Rosemary: the dew of the sea! Rosemary has long been a symbol of remembrance, loyalty and love. It’s been used through the ages as an uplifting herb, thought to support circulation and blood flow, especially to the brain to aid in concentration and memory. Native to the rocky coasts of the Mediterranean, it has naturalized in warm climates worldwide. A member of the mint family (Lamiaceae), in 2017 rosemary was moved in the tree of life from the Rosmarinus genus and renamed Salvia officinalis.
ROSEMARY IN HISTORY
Rosemary’s use dates back to the 5th century BCE with references to the herb on ancient Sumerian cuneiform tablets. It’s known to have been used by the ancient Egyptians and was used alongside thyme to embalm bodies. Interestingly, the French also used rosemary in embalming in the Middle Ages.
The ancient Greeks praised rosemary as an herb of rememberance. Scholars would wear garlands of rosemary as they prepared for examinations to help their memory. To this day, it is burned in the homes of Greek students who are studying for exams.
It has remained a token of remembrance throughout history. Shakespeare references rosemary in several plays, like Hamlet in which Ophelia states, “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance. Pray you, love, remember.” Even today it is grown in cemeteries around Europe and used symbolically during funerals and war commemorations.
In the Middle Ages, rosemary was one of several herbs thought to protect people from the Black Death. It’s said physicians would carry a sprig of rosemary in their canes as they visited patients. And rosemary is listed as an ingredient in Four Thieves Vinegar, a concoction of herbs, spices and garlic that was rubbed on the hands, ears and temples when approaching plague victims.
ROSEMARY IN THE GARDEN
In some respects, rosemary is incredibly hardy and in others, it’s quite tender. It thrives in warm, dry conditions and can tolerate a range of soil pH. It’s remarkably resilient in droughts, enduring long dry spells and can live to be 30 years old! But when it comes to temperature, rosemary is a sensitive being. It’s grown as an annual in colder climates, where it fails to overwinter.
An excellent garden companion, it does well neighboring brassicas, beans and carrots as it deters pests such as cabbage moths, bean beetles and carrot flies
On Smoot’s Flavor Farm, we grow rosemary as an annual, germinating seeds in mid-winter (December-January). We also propagate a few live plants that we cut in fall or bring inside for winter. It can be slow to get started, but once the summer heat rolls around, rosemary grows and grows and grows. It’s one of my favorite herbs to harvest–so fragrant and covered in essential oils, it leaves your fingers sticky!
ROSEMARY IN THE KITCHEN
With a complex, slightly bitter taste, rosemary imparts a strong flavor to foods. Rosemary possesses volatile oils, mainly eucalyptol and alpha pinene, that give it a piney, camphor-like flavor. But roasted or simmered, it adds a distinctive, warming and uplifting touch to home cooking.
You’ll find rosemary in many European cuisines and herb blends, like the French blends herbes de Provence or bouquet garni. It’s common to find focaccia with sea salt and rosemary. And it’s one of the best herbs to infuse in olive oil.
Rosemary is well-suited for poultry, lamb, beef and strongly flavored fish like tuna or swordfish. Pair it with vegetables like tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant and squash. It can even add complementary complexity to sweet foods like apples, pears, honey or beverages.
To add a little extra flavor to your kebabs, use its sturdy, woody stems as skewers for the grill!
HOW TO COOK WITH ROSEMARY
Rosemary has a very powerful flavor so a little goes a long way. As with other woody herbs, its flavors can withstand the heat of cooking. Adding rosemary at the beginning of cooking will help mellow its pungency and infuse its flavors into dishes.
You’ll want to strip the leaves from the stems. To do so, pinch the tip of a sprig in one hand and, with the other, push the leaves down the stem towards the base. Gather the leaves and chop finely.
Rosemary holds onto its essential oils well during dehydration, so it’s an easy herb to substitute dried for fresh. Just follow the kitchen rule of thumb:
1 teaspoon dried for 1 tablespoon fresh
BEST FLAVOR PAIRINGS
- Beans (especially dried, fava and white)
- Meats (especially lamb and pork)
- Olive oil
- Other Herbs: lavender, marjoram, oregano, parsley, sage, savory, thyme