Garden View: Rosemary, an herb that has many uses and meanings

Rosemary officinalis is a woody perennial plant, and is an ancient herb that is native to the Mediterranean. Rosemary can reach heights of six feet in Italy, Greece and Spain. The use of rosemary can be traced to Greeks and Romans, who use it to cook and preserve food, enhance memory and chase bugs away with its pungent odor. They also use it in ceremonies to symbolize remembrance and fidelity.

Students wore wreaths of rosemary while studying to enhance learning, and brides wore wreaths to symbolize their everlasting love and fidelity. Clothing was often placed over sunbaked shrubs of rosemary so that its fragrance was imparted onto the clothing, thus, benefiting the student or businessman. Today, we can shop for essential oils of rosemary to use in aromatherapy. Recent research, published in the International Journal of Neuroscience, demonstrates that the aroma of rosemary essential oil can improve cognitive performance.

Traditionally, rosemary has also been used during winter holidays to decorate homes. During the holidays, we can usually find this herb in the shape of a small Christmas tree.

Rosemary comes in upright, straight forms, trailing forms or a form that starts out as upright, then, after growing six or seven inches in the upright position, falls over to

a trailing habitat. This variety is perfect for a rock garden.

Flowers of rosemary range from deep bluepurple to light blue and white, as well as pale pink. Bees and other pollinators enjoy rosemary. Rosemary demands well drained soils and will rot in soils that are too moist. Fertilizer is not needed with rosemary.

Planting it in pots, using a soil mix meant for cactus and succulents, is ideal. It likes full sun, but will tolerate some shade in late afternoons. Rosemary is sometimes used along pathways where the scent is released when someone brushes it along the walkway. Prune and shape rosemary after it flowers.

For cooking, harvest the tender tips of stems. If kept dry in the refrigerator, rosemary stems will last about two weeks in a glass container or plastic bag. Rosemary can be used dried or fresh when cooking. It is frequently used in recipes for lamb or goat and it is great over roasted root vegetables.

Be careful when using dried rosemary, as it can overpower a dish with its pungent odor. Rosemary is also used in baking where it is frequently paired with lemon or lime. Use the tender tips and cut the leaves in small pieces when using it in baking.

Rosemary, throughout history, has been used in many ways to enhance our lives. Until you are experienced in cooking with it, be sure to follow a recipe carefully to avoid overpowering a dish with rosemary.

Fresh rosemary will be sold today at the Growing Growers Farmers Market located in Firemen’s Park in McAllen, at the corner of First Street and Business 83. The market is open from 9 to noon and they will also have free recipes available.

Barbara Storz is a local horticulturist. You can contact her by email at