It is no exaggeration to describe rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) as a ‘complete’ herb.
It imparts a delicious flavour and aroma to food. It is a healing herb for body and soul, a beauty herb for hair and a fragrant air freshener for the home. To top it all, it is a versatile garden plant that can be clipped into a neat hedge, shaped for topiary, grown in containers, or left to ramble abundantly in the garden.
Next to lavender, rosemary is found in most gardens and if you don’t have a bush then your garden is incomplete. For start up gardeners it is a virtually indestructible plant and best of all it has magical properties. If planted at the front door it keeps evil spirits away.
New rosemary varieties
- officinalis ‘Heinz’ is an upright growing rosemary, like ‘Tuscan Blue’ but with white flowers. Its growth remains compact so it is more suitable for smaller gardens with less space. Grow with other water wise plants, including succulents.
- officinalis ‘Irene’ has deep azure blue flowers and a cascading growth habit so it is most attractive when allowed to tumble over a wall, down a slope or from a container or hanging basket.
Rosmarinus officinalis ‘McConnell’s Blue‘ is the most widely grown rosemary. It bears small blue flowers in summer, and grows slowly but surely into a large bush. Prune and shape it regularly if you want a smaller, more compact shrub.
Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Tuscan Blue’ is also called braai rosemary because its long straight stems can be used as sosatie or kebab sticks, imparting a delicious flavour to the meat. It has distinctive blue flowers.
Rosmarinus officinalis var. prostratus is a drought resistant low growing shrub with needle like thin grew leaves and blue flowers. It can be used like other rosemary’s.
Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Pink ‘is an extremely hardy variety with pink flowers and grows into a small shrub.
Wild rosemary (Eriocephalus africanus) is a small multi-branched shrub with clusters of small silver hairy leaves which smell like Vicks when crushed and white or slightly purple flower heads. It has medicinal properties similar to that of R. officinalis as it has traditionally been used as a medicine for ailments like coughs and colds, flatulence and colic, as a diuretic and a diaphoretic. It is an excellent plant for a water wise garden.
All rosemary varieties do best in soil that drains well and full sun. The preference is for rather poor chalky or stony soil but rosemary is surprisingly tolerant of most soil types. If the soil is too heavy, rather grow rosemary in a large pot or window box. Rosemary is a good choice for coastal gardens; not minding the salty air and free draining sandy soil.
It is evergreen and in really cold areas should be grown in a position that is sheltered from frost. Trim the plant after it flowers in spring, not in autumn. Being a slow grower, don’t plant bushes too close together so that they have room to grow. That said, they can also be clipped into a neat hedge.
Rosemary is a good companion plant for beans, carrots, and cabbages, as its aromatic presence repels aphids and discourages snails, slugs, caterpillars and cutworms.
10 Reasons to plant more rosemary
1. Beat the Summer heat by making rosemary syrup and adding it to soda water as a thirst quencher. Freeze the blue flowers in ice blocks and drop them into the drinks as well.
2. Rosemary is a classic flavouring for roast chicken and lamb. The leaves are rather tough so remove the sprigs before serving or strip the leaves off the stem and chop them finely.
Tip: Infuse the leaves in w arm water and add the liquid as flavouring when cooking.
3. Use rosemary sprigs and flowers to flavour marinades, herbal vinegar, oils and dressings. If used sparingly rosemary is delicious when added to stewed apples, sorbet, cakes and biscuits.
4. Add dried rosemary leaves to pot pourri or use them to fill insect repellent sachets and put in cupboards,
5. For anyone writing exams or just wanting to improve concentration, drink rosemary tea. It stimulates the circulation of blood to the head improving memory and concentration.
6. Rosemary is also a tonic herb that helps relieve mild depression, aids recovery from long term stress or chronic illness, and generally raises the spirits. Make a rosemary tincture or just sniff of its aromatic leaves.
7. Rosemary water (a strong infusion) can be used as a hair tonic and rinse for dry hair and dandruff.
8. Rosemary is an excellent first aid herb. It’s a natural antiseptic that can be used in place of Dettol or Savlon to wash wounds, cuts and scratches. A rosemary tea (infusion) helps relieve colds, flue, headaches and fatigue.
9. Relieve aching joints and tiredness by adding a few drops of essential oil or making a strong infusion and add it to the bath water to. Essential oil is also used in massage for muscular pain.
10. For a fragrant braai, throw dried or fresh sprigs onto the braai, or the winter fire. In days gone by, rosemary was burnt like incense to mask bad smells.