Herb of the Month – Rosemary

Being a hardy perennial with luck you will be able to harvest Rosemary all year round making it hard to pinpoint one month to which it is most relevant.  However in early September, if I have not done so before, I make a final trimming of the Rosemary bush to infuse it in oil.  Why preserve it if you can pick it all year?  Well, the oil is great for roasting potatoes, basting lamb, or drizzling over just cooked Focaccia and in all of these recipes the leaves are apt to burn if you add them directly.

Rosemary with lamb is a classic combination with good reason, but there are many more culinary uses for Rosemary that deserve to be better known.  It can be used in sweet as well as savoury dishes, being a particularly good partner to chocolate.  I also love it in bread or with sweeter vegetables like squash (this is where the oil comes in handy again).

Growing Rosemary

Being evergreen, Rosemary is just as popular in the garden as it is in the kitchen – possibly more so, as I can think of several bushes that are grown without any thought of eating them.  The most popularly grown variety is “Miss Jessop’s Upright” which has densely packed dark green needles with pale blue flowers.  There are many other varieties, some with pink or white flowers, some with a prostrate habit making them suitable for trailing over a wall.  It is usually quite easy to grow, although since moving to a more exposed area I have lost several young plants in harsh winters.  If you are in a similar position you might want to protect the plant with horticultural fleece in winter, or grow it against a wall to give some shelter. If you want to cut the plant back further than just a light trimming, the best time to do so is late spring, after it has flowered.  Never do so if there any danger of frosts.  You can take cuttings of softwood in the spring, or semi-hardwood later in the summer, to propagate new plants.  It is worth doing this every 5 years to ensure you always have an established healthy plant growing.  Like most herbs that originated in the Mediterranean, Rosemary needs a well-drained soil and a sunny position.  Planting it near Sage is said to be generally beneficial to the sage.

Medicinal and Other Uses

The essential oils of rosemary have anti-bacterial and antifungal properties.  It was burnt in sick chambers to freshen and purify the air, worn in neck pouches to sniff during the Plague and, in Victorian times, carried in the hollow handles of walking stick for the same reason.  How effective this was I’m not sure!  You will also find rosemary in herbal shampoos as it has a reputation as a hair tonic.  An infusion used for the final rinse after washing dark hair is said to improve the shine.

There are numerous other reputed medicinal properties including as a remedy for headaches if applied directly to the head, an insect repellent, a mouthwash for halitosis, reducing flatulence, and stimulation of the digestive tract.  The essential oil should never be taken internally, nor large doses of the leaves.  An infusion should contain no more than a teaspoon of leaves per cup.

Recipes

Rosemary Oil

Boned Leg of Lamb cooked over the fire

Rosemary Crème Anglais

Rosemary Focaccia

Spelt, Rosemary and Raisin Bread

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