I love growing rosemary, and incorporate the plants into my garden design. They offer aromatic leaves that can be used fresh or dried in many dishes. The plants are also said to offer many healing qualities. For this week’s Wellness Wednesday, let’s look at this wonderful garden herb.
Growing Rosemary: A Home Gardener’s Guide
I learned about growing rosemary in my garden back on Long Island. I included a fragrant rosemary plant in my little herb garden, carefully nurturing it through the harsh New York winters under a cold frame. When I moved to Virginia, I included rosemary in my herb garden again, and was shocked when it lived through its first winter without any protection at all.
Tips to Grow Rosemary
Rosemary is one tough plant. Rosemary (Rosmarinus officianalis) is a hardy, woody stemmed perennial that’s native to warm, dry climates. If you keep in mind that when you grow plants in your home garden you should try to give them the same conditions as they would naturally find in the wild, then you’ll understand why I recommend growing rosemary in:
- Full sun
- Sandy or sandy loam soil
- Warm weather areas (Zones 7 or higher) for perennials; in other zones, protect it in winter, bring it indoors, or treat it as an annual.
Rosemary is actually a shrub, and the woody stems can be quite tough, like lavender, if allowed to grow unchecked. Space your plants about two feet apart in areas where rosemary grows like a perennial or else you’ll get a hedge!
You can find the plants at garden centers nationwide in the spring. There are green leaf varieties, and some with gold or striped leaves. The green leaf types are used primarily for cooking and medicine.
Propagation is by rooting the cuttings. I’ve tried it with limited success. The plants are inexpensive enough so that you can easily add some to your garden each year if you wish.
Trim rosemary plants after flowering, and whenever you want some tender springs for cooking. I like to dry rosemary by placing the sprigs in a shallow metal pan out in the sun. When they dry, I simply run my fingers down the stems to dislodge the dried leaves. I then pour them into a glass container, label it, and store it in the pantry for use later.
Growing Rosemary Plants Indoors
If you’d like to save your rosemary plants over the winter and aren’t sure if they will live in your climate, you can make a small cloche, or hot house, out of a clean plastic milk container or soda bottle. Cut off the top, remove the label, and place it over the plant to keep it warm. I sometimes put a rock on top of the plastic bottle to hold it in place against winter winds. Sometimes this method works, sometimes it doesn’t…but it’s fun to try.
You can also dig up the plants from the garden, and plant them in containers filled with potting soil when you want to bring them indoors during the winter. Place them on a warm, sunny windowsill and water weekly.
Because rosemary can grow quite tall, don’t be afraid to trim it back when you bring it indoors. Trim it with a pair of kitchen shears. It will also encourage the plant to grow more bushy and less tall.
Growing Rosemary: Uses for Rosemary
Rosemary has been used since ancient times as an aromatic, culinary and medicinal herb. The dried leaves and twigs can be used in potpourri. Rosemary is symbolic of memory, and sprigs are traditionally included in both wedding and funeral bouquets to symbolize remembrance.
As a culinary herb, rosemary is often paired with fish, pork or lamb. I find that garden rosemary grown at home is stronger than the store-bought kind, so use it sparingly until you get the hang of using fresh rosemary in your dishes. It’s probably strong because the volatile oils, the oils that give rosemary its fresh pine-like scent, are unspoiled in live sprigs.
The ancients used rosemary as a medicinal herb, and the oil essences are popular among those who use topical essential oils for healing. Rosemary preparations have been used for centuries as a hair tonic, and are said to stimulate the hair follicles. If you enjoy the smell of rosemary, hair care products that include rosemary may be fun to try.
My Plans to Grow Rosemary this Year
I used to grow rosemary solely in an herb garden bed, like a prized specimen. This year, I plan to buy several plants and use them to line my garden walkway. With lavender growing on the right among the roses and rosemary on the left, I hope to create a fragrant corner that will release its own natural perfume in the hot summer sun.
Jeanne Grunert is a certified Virginia Master Gardener and the author of several gardening books. Her garden articles, photographs, and interviews have been featured in The Herb Companion, Virginia Gardener, and Cultivate, the magazine of the National Farm Bureau. She is the founder of The Christian Herbalists group and a popular local lecturer on culinary herbs and herbs for health, raised bed gardening, and horticulture therapy.