ward off evil spirits. During the Middle Ages people slept with rosemary branches under their pillows to keep them safe from demons and nightmares. Demons can take many forms such as unpleasant odors, witchcraft and the Plague--rosemary has been burned or ingested or carried to prevent them all.


Just how rosemary received the name has differing stories behind it. One story tells us that as the Virgin Mary was fleeing to Egypt with baby Jesus she tossed her blue cloak onto a bush. The next day, flowers that had been white were blue and the herb became known as "rose of Mary." Other sources site Pliny who wanted to describe it as an herb that grew in coastal regions, or more specifically by the foam (ros) of the sea (mare).


Botanically, rosemary is known as Rosmarinus officinalis. It does often grow wild on the windswept Mediterranean coast but it is cultivated in many regions. Major producers for export are Yugoslavia, France, Spain and Portugal.


A spiky evergreen bush, rosemary is a member of the mint family. Growing to an average of five feet tall, each branch is covered with needles like a pine bough. It has a flavor and aroma akin to pine. The pungent taste lends itself easily to meats, potatoes and breads. It is a common ingredient in marinades and soups. Rosemary combines well with other herbs but does have a tendency to dominate. Full sprigs make a lovely garnish.


To use sprigs of fresh rosemary in cooking, strip the leaves from the main branch by holding the tip and pulling down on the leaves in the opposite direction they are growing. Chop the leaves before adding to a recipe. Toss the stem into your barbeque coals for extra aroma and a bit of flavor.


Dried rosemary is available in whole leaf or ground form at most grocery stores and supermarkets. Use your fingers or a knife to break up the dried leaves before adding to a recipe. Ground rosemary will lose potency quickly, as with all ground seasoning, but is nice if you don't want the bits of tough herb in the final product. To dry your own, simply hang a bundle of freshly-clipped four-inch sprigs upside down until thoroughly dried.


Rosemary may smell familiar to you because the oils are widely used in toiletries. In fact, rosemary was one of the first essential oils to be distilled. Raymudus Lullus developed a method for vaporization and condensation in 1330.


This scruffy bush has a reputation as being difficult to grow in the home garden. Don't try to grow it from seeds. If you were to be successful at all, it would take three years before you had a viable plant. It's best to take cuttings from an existing plant or buy one from a reputable source. Plant it in well-drained soil where it will get full sun. Most varieties will not tolerate winter temperatures below 10 degrees (F.).


Should you decide to grow a bit of rosemary, consider these sayings: Rosemary only grows in the gardens of the righteous. If rosemary grows vigorously in a family's garden, it means a woman heads the household. Rosemary will grow no higher than six feet in 33 years so that it doesn't stand taller than Christ. And finally, a quote from Saint Thomas Moore: "I lett it runne all over my garden wall, not onlie because my bees love it, but because 'tis an herb sacred to remembrance, and therefor to friendship."



Rosemary-Orange Mustard

This grainy mustard is spicy hot but great for cooking or dipping pretzels. The flavor improves after a few days so plan accordingly.


1/4 cup yellow mustard seeds

1/4 cup brown mustard seeds

1 1/2 Tablespoons dry mustard

1/4 cup water

1/4 cup cider vinegar

1/4 cup white wine

Minced zest of one orange (about 1 heaping Tablespoon)

Juice of same orange

1/4 cup minced fresh rosemary leaves

Few dashes of salt, to taste


In a blender, grind the mustard seeds to the texture of cornmeal. Transfer to a small bowl and stir in remaining ingredients. Allow to sit at room temperature for a couple of hours. Stir again and taste for salt, adding more if desired.


Store, covered, in the refrigerator for up to a month.


Makes 1 cup mustard



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