By: Justin Butts Photos by: Rachel Benavides
Rosemary is the first herb mentioned in recorded history. Egyptian scholars chiseled their love for rosemary into stone tablets roughly 5,000 years before Christ.
The Ancient Greeks wrote about rosemary as early as 500 BCE. Pliny the Elder, the celebrated Roman historian, details the culture and culinary uses of rosemary in his classic text, The Natural World.
Rosemary is for remembrance, or so the ill-fated Ophelia tells us in Hamlet. It has been used throughout history in the burial process, where its strong scent masked less pleasant odors. Mourners tied bundles of rosemary sprigs together and waved them beneath their noses as they wept over the departed and said their farewells.
It is for remembrance of marriage vows, as well. It’s been used across a wide range of cultures over many centuries in wedding ceremonies: woven into crowns for brides; worn as adornments by grooms; and used in the officiating process itself.
Rosemary is a perennial, evergreen shrub native to the hot shores of the Mediterranean Sea. In fact, the literal translation of rosemary from Latin means “dew of the sea.” This is great news for us here on the Gulf Coast, where rosemary thrives.
Rosemary loves hot weather, will tolerate some drought, and can survive even our coldest winters. Once your rosemary plants are established, they only require periodic watering and almost no maintenance at all.
If possible, plant rosemary in its own dedicated space, rather than grouped with annual garden herbs, such as basil, dill, and coriander. While most other herbs in a kitchen garden survive only a season or two, rosemary will happily make itself at home as a permanent fixture in your landscape.
Plant well-grown transplant in full sun in well-drained soil. Does not require rich soil or fertilizer. Space 18” to 24”. Grows to three or four feet in height. Mulch with native leaves. Water regularly until plant is established, then water only as needed; do not overwater. Once established, take frequent cuttings of top 4” to 6” to stimulate growth. New growth leaves are more tender and less woody for culinary uses. No pest problems.
Rosemary is easy to propagate. Clip the top 6” of new growth from an established plant. With fingers, strip away the bottom 2” to 3” of leaves. Place the bottom, stripped part of the stem into compost or starter mix in a pot with excellent drainage. Loosely cover the pot with plastic to help hold in heat and moisture. Keep the soil moist until roots start (a few weeks), then harden off plant and move to full sun.
“The great thing about rosemary is that its life lasts all year. It’s fragrant and wonderful to enjoy in any season. Rosemary is a great addition to tequila, vodka, and whiskey creations. The leaves are extremely versatile and can be muddled, infused in a liquor, or used in a syrup, in addition to be a fantastic garnish. At BKK we use it for a simple syrup. One of our favorite summer combinations is rosemary with lavender.” – Blayne Ferguson, @bkkthaikitchenbar
A rosemary bush can live for 30 years! Once established, these hardy plants virtually take care of themselves. Rosemary can make a wonderful low hedge on either side of a sunny walkway up to the house. Through propagation, one established rosemary plant can supply dozens of new plants at no cost. Instead of planting boxwoods or the like, plant a rosemary hedge and enjoy the robust and lovely fragrance of rosemary every time you come home.